A quesabirria taco (left, with cheese) and regular, birria taco (right)
Tender shredded beef birria, swimming in reddish brown broth that leaves an orange ring ‘round the edges of the Styrofoam cup containing it. That’s the Tijuana-style specialty of National City’s 664 TJ Birrieria.
505 Highland Avenue, National City
1794 Newton Avenue, San Diego
But it’s not just National City’s anymore. Over the past three years, the small South Bay birria shop has multiplied, expanding to locations in Barrio Logan, Chula Vista, Palm City, Logan Heights, City Heights, and all the way out on the Las Vegas Strip.
It can be fun to imagine midwestern tourists who cruise the Strip trying to pronounce birrieria. Such customers may not immediately recognize that TJ means Tijuana, nor that 664 refers to the Tijuana area code. But maybe, if they get as far as pronouncing it “beery area,” they’ll make the association with San Diego.
A half order tub of beef birria
Not that I can say it much better. I valiantly try but fail to trill those Rs as I place my half order of the shredded beef stew ($7.50; large goes for $11). But however you pronounce birria, there’s little question it lands warm in your belly, making it an ideal take-out order in cool weather.
I paid a lunchtime visit to the Barrio Logan location (1794 Newton Avenue, Barrio Logan), and found I wasn’t alone in thinking so. Health care and manufacturing workers in the immediate vicinity bee-lined for the place. People getting out of cars picked up large orders of the beefy stew, along with stacks of corn tortillas with a distinctive orange hue, having been dipped in the beef consommé.
The Barrio Logan location of 664 TJ Birrieria
It’s easy enough to take it all home and use the included fixin's (diced onion, cilantro, and radishes) to roll the beef shreds into tacos. One of the best parts of 664 TJ is the excellent, slightly roasty red salsa. Though I add this generously to any taco, quesadilla, or tostada, I still want to dip everything back into that thick reddish broth. I’m bound to make a sloppy, savory mess, but it’s always going to taste better that way.
That’s why I recommend ordering a Styrofoam cup of birria, or at least consommé, even though the 664 TJ shops do offer the aforementioned tacos ($2.25), quesadilla ($2.80, with corn tortillas), etc. They serve quesabirria tacos (with melted cheese added, $3.50) and madrazos ($4.50), which are flour tortilla quesadillas with some of the shredded birria beef pressed within.
The madrazo – like a flour tortilla quesadilla with beef birria inside
Though these are terrific, and though I will gladly pay extra to add cheese to most cheese-optional dishes in this world, birria doesn’t really need it. And while 664 TJ’s birria isn’t the most flavorful in town (I see you, Tuetano Taqueria), when you add that 664 salsa, it’s tough to go wrong.