For chef Arturo Franco-Camacho, birria tacos are not a recent social media-fueled food trend. Growing up in Tijuana in the 1960s, he would order this taco variety from food carts and fell in love with the shredded, slow-cooked meat wrapped in a tortilla and dunked in spicy and savory dark red broth.
Inspired by his childhood memories, he decided to feature the dish when he opened Camacho Garage in New Haven in September. It’s proven a fortuitous choice. “It's one of the most popular items that we sell, if not the most,” Franco-Camacho says.
Over the past year, like whipped coffee and bread baking before them, birria tacos have become the “it” foods of Instagram and TikTok, and many restaurants throughout Connecticut now offer them.
In their most common form, birria tacos consist of braised meat wrapped in a corn tortilla that’s been pan-fried in the fat from the top of the stew (birria) used to braise the meat and then topped with cheese, cilantro, lime and white onion. They are served alongside a cup of broth for dipping.
A traditional Mexican dish from Jalisco, the tacos were originally made with goat meat but beef became a popular substitute when the dish traveled to Tijuana. From there it made its way to California where birria tacos surged in popularity in Los Angeles over the past few years. More recently, birria tacos have gained popularity on the East Coast and are becoming more and more common in Connecticut.
Broken Symmetry Gastro Brewery in Bethel began offering birria tacos this winter after head chef Alex Stocks saw them featured on various food blogs and social media accounts. Stocks believes their recent popularity in Connecticut is driven by its mix of familiar and new (at least to some) flavors. “Part of the appeal for this dish is its accessibility,” Stocks says. “Essentially it's just meat and cheese, but the way that the meat is cooked is special. When you taste it, it’s, ‘Oh wow, that's like a different flavor, that's a new flavor that I haven't had before.’ ”
Stocks uses cinnamon in Broken Symmetry’s birria tacos, which helps lend a unique flavor. “It's not sweet like barbecue, but the cinnamon brings out the natural sweeteners in everything else,” Stocks says.
HartFood, a Hartford company consisting of “ghost kitchens” (pick-up or delivery-only restaurants), recently launched a new restaurant concept called Birriadillas. The “restaurant” features traditional birria tacos with beef as well as a variety of “birriadillas,” a cross between a burrito, taco and quesadilla. HartFood’s executive chef, David Gilmore, says it is similar to a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme. “We made the birria taco into a quesadilla that can be dipped, drenched, drowned and consumed as the authentic [birria tacos] are.” In an additional departure from tradition, consommé accompanying the birriadilla is loaded with ramen noodles. (In late February, HartFood closed temporarily to prepare for a move to a larger space.)
The Birriadillas ghost kitchen concept has been a hit. “It actually has taken over our entire platform of other restaurants with people just intrigued to try this,” Gilmore says.
As to what makes a great birria taco, Franco-Camacho says one of the keys is the types of peppers used in the broth, which will accentuate its spiciness and sweetness. For his he uses poblano and guajillo chili peppers. “The poblano gives you that earthiness and dark, deep color and guajillo will give you that sweet, spicy finish,” he says. Despite the dish’s popularity and already excellent flavors, Franco-Camacho and his kitchen team are still tweaking the recipe in search of perfection. “We are constantly trying to make a better birria every time we do a batch. We're like, we're going to do something, maybe better than what we did before.”
Because of the dipping requirements of a birria taco, they are by nature a messy food. But birria fans don’t care. “It makes a little bit of a mess, but I think the best things make a mess, right?” Gilmore says.
Franco-Camacho says that it might not be as grab-and-go friendly as other tacos, but that’s part of its appeal. “This is the only taco you cannot eat standing up. You gotta sit down and eat it,” he says. You may also want to ask for extra napkins.
Where to get birria tacos
Here are some Connecticut restaurants, vendors and food trucks where you can find the craveable dish.
Camacho Garage — 36 Fountain St., New Haven, 203-691-1969
Broken Symmetry Gastro Brewery — 5 Depot Place, Bethel, 203-826-9907
TexiKo BBQ & Tequila — 3000 Whitney Ave., Hamden, 203-535-1717
Mexico Tipico — 1061 Boston Post Road, Milford, 203-713-8887
Taco Daddy — 121 Towne St., Stamford, 203-541-5770
Los Charros Cantina at The Essex Public Market — 30 Main St., Centerbrook, 860-237-4266 (available on Tuesdays)
Salsa’s 3 Mexican Grill — 120 Washington St., Middletown, 860-316-5058 and 860-316-5164
Salsa’s 4 Taqueria — 2434 Berlin Tpke., Newington, 860-999-9065
El Nuevo Sarape — 931 Broad St., Hartford, 860-547-1884
Toro Azteca — 194 Buckland Hills Drive, Manchester, 860-648-4454
Plaza Azteca — 3260 Berlin Tpke., Newington, 860-436-9708
Sarapes — 95 High St., Enfield, 860-745-7781
Fuego Picante food truck — Hartford area, 860-965-1807
Restaurants that have offered birria specials:
Hoodoo Brown BBQ — 967 Ethan Allen Highway, Ridgefield, 203-438-6033
Agave Grill — 100 Allyn St., Hartford, 860-882-1557