If you haven’t clued in on the Bay Area’s (and social media’s) hottest food trend, then it’s clear you’ve been in quarantine.
We’re talking about the quesabirria—a crispy, meaty taco that’s made when chili-spiced corn tortillas are cooked on a smoking hot flat top grill and topped with tender carne asada, melted cheese, diced onion and a bit of cilantro. The crispy taco is then served alongside a savory, chili-tinged consomme broth. Think of it like the spicy Mexican equivalent of a French dip.
This crispy queso taco dish migrated north from Tijuana to the Los Angeles area, where it remained relatively unknown until it exploded in popularity a few years ago. Birria (the stew) contains slow-simmered, seasoned beef, goat or lamb. In Jalisco, goat meat is the traditional protein, but in Tijuana, beef birria reigns king. What makes this dish stand out from traditional tacos is that the chef skims the fat off the chili-laced consomé (aka consommé) as the meat simmers and uses it to fry the tortillas. Some dip the tortillas into the broth first, and others drizzle it over them as they cook, but regardless, the tortillas pick up their orange-red tinge from the fat and the broth.
If you’ve yet to try one of these golden-fried cheesy tacos dunked into a cup of delicious consomé, here are eight places in the Bay Area open for takeout or delivery.
Our top 8 picks for quesabirria in the Bay Area
1) El Fuego
While they weren’t the first food truck to introduce the Bay Area to authentic Mexican quesabirria, they should be your first stop. El Fuego offers both soft birria and crispy quesabirria tacos, plus a few other tasty birria dishes such as a mulita quesabirria. A mulita resembles a quesadilla since it’s served flat with the meat and cheese sandwiched in between. If you’re following a keto diet, you’re in luck—instead of a crispy tortilla, you’ll bite into a crispy cheese exterior. Best of all, if you can’t decide, they offer a deluxe combo platter with a soft taco, a crispy quesabirria and a mulita. The truck frequently parks at the corner of 17th and Carolina Street in the Mission, plus other spots around the city.
2) Tacos El Patrón
Tacos El Patrón also hit the Bay Area quesabirria scene fairly early and is likely partially responsible for the explosive interest in the cheesy, crispy, savory dish. Tacos El Patrón’s quesabirria tacos stand above many competitors because they don’t skimp on the meat—these tacos overflow with tender, tasty meat. A few things to note are that while the rich consomé is free, the cheese is $1 extra. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of their other authentic tacos (with homemade tortillas) such as beef tongue, head or intestines! This place gets packed, so best to order ahead.
They have two locations, one in the Mission District on Van Ness Avenue and the other in Pleasant Hill.
3) La Santa Torta
La Santa Torta is another OG quesabirria taco food truck that has quietly been serving up what they call “red tacos” for years around the Bay Area. For $12, you can order three 6-inch beef birria tacos that come with cheese, cilantro, pickled onions and red salsa. They sell consomé separately, but it’s well worth the few extra bucks since their well-spiced birria is a slightly drier, Jalisco style compared to the traditional drenched Tijuana style most other places serve. They also make birria tortas, which come with consomé, and a ramen-style noodle birria dish.
La Santa Torta deserves a big shoutout for their charitable efforts since the pandemic began last March. As far back as April 2020, they started feeding those who couldn’t pay, and when the wildfires hit, La Santa Torta’s trucks wasted no time serving free birria to farmworkers in need. They have three trucks that frequently hang out in Richmond, Oakland and Alameda, so check their Instagram feed for the schedule.
They also have a recently opened brick-and-mortar spot in West Oakland.
4) Cielito Lindo
Cielito Lindo is a newcomer to the Bay Area’s quesabirria scene and is a welcome addition to the Outer Richmond district on San Francisco’s west side, where quesabirria tacos aren’t easy to find. Newly opened in October 2020, Cielito Lindo is quickly gaining traction as a solid Mexican food eatery that is likely to stick around. The owner, Jose Castillo, has certainly persevered—he secured the restaurant’s location on Balboa in 2016 but encountered multiple permit hassles and other obstacles. The breakfast burritos are a big draw, but the quesabirria tacos are a standout. Filled with tender, perfectly seasoned beef, you can get four hearty quesabirria tacos with a side of consomé for $19. They also sell birria tacos with onions, cilantro and salsa for $3.50 each. If you watch even one of their Instagram videos of quesabirria tacos in the making, you’ll be hooked. Order ahead to skip the line.
5) Chico’s Taqueria
If you’re in the San Mateo area, your quesabirria offerings are a little slim but head to Chico’s Taqueria for a fix. You can also get birria ramen, a birria “pizza” that is basically a quesadilla and, on weekends, birria de res (the stew). Chico’s also offers several traditional Mexican favorites, including many seafood dishes. Uber Eats, Grubhub and Seamless.com will deliver, and you can order online. Check out their Instagram feed but beware, it might make you hungry!
6) El Garage
Once a driveway pop-up where the family prepared its signature quesabirria tacos under a tent as the line of hungry patrons stretched down the street, now El Garage has a permanent Richmond storefront. They also occasionally show up at local breweries as pop-ups. The Richmond location is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and you can order online. El Garage offers three quesabirria tacos that come with their Hella Spicy and Kinda Spicy salsas on the side for $12 and a side of consomé for $4. You can also get three birria tacos that come with the salsas for $9.
Watch their Instagram feed for pop-up announcements.
7) La Grana Fish
Despite having “fish” in their name, La Grana Fish holds the honor of being one of Oakland’s first spots to serve up tantalizing quesabirria tacos. This wildly popular food truck recently moved to a new location next to the Aloha Club in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. Here, they can be open Thursday through Sunday instead of just the two weekend days at their old spot on 50th Avenue. Dine outside on many picnic tables or have DoorDash bring you the goods. Quesabirria tacos are sold separately for $4.50 and 12 ounces of consomé for $3.50. You can get your birria fix in tacos, as a stew or in ramen. La Grana offers a lengthy, eclectic mix of other enticing dishes such as tacos gobernadora (tacos filled with shrimp, grilled onions, chiles and melted cheese), a slew of smothered baked potato plates, ceviche, various “quesatacos” and several Mexican favorites.
8) Aguachiles El Tamarindo
Another East Bay food truck fave, Aguacihles El Tamarindo, is known for its irresistible seafood—most famously, their impressive seafood tower of shrimp, crab, fish and veggies. However, they make a very respectable quesabirria loaded with the savory stuff, plus a cheesy birria ramen.
Open seven days a week, stop by their truck at 3053 International Blvd or get it delivered with Uber Eats or DoorDash.
Byline: Lee Ridley