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Birria El Rey gives noodles a shot

A ramen of beef birria and consomé offsets tradition in Golden Hill

Golden Hill's Birria El Rey offers birriamen: a.k.a. beef birria ramen.
Golden Hill's Birria El Rey offers birriamen: a.k.a. beef birria ramen.

Birria must be rising in popularity around San Diego, because it’s gotten easier, not harder, to find the stewed meat dish during the pandemic. Mainly, we’re talking about Tijuana-style beef birria (Jalisco, the Mexican state credited with creating the uber savory dish, traditionally cooks it with goat. I don’t think San Diego’s ready to popularize goat just yet).

Place

Birria El Rey

1015 25th St, San Diego

The latest birria-centric eatery opened up a few weeks ago in Golden Hill. Birria El Rey operates out of an extremely small kitchen, in a sort of brick shed that juts off a small office building to be part of a shopping strip next door. Fans of Humberto’s Taco Shop will know the spot.

I half-knew what to expect at El Rey. Like most birria shops, it lets you order shredded beef with onions and corn tortillas ($10.50, or $7.50 for a half order). There's the usual consomé (the stewed meat’s signature beef broth — $3 with beef, $1.50 without), plus a birria burrito made with beans and rice ($9), and a torta with melted cheese ($8.50).

As usual, the easiest way to try this birria on the spot is by ordering tacos. At $2.50 per taco, it’s tough to go wrong. But if there’s ever a time to fork over an additional 75 cents for cheese, this is it. The melted layer of griddle Monterey Jack makes the $3.25 quesabirria taco irresistible. In my heart, I wanted to keep eating those, and skip the rest of the menu.

A brick shack that specializes in birria dishes

Except, further down the menu, Birria El Rey offers a birria modification too interesting to pass up: birriamen. Or birria ramen.

In retrospect, the simple move seems rather obvious. This is a ramen-loving town, so why not dump noodles in with the consomé, and beef on top of that? Traditional ramen toppings such as pickled bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms are easily swapped out in favor of common birria garnishes: cilantro, diced onions, red onions, and radish.

A quesabirria taco made with Monterey jack cheese (left) is worth the 75 cent upgrade over the regular taco (right).

Now, there’s an obvious difference between the soy-based shio and shoyu broths of ramen, and a stock made from aromatic cuts of beef. Even the pork broth, tonkotsu, has a wholly different flavor profile than the slightly offal tang of a birria consomé. But the thick noodles of El Rey’s ramen don’t seem concerned about any deviation from the usual palate. They just do what noodles do; act as a vessel for a soup or sauce to shine.

Birriamen will never supplant tacos or burritos as my preferred mode of birria gluttony, nor replace tonkotsu with char-siu pork in my heart. But it’s not a bad way to get your birria fix on a cold day, and I have to applaud the effort.

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Golden Hill's Birria El Rey offers birriamen: a.k.a. beef birria ramen.
Golden Hill's Birria El Rey offers birriamen: a.k.a. beef birria ramen.

Birria must be rising in popularity around San Diego, because it’s gotten easier, not harder, to find the stewed meat dish during the pandemic. Mainly, we’re talking about Tijuana-style beef birria (Jalisco, the Mexican state credited with creating the uber savory dish, traditionally cooks it with goat. I don’t think San Diego’s ready to popularize goat just yet).

Place

Birria El Rey

1015 25th St, San Diego

The latest birria-centric eatery opened up a few weeks ago in Golden Hill. Birria El Rey operates out of an extremely small kitchen, in a sort of brick shed that juts off a small office building to be part of a shopping strip next door. Fans of Humberto’s Taco Shop will know the spot.

I half-knew what to expect at El Rey. Like most birria shops, it lets you order shredded beef with onions and corn tortillas ($10.50, or $7.50 for a half order). There's the usual consomé (the stewed meat’s signature beef broth — $3 with beef, $1.50 without), plus a birria burrito made with beans and rice ($9), and a torta with melted cheese ($8.50).

As usual, the easiest way to try this birria on the spot is by ordering tacos. At $2.50 per taco, it’s tough to go wrong. But if there’s ever a time to fork over an additional 75 cents for cheese, this is it. The melted layer of griddle Monterey Jack makes the $3.25 quesabirria taco irresistible. In my heart, I wanted to keep eating those, and skip the rest of the menu.

A brick shack that specializes in birria dishes

Except, further down the menu, Birria El Rey offers a birria modification too interesting to pass up: birriamen. Or birria ramen.

In retrospect, the simple move seems rather obvious. This is a ramen-loving town, so why not dump noodles in with the consomé, and beef on top of that? Traditional ramen toppings such as pickled bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms are easily swapped out in favor of common birria garnishes: cilantro, diced onions, red onions, and radish.

A quesabirria taco made with Monterey jack cheese (left) is worth the 75 cent upgrade over the regular taco (right).

Now, there’s an obvious difference between the soy-based shio and shoyu broths of ramen, and a stock made from aromatic cuts of beef. Even the pork broth, tonkotsu, has a wholly different flavor profile than the slightly offal tang of a birria consomé. But the thick noodles of El Rey’s ramen don’t seem concerned about any deviation from the usual palate. They just do what noodles do; act as a vessel for a soup or sauce to shine.

Birriamen will never supplant tacos or burritos as my preferred mode of birria gluttony, nor replace tonkotsu with char-siu pork in my heart. But it’s not a bad way to get your birria fix on a cold day, and I have to applaud the effort.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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