Birria tacos take their place on Denver’s Mexican restaurant menus – The Denver Post

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“The answer is definitely social media.”
My question, to Cesar Silva Gonzalez, who co-owns the Kiké’s Red Tacos food truck with his parents Enrique “Kiké” Silva Figueroa and Olivia Gonzalez, was how did birria tacos blow up? How did something that so many Americans hadn’t even heard of five years ago become one of the top-requested dishes at Mexican restaurants and food trucks?
While Silva Gonzalez’s answer could be applied to many things over the past couple decades, the visual appeal of birria — or, more specifically, the Tijuana-style quesabirria tacos, with their griddled, reddish corn tortillas, pool of meat juice for dunking, and money shot-worthy cheese pulls — seems made to be shared across six-inch iPhone screens.
“When we put it on the menu, nobody had heard of it. ‘What is birria?’ ” said Edith Urquizo, who co-owns Casa Cortes in Dacono with her husband, Ruben Cortes. “They were curious about it. One of our regulars tried it, told his friend, and they posted on their social media or the NextDoor app that’s popular around here. They’d comment about it, and everyone wanted to try it. Now it’s one of the most popular plates we have.”
Silva Gonzalez said posts from the well-followed Denver Food Scene account on Instagram and Tik Tok took them from a relatively anonymous food truck to selling out each and every day. They’ve done so well that Kiké’s Red Tacos will soon open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, where they hope to add more birria variations to the menu, including the traditional goat. (Here’s the Instagram post that started it all.)
While birria recipes vary by region in Mexico, a common denominator tends to be goat slow-stewed with red chiles, avocado leaves, cumin and garlic. Because goat is a tougher sell to U.S. eaters, not to mention harder to come by here, most local birria slingers make it with beef. The taco format is an adaption, too, as birria is traditionally eaten in Mexico in a bowl with a side of tortillas.
“It’s mostly the kind of plate you eat at a quinceañera or a wedding or at a party,” Urquizo said. The birria recipe they use at Casa Cortes, which started as a food truck before opening as a restaurant last September, merges the kind she grew up eating in Durango with what her husband ate in Michoacan.
At Casa Cortes, they slow-cook the meat with red chiles and a top-secret blend of spices, saving the juices for the all-important consomé, the rich, greasy stew used for taco dipping. They also dunk the corn tortillas into the consomé (that’s what gives them the red coloring and nickname of red tacos), then throw them onto the griddle, fill with beef and cheese, and toast it all up until it has a bit of a crunch. The finished birria tacos are garnished with queso fresco, cilantro and onions.
It’s a similar process at Kiké’s Red Tacos. They let the beef simmer with spices for more than eight hours, conserving that flavorful braising liquid for the consomé. They keep the beef in its tasty, saucy bath so it stays nice and moist, and they borrow some red broth to coat the tortillas before frying everything up. People have gone crazy for them, lining up down 38th Avenue at lunchtime and voting Kiké’s tops in the Denver Post’s taco bracket.
“I’d been to other birria locations and felt like they were not quite as good as what my mom and dad were making,” Silva Gonzalez said of why they decided to start the truck in late 2020. “I saw an opportunity for us. I saw businesses in California doing what we’re now doing.”
California is where the U.S. birria boom got its start, where social media influencers made Instagram stars out of little taco trucks making mouthwatering creations. Beginning in 2018, the L.A. influencers flooded social media with pictures of glistening, griddled tacos sopping up dark, meaty pools in Styrofoam cups. Soon, everyone was lining up to take pictures, er, to eat quesabirria tacos, of their own.
Here in Colorado, the same thing happened, just a couple of years later. Denver Food Scene, the social media account considered to be the most influential of the Denver food influencers, started posting a flurry of birria taco photos and videos in the fall of 2020, racking up the Instagram likes, tags and shares. It first posted about Kiké’s in December 2020, then again in February and May of 2021, and the lines got longer and longer.
With everyone drooling over birria on their social feeds, more restaurants added them to their menus, and any restaurant worth its Insta-cred that opened in the past year or so made sure they were available for photographing. (And eating.) Now, those quesabirria tacos with a side of consomé are ubiquitous, as at home on the menus of traditional-style Mexican restaurants as trendy taco joints.
“Other businesses caught on and added them to their menus, and now they’re everywhere,” Silva Gonzalez said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Chipotle or these big chain restaurants add them. I don’t know why they don’t have them yet.”
Birria tacos are popping up on menus all over. Here’s where to find some of the best:
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