A Shrine to Birria Tatemada - Zaragoza Restaurant
I made a return trek from West Ridge to 49th and Pulaski Road Saturday, to pay homage once again to a Mexican dish which has become a favorite of mine - Birria Tatemada – at Zaragoza Restaurant.
I’ve been a reluctant fan of birria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birria), because most of what I’ve had in Mexico hasn’t been to my liking. It’s been “okay,” but not something I’d search-out – even when home in Chicago. But when I read Mike Sula’s article in the Chicago Reader (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/...) about Birria Tatemada (a style of preparation indigenous to La Barca, Jalisco) and Restaurant Zaragoza, and I made my first visit to the restaurant - I became a convert.
Zaragoza Restaurant is run as much as a labor of love as for economic reasons by the Zaragoza family – Norma, Juan and their four children. Son Jonathan prepares the plates of goat most weekdays with father Juan doing the carving on the weekend. The family currently prepares 22 goats each week. My platter of choice has been the “plato bien surtido,” which includes meat from various parts of the goat, and, this week, some liver. The plates are accompanied by freshly-made/hand-pressed on-site corn tortillas. On Saturday’s alone, the restaurant goes-through 100lb. of corn masa. Various salsas are available, and the steaming “salsa mocahete” is currently my favorite. Fresh-cut lime, cilantro and diced white onion round-out the condiments. The broth for the goat meat is vegetable-based, with none of the fat from the roasted goat infused. It’s a clean, clear broth good to drink on it’s own if you like.
When I visit the restaurant I sit at the counter – the “Bar” because doing so affords the opportunity to interact with whomever – Juan or Jonathan – is serving-up the plates, and with Norma and the children. I enjoy the interaction with the family as much as I do eating the food – it’s a 2 for 1 experience, no additional charge!
The restaurant’s been open about two-years and business has been building steadily. Recently featured on a Univision Spanish-language dining-out television program, Zaragoza Restaurant has seen an up-tick in customer counts – including, surprising to the owners, immigrants to Chicago from Asian nations and Africa, particularly from Senegal where a popular dish in that country closely resembles birria.
The restaurant is BYOB. A variety of soft drinks imported from Mexico are available for purchase as well.
For someone such as I, living on the far north side of the city and who uses public transportation to get around, traveling to Restaurant Zaragoza is a long journey (about 2-hours in each direction, in my situation) – but worth it (but not an ‘every week’ venture). If you move about by car (as I was this past weekend), well, it’s much easier. There’s an Orange Line elevated train station about 1.5 blocks south of the restaurant, and the Pulaski Rd., Archer Ave. and 47th St. busses will get you there as well.
For the Chowhound looking for truly “authentic” Mexican food, available probably at only several locations in the Chicagoland area – you won’t be disappointed by Zaragoza Restaurant.
4852 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60632-4116
Open Mon,Wed-Fri 10am-7pm; Weekends 8am-4pm
Zaragoza really is different from the other birria places around town, to the point where it's almost an entirely seperate kind of food. Most other places serve chunks of stewed meat in a salty and oily broth. You'll often get chunks of gristle and fat in your bowl. It's tasty enough, but nothing special.
Zaragoza puts a lot of care into plating the meat so you get perfect proportions of lean to fat, with no gristle. The meat is seared so it has a crunchy crust on top, which is a perfect contrast to the juicy layers swimming in the subtly flavored broth underneath. They just put a lot more effort into the prep instead of slinging out a bowl of salty soup. I only wish it wasn't so far away.
"Zaragoza puts a lot of care into plating the meat so you get perfect proportions of lean to fat, with no gristle. The meat is seared so it has a crunchy crust on top, which is a perfect contrast to the juicy layers swimming in the subtly flavored broth underneath. They just put a lot more effort into the prep instead of slinging out a bowl of salty soup."
This is very true. I sat at the "bar" and watched the guy behind the glass meticulously chop up the meat, and go through the pieces looking for bits of bone - something I'd never had a birrieria do. Also probably why their dining area is so small - otherwise they wouldn't be able to give the attention to each plate (and diner) that it deserves.
I went to Birrieria Zaragoza for lunch today, and oh my god, that is some excellent birria. Normally, I am not big on "seeing the kitchen", but it was pretty neat to watch the guy back there pull out big hunks of goat meat to chop up. He did a good job too getting out the bones (normally with birria, you end up having to pull out some bones from your taco). The birria (ordered carnaza(?), bone-in) was excellent, but those tortillas were just fantastic. Straight from the griddle too. They were great on topping me off each time I got down to my last tortilla. Really friendly, and great service too. It is a wonder that this tiny place (which was full) doesn't have a never ending line out the door. I think I would line up for the tortillas alone.
Only quibbles (which are minor) are that I thought the plato grande wasn't all that grande (I debated ordering another, but then thought about trying Los Gallos) and it seemed a little excessive to charge $3.75 for a single person for the molcajete salsa (was good though). Minor things like these don't really matter though when you serve food this good.
I stopped at Zaragoza Restaurant yesterday for a wonderful meal of birria tatemada, and a couple of hours with the Zaragoza family and restaurant customers. When you go to the Zaragoza you can 'hit and run', enter, eat and leave in 30-minutes, or you can soak-in the cooking and 'other patrons' environment and leave, afterwards, having experienced something special.
Yesterday was fun. Between preparing the roasted goat orders for diners, owner Juan Zaragoza played the guitar and sang, and accompanied a well-known lead singer in a local Mexican musical group and they worked their way through a list of classic ballads. Son Jonathan, also a musician/singer, wasn't to be out-done by his dad - and he picked up the guitar and sang some contemporary songs in Spanish and English.
The Zaragozas have some big, new plans for the restaurant. There will be an expansion into space in an adjoining building, which will afford the opportunity for customer parking and an outdoor eating area. Juan Zaragoza took me into the new space to explain his plans, which, if realized, will see the business change but also keep its core focus on birria.
If you enjoy Mexican regional specialties then I think you'll enjoy Zaragoza Restaurant. It's worth the effort to get there.
Additional hours for the restaurant: Now open on Tuesday, and open until 7 p.m. on the weekends as well. Closed Monday.
I've uploaded a couple of new photos, taken yesterday, to the Zaragoza Restaurant review here on Chowhound and you can view them there.