Los Angeles’s birria craze is quickly gaining momentum in New York City, even during a pandemic. The popularity of the spicy Tijuana-style meat stew tacos first gained steam in NYC last year with the arrival of Birria-Landia, a Jackson-Heights based truck, and is now poised for major local growth with a couple of new entrants jumping on board to serve birria in recent months.
Chinelos Birria Tacos debuted on the Long Island City waterfront a few weeks ago, according to local blog LIC Talks, Michelin-starred Contra served a birria stew dish when it reopened with a delivery service recently, and Chofi Tacos has been slinging out birria tacos for more than a year at Williamsburg Smorgaburg, and then saw enough success to open a permanent spot in New Jersey just before the pandemic hit.
While this Mexican meat stew preparation is said to have originated in the state of Jalisco, the taco-enveloped-style of eating it developed in Tijuana, and has surged in popularity in recent years in southern California. A cheesy version of the dish has also become one of the hottest taco preparations in the Bay Area and more recently, in D.C.. The dish is traditionally prepared with goat meat, but is commonly served with beef or lamb in the U.S.
The taco version has been hard to find in the New York area, but now, birria is quickly becoming part of the New York food lexicon, in part driven by the popularity of Birria-Landia, which received the rare food truck review from the New York Times.
Chofi co-owner and chef Kim Martin-Flammia, who is Mexican American, spent time in western Mexico and learned to prepare the dish from friends there, according to the Daily Voice. Her husband and restaurant co-owner Patrick Flammia had heard of the dish while managing restaurants in LA, and together the couple decided to bring the dish to New York, starting with Smorgasburg in April last year.
“People had seen it everywhere, but didn’t really have a chance to eat it in New York,” Martin-Flammia tells Eater. “It’s visually appealing and it tastes delicious as well.”
After initial success at Smorgasburg, the couple decided to open their restaurant in Union City, in New Jersey, in March. While the restaurant, located at 1706 Summit Avenue, between 17th and 18th Streets, is currently closed for dine-in service, the tacos and other food are available to pickup and delivery. In recent weeks, the restaurant has seen a surge in customers coming for takeout orders, and eating the birria tacos on tables set up outside, Martin-Flammia says.
The Chinelos truck, which is located at the corner of Center Boulevard and 49th Ave. in Long Island City, only debuted a couple of weeks ago and is open daily from lunchtime onward. LIC Talk writes that the truck was started by three partners who spent several years working at Mexican food trucks and learned to make the tacos in LA.
Despite the downturn in business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, birria’s popularity in NYC doesn’t seem to have waned, and as more people slowly begin to head out again, they seemed to be poised for even more popularity this summer.