La Birrieria asserts that Chicago is a Biria hot spot

Halfway through a bowl of birria at the recently opened La Birrieria (4743 W. Grand Ave.), I encountered a realization resulting from meat. I thought this would happen. Chicago is turning into a Beria hot spot.

Seated in front of me, a small bowl of beeria ($13.50) was filled with chunks of goat fat, slow-cooked until tender, yet still very juicy. Some of the chops came with thin rib bones still attached, which somehow made the meat more tender.

They were swaying in bright red consomé, made of meat roast liquid mixed with tomatoes, peppers, and an array of different spices. Rather than over-playing, the flavor reminded me of beef, although it’s a bit firmer.

According to general manager Francisco Martinez, there’s a very simple reason why the Hermosa neighborhood’s beira tastes so good: Owner Carlos Garcia used his grandmother’s recipe.

“It’s very traditional,” Martinez said. He brought it from Jalisco. The Mexican state of Jalisco happens to be where the dish originated hundreds of years ago.

The bowl looks a bit simple when the server drops it in front of you, but it won’t last long. On the table you’ll find a plate full of diced onions and cilantro, along with lemon quarters to brighten every bite.

The broth has the faintest glow of spice from the light, fruity guajillo peppers. If you want a little more heat, please order the restaurant hot sauce made with loads of dried arbol peppers – just be careful what you like.

“People always say, ‘Bring me the best sauce,'” Martinez said. “Then a few minutes later, I looked over there crying over the spice.” When added in judicious amounts, salsa adds balanced vertical heat with a wonderful roasted aroma.

On the counter, you’ll discover a batch of steamy, pliable and aromatic corn tortillas. “It’s all handmade,” Martinez said. “We make it fresh with every order.” They get Massa every day from Los Gamas Tortilleria (3333 W. Armitage Ave.) on Logan Square.

While you can certainly gobble up this type of birria like most stews, my plan of attack involves alternating between devouring with a spoon and grabbing a tortilla to make my own tacos. I garnish each one with a bit of onion, cilantro, and a few drizzles of Arbol Chili Sauce.

Once rolled up, dip them in the broth until the tortilla is near saturation point, but before it breaks. If done well, you’ll get a bite that’s juicy, meaty, salty, fatty, and spicy at the same time.

If you’ve ever eaten Italian beef, this description may sound eerily familiar. In fact, just like the beloved Chicago beef sandwich—which started its life as a way to stretch out expensive beef by slicing it thinly and serving it dipped in its own toasted juices—beeria was born out of thrift. Chefs in Mexico have been able to turn a collection of bone-in pieces from goats into a cherished local specialty that has been captivating its neighbor to the north for years.

Chicago enclaves have been fascinated by the wilderness for decades. Perhaps the most famous restaurant is the Periya of Zaragoza (4852 Pulaski Street), a small shop in Archer Heights proudly serving the periya on a plate, with a scoop full of its elegant aroma mixed with a mist on top.

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But this is just the beginning. Birreria Reyes de Ocotlan (1322 W. 18th St.) has been serving bowls full of goat priria, with a complex blend of dozens of different spices, in the Pilsen neighborhood since 1973. I’m also a big fan of Birrieria Patinos Ocotlan (3813 West 26th Street) and Birrieria de la Torre (6724 S. Pulaski Street).

Last year, a different type of beria began to appear. Although it is usually made from goat, you can make beria with any type of meat you like. In the northwestern Mexican city of Tijuana, beef has become the norm.

Over the past ten years or so, combining piria de reis with blocks of cheese and tossing them into tortillas has become a national phenomenon called quesaberia. Stop by Tacotlán (4312 W. Fullerton Ave.) or El G-Fe (4253 W. 47th St.) to try my favorites.

Although only a few months old, La Birrieria is well worth joining this group of birria connoisseurs. Frankly, the more the better. I suspect that Chicagoans’ appetite for all kinds of berea will continue to grow.

La Birrieria, 4743 W. Grand Ave., 773-904-2016, labirrieria.com

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