The upstanding beef bone is impressive, but the birria tacos hold the golden prize here
‘Suck the marrow, drink the beans,” says the guy coming out. “And watch out: the birria squirts.”
I’ve just walked the half mile down from the Beyer Blue Line trolley stop. Deepest San Ysidro. I recognize this last piece of town before Mexico. This is an old settlement. Here’s the San Ysidro Hotel. Still up and running — okay, running might be pushing it. But it’s still occupied. It started life as a farmhouse. In 1910, around 300 disillusioned townies came down to this exact spot to buy an acre and turn it into their own little farm, part of one big community. San Diego’s first commune.
143 West San Ysidro Boulevard, San Ysidro, CA
Me, I’m looking for a little place I used to drop into for a late brekky. Don Felix Cafe. Uh oh. Don Felix’s tile-roofed cottage is now painted bright yellow and sporting a sign that says, “Tuétano Taqueria.” This I gotta try. Hey. Think my companero Ian Anderson wrote about this last year. What I remember is that “Tuétano” means “bone marrow.” Marrow, I love! Childhood thing. This is a must-try.
DOD faces enjoy a good joke
“Taquero Mucho,” says a sign with a heart, on a shelf right inside. Oh, right. Get it. Te quiero. Day of the Dead skulls seem to get the joke too. They’re laughing teethily. Everything’s fresh inside. Light gray and white walls. Yellow chairs, some black. Finely-drawn cactuses decorate other walls. Also some blackboard signs. Like this one: “Please let us know if you have a question or concern, to help or fix anything right away. Why complicate it, when everything has a solution. And we want you to leave satisfied.”
Wow. Wonder what situation provoked that?
Whatever, the server Perla has come round from the kitchen — right behind glass panels here in the room.“Buenas tardes,” she says.
“Do you have beef marrow bones?” I ask her.
“Yes,” says Perla. “But people usually have them with birria tacos.”
Better check the wall menu. D’aagh, birria tacos. (Birria? Spicy stew recipe originally from Jalisco state. Traditionally goat or mutton, but this is probably gonna be beef). They are $2.75. Quesabirria (same, plus cheese), $3. Carne asada tacos are $3 ($3.50 with cheese). Cochinita pibil (a slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatan) dirty style tacos are $2.75, and a longaniza sausage with cheese goes for $3.
Joke en Español!
Quesadillas are mostly $7, with rajas, poblano chili strips, inside, or carne asada. A sencilla (“simple,” cheese only) is $3.
The other thing with potential is the torta, $7.50, either asada or campechana — “country-style” — usually carnitas, and maybe chorizo, plus avo, cheese, onion, salsa. They have extras such as frijoles (“de la olla,” $1.50), consommé soup ($1.50), and tuétano, which is the bones still filled with their natural marrow ($3.50).
This is why I’m here. The marrow. But I like Perla’s advice. I go for two birria tacos, plus a little pot of frijolles. I also get a bottle of horchata (a combo of pecans and coconut milk, $2.60).
And here is where the fun begins. Perla brings two corn tortilla tacos, steaming and glowing golden in the afternoon sun, stuffed with meat, onions, and cilantro. Plus a pot of frijoles. Plus this pillar of roasted bone with stuff in the middle that looks as though it is bubbling.
I see a jar of dark-looking salsa. “Salsa Macha,” says a sign. I pour a teaspoonful over one taco, just to see. Then three things happen:
- I take a bite and send a squirt of meat juice out one side and onto the floor.
- I go into a swoon of delight. The taste of the birria is out of this world. We have umamissimo! Rich and savory.
- I try to tackle the marrow. Not as easy as it looks. The viscous stuff in the middle of the bone doesn’t want to come out. I try sucking it out. I try licking it out. I try blowing the danged stuff out from the opposite end. Ooh. Bone’s hot. I try the teaspoon they give you. It won’t fit.
Finally I get up and poke my head into the kitchen. “How do I get to the marrow?”
“Ah,” says Perla. “You can chupa, suck it out, or you can use the spoon.”
“I tried both. The Bone is too hot to put your lips against, and the spoon’s too big.”
“Use the handle end.”
I do, and the lumpy, liquid stuff does finally start oozing out the other end. And yes, it has that flavor that makes you think of roast beef. And childhood roars back. My cousins and I sticking our fingers into the bones and hauling out this never-forgotten taste.
The frijoles give you a break from all the richness, and fill in any spare corners in the gut. But first, you need to drink the beany liquids on top. Mmm. Sabroso.
Back to the birria: I put on just a tad too much of the salsa macha. Thank goodness for the horchata. It cools down chili-burn like no other drink.
The two tacos and marrow and frijoles are plenty enough for any manjack. Or womanjill. And it seems this place is run by all women. Also, sign says they are a “plastic-free eatery. (No straws and plastic bags).” Cool.
So bottom line is, I liked the prices, loved the marrow, but absolutely loved the birria tacos.
If you go, just remember, watch the squirt.
- The Place: Tuétano Taqueria, 143 W. San Ysidro Boulevard, San Ysidro, 619-598-4325
- Hours: 10-6pm, daily (till 5pm, Sunday, Monday); Closed Tuesday
- Prices: Birria taco, $2.75; quesabirria (birria taco, plus cheese), $3; carne asada tacos, $3 ($3.50 with cheese); cochinita pibil dirty style, $2.75; longaniza sausage with cheese, $3; carne asada quesadilla, $7; cheese quesadilla, $3; torta (asada or campechana), $7.50; frijoles de la olla, $1.50; consommé soup, $1.50; tuétano (bones filled with marrow), $3.50 each; horchata drink (pecans, coconut milk), $2.60
- Buses: 906, 907
- Nearest Bus Stop: W. San Ysidro Boulevard and Cypress Drive (northbound); W. San Ysidro Boulevard and Via de San Ysidro (southbound)