"I've been to El Borrego dozens of times now and their birria taco is still one of my favorite tacos of all time."
El Borrego de Oro
3900 South Congress Avenue, Austin TX 78704 (map); 512-383-0031
Los Angeles, Chicago, and select locales like San Jose in California, don't know how good they have it. They've been blessed with an abundance of birrierias—Mexican taquerias that specialize in birria (goat meat). As a result, only a small minority of the country has ever sat at a restaurant and ordered a plate of steaming stewed goat.
Until I moved to Austin, I hadn't either.
As soon as I arrived and started poking around, I heard about a little hole-in-the-wall down by the intersection of South Congress Avenue and Ben White Boulevard called El Borrego de Oro ("The Lamb of Gold") that apparently served the best birria in town. With an extensive menu of traditional taqueria fare, El Borrego doesn't qualify as a true birrieria, but the goat tacos stand up to anything you'll find in the state of Texas. (Which reminds me, Houstonites should stop reading now and drive immediately to Gerardo's Drive-in for their barbacoa de borrego.)
I've been to El Borrego dozens of times now and their birria taco is still one of my favorite tacos of all time. On a recent visit, in addition to the obligatory taco, I tried the caldo de birria, or goat stew soup.
The taco came out first, as if it were an appetizer. Stewed with tomatoes and onions, the small pile of meat needs nothing more than a homemade corn tortilla to contain it. Each bite starts out soft as you suck off the fat and juices, resolving slowly into a more stringy texture, like a tired carnitas or mild pulled pork. The primary flavors pop without being too spicy, and it always has a strange calming effect on me.
The caldo on the other hand, is far from relaxing. Though the broth is mild—the taste of hot peppers has been subdued over time—it has the saltiness of boiled blood, and not by accident.
Floating in the broth you'll find nothing more than limp skeins of goat, from strings of shoulder meat and skin to ribbons of tripa (anyone who's tried menudo will know what to expect). When they give me a side of tortillas and a plate of cilantro, onions and minced jalapeno peppers to add to the soup, I can't help but imagine it as the Mexican counterpart to Vietnamese pho, sans noodles.
But unlike pho, you can only sip so much of this broth before your lips start to pucker. The best way to approach the caldo is with a tortilla in hand, on which to spoon dripping mats of the soup meat. In the end, the combination of cooked meats and grilled corn masa is unbeatable.