Our Hungry Hound says some of the best he's had recently comes from a tiny kitchen in Little Village, in a space that used to house a well-known Italian beef joint.
EXTRA COURSE: BIRRIERIA LA TERRAZA OFFERS BIRRIA IN A VARIETY OF WAYS
The birria, or goat stew, arrives steaming at the 2-month-old Birrieria La Terraza in Little Village. Rafael Pena spends hours each day, recreating this dish from his native Jalisco.
"The recipe has been in the family for over 40 years. My dad and my mother have a restaurant in Mexico; they make birria and pozole," Pena said.
In the morning, Pena cleans and slices fresh ginger root, while also cleaning oregano stems by hand. Along with herbs like bay leaves and black peppercorns, he adds them to a giant pot filled with fresh tomatoes and dried guajillo chiles.
This cooks down for about an hour, after which it all goes into a blender, to form the base of the braising liquid. Then that resulting liquid is poured over large pieces of goat, and the entire stew is cooked slowly for several hours, until the goat literally falls apart, and the sauce, or consomme, is infused with the seasoning and the fat of the meat.
You can specify certain cuts of meat if you like; otherwise, you'll just get a mix. Be sure to ask for a little extra consomme, which tastes just fine as-is; although, they'll add a bit of salsa to pump-up the flavors.
You can also get the birria without the broth. This is called tatemada, and it's just the goat cooked on the griddle with a bit of salsa and a little bit of the braising liquid.
Tortillas are all handmade here, so be sure to get a few alongside; since your birria will arrive with cilantro, onion, salsa and limes, those tortillas will help you make some excellent tacos.
"If a customer wants rib, I chop ribs, and if they want only meat I chop the meat; we put the consomme on the plate, if they want it like that," he said.
There are so many ways you can enjoy the birria. You can have it as a consomme, kind of like a soup just sipping it, just meat chopped up with some onions and sauce, or as tacos. Honestly, my favorite way is just having it in the bowl, garnish as you will and enjoy it -- what a wonderful, comforting dish this time of year in Chicago.
Birriera La Terraza
2839 S. Pulaski Road