Hungry Hound: Menus make room for goat

February 11, 2009 10:31:21 AM PST
Less expensive than beef and pork, goat is just as delicious- and popping up on more menus.The awnings are hard to miss- a picture of a goat and the word "birria" above it. No, there's usually no beer on tap, just delicious steamed and roasted baby goat, bathed in an assertive mole sauce and served with an array of tasty condiments.

Where do you go for great birria in Chicago? On the southwest side, of course.

To residents of Jalisco, Mexico, the dish known as birria is everywhere. It's essentially a goat stew. At mom-and-pop birrierias like Zaragoza in the Archer Heights neighborhood on the Southwest Side, birria is the star.

"Most people make it in a stew, but we make it nice and dry, in the oven, a little bit charred to give it that nice flavor," said Juan Zaragoza, the owner of Zaragoza.

First, baby goat is butchered and steamed for a few hours, covered, rendering the meat and connective tissue soft.

"Once you steam it, then you put the mole base sauce, it has about 8 to 10 herbs and spices, just to give it some flavoring. And then thereafter we place it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or so," Zaragoza says.

That roasting crisps-up the outside, giving a much-needed textural element to the goat. When an order comes in, Zaragoza ladles on a little bit of a tomato-based consomme, to add some flavor and juiciness back to the meat.

On the menu, you can either have it chopped up and served in a taco - which arrive in homemade tortillas, made in the open kitchen nearly all day long, from fresh masa. Or, you can order the birria as a full plate, which arrives with a number of extra condiments, such as chopped onions, fresh cilantro and lime wedges and bottles of hot sauce, along with a basket of freshly-made tortillas. It's the one time customers get to customize their dish, which has a ritual all its own.

"They're very creative people. Some folks grab it, they place it in a taco, others roll up the tortilla, eat the tortilla and grab the rib with one hand; so it's quite interesting the difference," said Zaragoza.

The restaurant is BYOB. Diners will have a hard time spending more than ten bucks for a solid meal.

Zaragoza Restaurant
4852 S. Pulaski Rd.