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[AUS] El Borrego de Oro

Having just moved here a few weeks ago, all kinds of things seem to be catching my eye and causing whiplash as I drive around town. In particular, anytime I see a little picture of a goat/lamb on a sign, I reflexively hit the brakes, much to the annoyance of drivers in tow.

I spotted that little borrego on S. Congress & Ben White and decided to make my Sunday comfort meal out of a bowl of birria.* The broth was very rich and not overly salty like some that have been made with block-bouillon. It had a slight lamb flavor imparted by the meat, and was moderately spicy, but not so much in a Scoville-way. Huge chunks & strands of shredded lamb, and the requisite side of garnishes (cilantro, chopped onions, chopped jalapenos, lime). Hand-made corn tortillas with beautiful char-marks and edges that were ever-so-slightly crispy. Very satisfying, and the best thing I've eaten since I've been in town. They also have the "dry" birria, which is basically just the meat served in plate-form (beans, rice). I wish I had more room to sample their other offerings.

El Borrego de Oro
3900 S. Congress
Austin, TX 78704
383.0031

*For the unfamiliar, birria is a relative of barbacoa, and is usually goat/lamb that is cooked in the presence of some liquid in a tightly sealed vessel. The liquid that is rendered out from the meat is then further made into a consomme of sorts.

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  1. I have long wanted to try this place, and now I definitely will. Thanks for posting!

    1. This was the place I recommended to you for chile verde - they do a great one - spicy and tangy but with buttery pieces of stewed pork that melt in your mouth. I have the dry birria regularly there, and it is a wonderful, velvety, meaty thing. Mine has always been goat, though. Their rice and beans are also quite good - full of flavor. Their tortillas are great - we always get a dozen corn to take home, and their red salsa has this extra little kick of black pepper that is addictive. Love this place!

      1 Reply
      1. re: dee lannon

        DL, I did, in fact, recall your chile verde recommendation before heading there, however, post-poned that order for another day as I had only intentions of a Sunday birria blanket. But thank you, and I will be sure to try it.

        I was pretty sure my birria was lamb, although I could have mistaken it for goat. Do you know if they switch it up, or do they frequently use goat ? (a few months ago I procured an entire goat and got quite used to the taste -- this didn't taste like goat, but much more like lamb)

        Concur on the pepper notes in the salsa. Doubly concur on its addictiveness.

      2. Birria is the signature dish at Borrego de Oro, and while it's always possible that sometimes they use goat instead of lamb for some reason, I've certainly never had goat there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: johnm

          Taking their name into account, which might literally transalted as "The Golden Sheep," or "The Golden Lamb," depending on what region's Spanish you speak, I would assume you're tasting mutton or lamb in that tasty birria. The birria I ate in Mexico was mutton, as I was told, hence the long braising to make it tender.

        2. I couldn't stop thinking about tortillas after reading about the best ones in San Antonio and Austin in this discussion that's now on the Texas board:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/91380

          So yesterday I checked out Borrego de Oro No. 2, which is known for corn tortillas that are made in-house. The chow there was a big disappointment to me. I realize that many ‘hounds love this restaurant, but I trust that, on this board, it’s always useful to hear another perspective. [This is yet another time that “expert” opinions in local periodicals have led me astray.

          ]

          El Borrego’s good-sized corn tortillas, freshly grilled (without oil), were indeed made in-house, but I didn't like them. There was no deep flavor of corn; instead, the tortillas were very sweet and seriously lacking in salt. They were certainly better than vile store-bought ones. Not being terrible, however, is not the same as being good. Ultimately, I just don't care for the fresh masa they're using, which means that I don’t like the final product. I can imagine that the options for fresh masa are limited, as there are no local molinos and it costs money to import fresh masa, with its short shelf life, from out of town. Sometimes, being made in-house doesn't trump everything. Personally, I prefer the taste of tortillas made from dried masa harina that's reconstituted with a little chicken stock to ones that are made from flavorless fresh masa. These cost a lot more than $1 a dozen, too.

          Appetizers sampled included chile con queso that was made with processed cheese (learn from my mistake: I ordered it after reading somewhere on-line that it was made from “real cheese”) and guacamole that included a little diced onion and tomato but mainly just tasted like smoothly mashed overripe avocadoes. Neither dip was very good.

          By the way, the bland chips and rubbery flour tortillas are of the terrible store-bought variety.

          I tasted various tacos and main courses. The fajitas were tiny slivers of beef (the size of spätzle), green bell peppers, and onions that tasted like they were sautéed—or steamed—rather than grilled. They did not use any noticeable marinade on the fajita meat. The carne guisada was more or less unseasoned meat with gravy, though the chunks of meat were fairly tender. The [puerco] al pastor tasted like boiled, shredded pork, though there were a few thicker chunks in the mix. No spice, no citrus. The only main dish that had any flavor was the puerco en chile verde, which was very salty and pretty spicy. Their version wasn’t soupy or flavored with fresh tomatoes and tomatillos. Rather, it seemed to be quickly-cooked chunks of fairly moist pork covered in an almost pesto-like salsa dominated by chopped green chiles, onions, and garlic. This pork dish was definitely the best of the bunch, but it was not so good that I’m planning to rush back to have it again.

          The side dishes were nothing special, in my opinion. The rice was a bit spicy, and more wet than fluffy. It didn’t taste like it was made with chicken stock and also didn’t have much tomato flavor. The refried beans were not refried: They were soupy, mashed beans—and vegetarian, too. The frijoles a la charra were the better of the two bean options. They were moderately spicy and flavored with flecks of bacon, though the beans were a bit tough.

          I didn't try their birria, which seems to be everyone's favorite dish. I’ve had birria before, however, so there’s not much of a novelty factor. And given my experience at EBDO, I’m not incredibly curious about how this particular restaurant makes birria. I’m sorry to report that, after this visit, I must reluctantly add one more mediocre Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurant to my list of places to avoid in south Austin (west of I-35).

          1. My wife and I tried this place recently. The corn tortillas were okay, but I thought they were a little gummy. The birria was very good, though. I think I slightly preferred the birria soup to the dry birria (we ordered one of each). I've never had birria before, though, so I don't have anything to compare it to. Has anybody tried the cabrito?

            MPH - On the subject of refried beans, there's nothing else good there as far as I can tell, but the refried beans at Casa Garcia rock. They taste like they have a whole side of bacon in them.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Brian Lindauer

              Brian,

              Thanks for the heads-up on the refried beans at Casa Garcia. I'll stop in for them soon.

              One of these days, I may get some soupy birria to-go at Borrego. But I have a lot of other places that I want to try before giving EBDO another shot.

              Best,
              MPH