It comes as little surprise that Bushwick — which boasts one of the city’s largest concentrations of taco trucks, tamale carts, and brick-and-mortar taquerias — is quickly becoming a birria hot spot. The newest example is the fancifully named Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos, a sleek black trailer that recently began parking over the Jefferson L stop on Wyckoff Avenue, joining two taco trucks with more conventional menus.
Like other newcomers on the birria scene, the van is flamboyantly decorated with pennants, painted slogans, and renderings of its consomme-dripping dishes, and shines like a jewel late into the night (its hours are 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week). The logo is a drunken pink panther on a disgruntled horse singing and playing the guitar before a full moon, and three cooks gyrate inside, one constantly at the flattop, transferring ice cream scoops of shredded birria onto sizzling tortillas. Like some other birria trucks, this one offers the chile-braised beef as its only filling; “Estilo Tijuana,” reads a banner emblazoned on the side.
While there is only one filling, the number of antojitos offered has ballooned to include quesabirria tacos, mulitas, tortas, and nachos, in addition to tacos. Consomme is free with an order of three antojitos or one sandwich. In fact, most patrons seemed to be ordering something other than the regular tacos on a recent evening around 8 p.m. The torta ($10), made on an oval furrowed telera roll, as is conventional, was a favorite among the dozen or so customers milling around or sitting at tables on the sidewalk waiting for their orders, but these often run out early in the evening.
The narrow trailer was the site of frenetic activity as the orders piled up, and when my turn came to order, proprietor Peter Luna told me there would be a further wait of 10 minutes or so as more meat was brought from a nearby taqueria kitchen. Via a later Facebook conversation, he related that his parents own a chain of restaurants in Queens and Brooklyn, including Los Tres Potrillos in Sunset Park and El Gallo Negro in Corona.
The output of Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos represents certain innovations in the city’s burgeoning birria culture. The consomme has a larger component of rendered suet, which makes it more concentrated. This means that when the tortillas are fried on the flattop after being dipped in it, they crisp up and shimmer, hence “crunchy red tacos.”
I ordered the mulitas (three for $14, including free consomme), which resemble a cross between a bar-food quesadilla and a taco, featuring a filling that includes cheese pressed between two tortillas. This makes Peter’s mulita nearly identical to its quesabirria, except for the fold in the latter and the extra corn tortilla in the former.
While waiting for the meat to arrive from the restaurant kitchen and our order to be prepared, a friend and I drifted over to Nene’s Deli Taqueria on Irving, just off Maria Hernandez Park. This tiny place, which barely has a food prep area, was celebrated for its birria when it opened in November by both Grub Street and Gothamist. But when we arrived, a sign hand-lettered in crayon on the window warned that only empanadas were available, and that the tacos had moved farther south, to 14 Starr Street. We hopped in the car and were there in a few minutes.
The new location is a bodega called Eric Mini Market. Inside were bales of dry corn husks for making tamales and the usual collection of Mexican canned goods, dried chiles, candies and toys, fresh herbs, and cactus paddles. Midway back into the rather large store was a small griddle presided over by Andrés Tonatiuh Galindo Maria, who had been cooking at Jean-Georges when the pandemic hit. He offers a short list of taco fillings that include carnitas, bistec, cecina, carne asada, chorizo, and pollo, but clearly birria is his passion and the main focus of his efforts.
The list of things that can be done with the birria is even longer than the one at Peter’s, featuring tacos, burritos, mulitas, quesadillas, tortas, empanadas, and sopes, as well as a reported off-menu option of birria ramen. For the sake of consistency, I ordered the mulita ($9), and he fixed me in a friendly gaze and said, “How many?” I replied one and am glad I did. He pulled off a couple of homemade flour tortillas from the stack and began the painstaking process of assembling our mulita. It was voluminous, but he kindly cut it in half so my companion and I could easily share.
After about five minutes and many adjustments, the mulita was settled into a round aluminum container that fit it perfectly. The birria was milder and less greasy than the one at the truck would soon prove to be, and there was a welcome smear of guacamole on top of the meat and melted cheese. Red and green salsas were provided on the side, but there was no free consomme. Nevertheless, the mulita had a distinctive chefly quality about it, with each ingredient perfectly in place and all of them acting in concert.
Beating it back to Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos, we were just in time to pick up our mulitas. They were stacked up in a carryout container, bright orange and splotched darker from the griddle, each filled with a good half inch of shredded birria. Cheese oozed out the sides, and it was not a Mexican cheese, but mild yellow cheddar (a recent Instagram post touted a mozzarella and Monterey jack mix). Dipping in the consomme was unnecessary; they were delicious enough already. Really, you couldn’t eat more than one or two at the most due to their overwhelming richness.
Three nights later I went back to Bushwick to further explore the birria taco scene. My first stop was once again the Peter’s Crunchy Red Taco trailer. Despite a cold rain, a little knot of supplicants waited on the edge of the circle of light emanating from the broad open window. I intended to order the birria nachos out of curiosity; unfortunately, there were no tortilla chips on hand to make them. I ordered two birria tacos and two quesabirria tacos.
The tortillas in Peter’s tacos and quesabirrias had become almost like hard-shell tacos as a result of being fried in fat on the griddle, my friend marveled as we ate. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but worth noting for those who regard hard-shell tacos as somehow inauthentic, or simply a pain in the ass to consume without spilling the ingredients when they break.
After eating at a little table set out under an umbrella, we drifted over to another taco truck a half-block east on Wyckoff. I’d wondered if the taco trucks in the vicinity had begun making birria after seeing the success of Peter’s. It turns out that Derek Truck had been serving it since October, before Peter’s appeared. Its birria tacos ($10) came three to an order with free consomme. The soup tasted like bouillon; however, the tacos were still memorably good, although the beef was paler, and each barely dipped tortilla remained soft as a glove. A bonus portion of thick guac put the tacos over the top.
A little web research turned up a cocktail bar concept with a limited Mexican menu that also sold birria. La Lupe Cantina, located near the corner of Myrtle and Broadway known for a number of K2 overdoses back in 2018, turned out to have a comfortable heated back yard. Birria was advertised on signs as we entered, though it had not worked its way onto the regular menu, suggesting it was a recent addition.
Made on double small corn tortillas, the birria tacos were exceptional ($5 each). Though served without consomme, they had been extensively dipped, and they were prettily decorated with radish matchsticks. We couldn’t resist ordering a birria bowl ($10), which planted a substantial quantity of meat and a modest amount of rice under a salad of lettuce, pinto beans, guacamole, salsa verde, crema, kernel corn, and cheese. Warm meat and lettuce often make a mismatched combo, but the bowl was tasty enough to order again. La Lupe may be your best chance to enjoy birria tacos on a hard plate while drinking a margarita in semi-comfortable surroundings.
Two nights and multiple species of birria in various contexts prove that, as a birria destination, Bushwick is clearly on the upswing. But if I were you, I’d start out at Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos.
Note that Peter’s encourages diners to order in advance via the truck’s Instagram account with a direct message, or by cell phone ( 214-5693), prepaying with Zelle.