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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

*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:


          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


              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.


            2. i love love love love this restaurant. was just there for the first time ever.. saw it in the fearless critic book. it is DELICIOUS. ohmy goodness.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ripresa

                Since post last November, I've been here a couple times and haven't had anything I really liked. I work nearby, so giving it another shot some lunchtime would be easy. Any specific suggestions?

                1. re: tom in austin

                  tom, my original post was a specific recommendation for the birria, and it sounds like you can find several things to avoid based on MPH's post. also, dee lannon recommends the chile verde.

                  the birria is a pretty good version, and is their "signature dish" apparently. i haven't explored anything else on the menu in fact. I can see why these corn tortillas may not be everybody's bag. On a return visit, I sat there chewing on them, and chewing, and chewing, and chewing. They were handmade, charred, but also kinda dry. I'd never really noticed this since I was always soaking them in birria.

                  I'd be interested to find other birrierias in town or, along similar lines, a good bowl of carne en su jugo.

                  1. re: tom in austin

                    try the lamb plate.. it's their specialty. and it is so tender, flavorful, and addictive.

                    my boyfriend liked the mole, i'm not a big mole fan.

                2. I'll be moving out the 04 this month, so I thought I ought to get to a few places I had yet to try before I move to the Latino/Soul-heavy dining of eastside. Thus yesterday, the SO and I headed over to el BdO to nosh on Mary's little friend.

                  Went for the birria plate with those notably frustrating corn tortillas. Eat 'em fast, folks, before they go all rubbery. The lamb was delicious; savory without much spice to detract from the flavor of the tender meat.

                  Also ordered the chile verde. The pork was tender, the sauce was chile hot (very spicy), tomatillo tangy. Pretty damn delicious.

                  The tortillas are good for exactly 5 minutes, 13 seconds. At that point they turn into what would probably be really useful hot pads for the kitchen.

                  I haven't seen that anyone rec'ed the menudo at el BdO, but we had a small bowl and the tripas were perfectly cooked (not the least bit chewy) with a pretty complex, but mild broth. Definitely worth a try.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Twill

                    I have had the opposite experience with the menudo at Borrego de Oro. That was only one time, but I never tried it again because of this.

                    1. re: El General

                      We went late for lunch, so perhaps the meat had a couple extra hours to cook. I've had some really awful menudo in the past where the meat had an overly rubbery texture, but it wasn't so in this case. Either there's a consistency problem, or they've straightened it out since your earlier sampling. Next time I return, I'll check it out and report back.

                    2. re: Twill

                      I was there for the first time Friday before last. Arrived about 9:30PM, alone. Only a few other tables occupied. Was pointedly ignored for about 10 minutes. Finally got water, chips, salsa, and a menu. Chips and salsa were ordinary at best. Water tasted funky. I ordered a chile relleno plate with beef and ranchero sauce and corn tortillas. Nothing was better than low mediocre, and the tortillas were utterly tasteless. At the register they tried to charge me for tea, which I didn't have. For a place with such a reputation, it was a huge disappointment.


                      1. re: Jim Washburn

                        It seems like old times to see your name back on the Austin board, Jim. I haven't been back to El Borrego de Oro since I posted above, but I wonder occasionally if the chow has improved. Thanks for the recent report.


                    3. Nab, I did almost the same thing you did. Except I was riding the bus, so I couldn't just stop there.

                      Actually, I'm still a bit unclear as to what the term "borrego" refers to. I've met a Oaxacan who seems to say that "borrego" is closer to goat (Capra) than to domestic sheep (Ovis aries). Some search results for the term have more to do with feral sheep of the "canadensis" species while comments here seem to suggest that it's just lamb and/or mutton. But then, is "borrego" simply lamb ("cordero"/«agneau») or mutton?
                      Does anyone have a good source to make all of this very clear? Especially in terms of food?
                      I don't know any Spanish so it's hard for me to investigate.
                      Could it be that the term is applied in different ways by different people? Since goat and sheep are relatively close, it wouldn't be that surprising if some people would lump the two together.

                      1. Other menu items I have had since the last time I posted:

                        Pollo Chipotle (or something like that) This was a tasty butterflied and grilled chicken brest with a chipotle/tomatillo sauce (My memory is hurting on this one I could be off a little bit) and some sort of white cheese. It was recommended by one of the waitresses. It was very tasty, and not something I would normally order. It utilized the adobo from the chipotles well and the onions in the sauce soaked up tons of flavor. They were little rockets of goodness.

                        Puerco en chili verde - They have considerably stepped up the heat in this dish. For those seaking spicy foods in Austin, this might be something you like.

                        Consomee de Birria - I agree with Nab's review of this dish. It needs San Antonio style flur tortillas for their ability to absorb. The house corn tortillas just don't absorb anything.

                        As always, substitute charro beans for refried beans

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: El General

                          I was wrong. It was just a standard chipotle sauce, though still tasty.

                          1. re: El General

                            I am a devotee of Borrego del Oro and eat their regularly, but almost never for breakfast (mainly because I only eat out for breakfast on the weekends and that requires a Habanero fix or run to El Meson for their breakfast tacos)

                            I dropped by on my way to work a couple of days ago.

                            Chorizo and egg - Fully satisfies the 50-50 chorizo to egg ratio requirement. The chorizo was tasty, but not excellent. I would call it solid. The corn tortilla was outstanding. This is their usually corn tortilla (and I subscribe to the criticisms of their tortillas above), but they oiled it and slapped it on the grill. The edges were crisp and slightly charred, the middle had small spots of char and had lost the occasional gumminess that plagues what is normally a very good corn tortilla.

                            Migas Taco - Same good tortilla with a slightly gringo'd migas version (as opposed to the simpler El Meson version). Deep fried actual corn tortillas, healthy chunks of jalapeno, onion, and egg with some melted yellow cheese.

                            Anyway, if you normally pass by it is a good breakfast taco stop.