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Ed Fernandez Birrieria voted by Yelp as the best taco joint in America

Try the queso taco extreme

Tortilla-less birria taco: Cheesy, beautiful mess. Chupacabras above
Tortilla-less birria taco: Cheesy, beautiful mess. Chupacabras above

“That used to be the beef jerky place,” says Will. He lives around here. “See? It’s in one of the apartments of that building. Weird. Pretty popular, though.” We’re sitting in Will’s ’95 Bronco, in front of what looks like a cream-colored stucco low-rise apartment building. And hey, they have three lines of folks standing outside, waiting to give their orders.

Place

Fernandez Restaurant

2265 Flower Avenue, San Diego

Have to say: this spot, off Hollister — the street that runs down from Coronado Avenue between Egger Highlands, Palm City, and Nestor — is just a country mile north of the Mexican line. And a hard-to-find location for what has just been voted — get this! Drum roll please! — the best tacqueria in all of the United States. That’s right, the Yelp computers decided the Ed Fernandez Birrieria is the #1 taco joint in all the land.

Trescientos veintiséis! 326!” Marco Ruvalcaba  yells.

Jorge Fernandez beside the sign that memorializes his brother Ed

“We’re blessed,” he says to me a moment later. “Business was always good, but ever since this incredible announcement last month, it has been crazy. It’s not every day you’re called ‘Best in America.’”

Alma, a new gal under instruction from Marco, points to the simple piece of paper that is the menu. It’s divided into three sections: tacos, queso tacos, and broths and plate orders. So for starters, I have to ask: birria? What is birria? Marco says it’s basically shredded beef (although in Mexico, it’s usually goat), slow-cooked in a stew of essentials like garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and thyme, and then often finished in the oven. It seems this latest Mexican culinary star started life as a despised dish: “birria” means “worthless.” It was goat meat, the toughest, and raunchy tasting —the only meat the conquistadors made available to the subdued native Indian population. Except the “Indians” had always known how to tenderize meat through marinating, plus slow, low-temp cooking and spice rubs. Birria was born.

Two centuries later, it has been reborn across California and the world, an unbelievable phenomenon which has become the coolest Mexican dish around. And the owner here turns out to be one of its pioneers. “I was born in Mexico City,” says Jorge Fernandez (he named this place the Ed Fernandez Birrieria after his brother Eduardo, who passed away). “I came to Tijuana when I was four, and I moved to the United States when I was 15. And right away, I started working in a Mexican restaurant, and then American restaurants. At the time, around 2005, there were no birria places in San Diego. I love birria. I used to go to Tijuana to get birria. And then I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I open a birria place in San Diego?’ So I did. I was the first and only. Now everyone sells it, from New York to Wisconsin, Chicago, LA.”

Sponsored
Sponsored
The taco that conquered America: Quesa Taco Extremo Maza Nervio on house-made tortilla

I ask him why he’s only open mornings.  “Birria is a morning dish. It’s comfort breakfast food, like menudo. Good to wake up to.”

So which is the birria taco that got them to the top of Yelp? “My queso taco extreme,” he says. “You must try it.”

I do. Costs $5.15. I have it with nervios. Tendons. “Tendons make it sloppier,” warns Marco. “A lot of people don’t like it so much, but others love them.” And we don’t stop there. There’s a bunch of items I don’t recognize and want to try. Like chupacabras. Basically, the name means “sucker of goat blood.” The chupacabra is supposed to be a mythical monster that roams areas like northern Mexico and the southwest U.S., attacking goats. Uh huh. They say it could actually be coyotes driven mad by mange, because goats do get found, not eaten, but drained of their blood via two or three neat fang holes. Maybe goat blood helps with the maddening itching of mange. Whatever, it turns out in this instance, the chupacabra is birria de rez — beef birria — with tendons. Costs $3.45 for a taco, $4.75 for a queso taco.

Then there’s the tatemado taco ($3.35). The word’s Nahuatl. Means blackened, chargrilled.

“They always say having a consommé helps birria’s flavor,” says Will. “You can kind of dip the taco in.” The consommé is made from the drippings from the cooking process. So we order up a 12-ounce consommé for $2.75.  And mama, that is the best thing we could have done, because the broth gives such rich flavor and slops down each of the tacos. You can also get a consommé con carne, which is the soup with the meat in it, for $5.75. These are good prices.

Marco Ruvalcaba is getting used to doing this

So we’re sitting down among the dozen tables they’ve planted in the parking lot, and when the food comes, I can’t help nibbling on the tortilla-free queso taco. Just a little. But you can tell. On the way to Will’s and Ria’s home, I start stewing aloud, as ’t’were. “She’s not going to be happy.”

“Leave this to me,” says Will. We pull up outside this cute IB cottage. Will takes the food with him. Ria looks inside the bag. “Oh, the second taco?” says Will. “You wouldn’t like it. You ever heard of a chupacabra, that mangey monster that sucks the blood of goats? Disgusting animals!”

Actually it is very delicious, even though the most delish of all is that queso taco with no tortilla ($5.50). They have wrap-toasted the cheese around the mound of totally tender, umami-ish beef. It is dee-lish. Specially with glugs of broth, and the burning flavorsomeness of the orange hot sauce that Jorge makes every day. It’s all so good. (’Course, you’ve got to eat it leaning over, because ooze is gonna happen.) I’m surprised Jorge hasn’t put his prices up already. Except he’s not that kind of guy.

“I heard [of the honor] on a Monday, when we’re closed,” he tells me. “I was running when a friend of mine texted me. He said ‘Did you know that you’ve been voted #1 in the United States?’ I thought it was a mistake, that he probably meant San Diego. I know I have five stars in San Diego. But then friends started texting me with congratulations. They said ‘You have been voted Number One in the whole nation!’ I found it unbelievable. But I give my thanks to my wife Rogelia, and my team. I’ve got the best team in the world.”

The Place: Ed Fernandez Birrieria, 2265 Flower Avenue, Suite D, Nestor, South Bay, 619-628-8235

Hours: 7am-2pm daily (closed Monday, Tuesday)

Prices: Taco de birria, $3.15; taco de birria con nervio (tendons), $3.45; taco tatemado (chargrilled), $3.35; quesataco de paquete, $4.50; quesataco extremo, $4.75; chupacabras, $4.75; handmade mulita, $5; consomme, $2.75; consomme con carne (with two tortillas), $5.75; large order of birria tatemada with 6 tortillas, $16; cafe de la casa (coffee, cinnamon, brown sugar, cream) $4.60

Buses: 901, 933, 934

Nearest Bus Stops: Coronado Avenue at Hollister

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Tortilla-less birria taco: Cheesy, beautiful mess. Chupacabras above
Tortilla-less birria taco: Cheesy, beautiful mess. Chupacabras above

“That used to be the beef jerky place,” says Will. He lives around here. “See? It’s in one of the apartments of that building. Weird. Pretty popular, though.” We’re sitting in Will’s ’95 Bronco, in front of what looks like a cream-colored stucco low-rise apartment building. And hey, they have three lines of folks standing outside, waiting to give their orders.

Place

Fernandez Restaurant

2265 Flower Avenue, San Diego

Have to say: this spot, off Hollister — the street that runs down from Coronado Avenue between Egger Highlands, Palm City, and Nestor — is just a country mile north of the Mexican line. And a hard-to-find location for what has just been voted — get this! Drum roll please! — the best tacqueria in all of the United States. That’s right, the Yelp computers decided the Ed Fernandez Birrieria is the #1 taco joint in all the land.

Trescientos veintiséis! 326!” Marco Ruvalcaba  yells.

Jorge Fernandez beside the sign that memorializes his brother Ed

“We’re blessed,” he says to me a moment later. “Business was always good, but ever since this incredible announcement last month, it has been crazy. It’s not every day you’re called ‘Best in America.’”

Alma, a new gal under instruction from Marco, points to the simple piece of paper that is the menu. It’s divided into three sections: tacos, queso tacos, and broths and plate orders. So for starters, I have to ask: birria? What is birria? Marco says it’s basically shredded beef (although in Mexico, it’s usually goat), slow-cooked in a stew of essentials like garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and thyme, and then often finished in the oven. It seems this latest Mexican culinary star started life as a despised dish: “birria” means “worthless.” It was goat meat, the toughest, and raunchy tasting —the only meat the conquistadors made available to the subdued native Indian population. Except the “Indians” had always known how to tenderize meat through marinating, plus slow, low-temp cooking and spice rubs. Birria was born.

Two centuries later, it has been reborn across California and the world, an unbelievable phenomenon which has become the coolest Mexican dish around. And the owner here turns out to be one of its pioneers. “I was born in Mexico City,” says Jorge Fernandez (he named this place the Ed Fernandez Birrieria after his brother Eduardo, who passed away). “I came to Tijuana when I was four, and I moved to the United States when I was 15. And right away, I started working in a Mexican restaurant, and then American restaurants. At the time, around 2005, there were no birria places in San Diego. I love birria. I used to go to Tijuana to get birria. And then I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I open a birria place in San Diego?’ So I did. I was the first and only. Now everyone sells it, from New York to Wisconsin, Chicago, LA.”

Sponsored
Sponsored
The taco that conquered America: Quesa Taco Extremo Maza Nervio on house-made tortilla

I ask him why he’s only open mornings.  “Birria is a morning dish. It’s comfort breakfast food, like menudo. Good to wake up to.”

So which is the birria taco that got them to the top of Yelp? “My queso taco extreme,” he says. “You must try it.”

I do. Costs $5.15. I have it with nervios. Tendons. “Tendons make it sloppier,” warns Marco. “A lot of people don’t like it so much, but others love them.” And we don’t stop there. There’s a bunch of items I don’t recognize and want to try. Like chupacabras. Basically, the name means “sucker of goat blood.” The chupacabra is supposed to be a mythical monster that roams areas like northern Mexico and the southwest U.S., attacking goats. Uh huh. They say it could actually be coyotes driven mad by mange, because goats do get found, not eaten, but drained of their blood via two or three neat fang holes. Maybe goat blood helps with the maddening itching of mange. Whatever, it turns out in this instance, the chupacabra is birria de rez — beef birria — with tendons. Costs $3.45 for a taco, $4.75 for a queso taco.

Then there’s the tatemado taco ($3.35). The word’s Nahuatl. Means blackened, chargrilled.

“They always say having a consommé helps birria’s flavor,” says Will. “You can kind of dip the taco in.” The consommé is made from the drippings from the cooking process. So we order up a 12-ounce consommé for $2.75.  And mama, that is the best thing we could have done, because the broth gives such rich flavor and slops down each of the tacos. You can also get a consommé con carne, which is the soup with the meat in it, for $5.75. These are good prices.

Marco Ruvalcaba is getting used to doing this

So we’re sitting down among the dozen tables they’ve planted in the parking lot, and when the food comes, I can’t help nibbling on the tortilla-free queso taco. Just a little. But you can tell. On the way to Will’s and Ria’s home, I start stewing aloud, as ’t’were. “She’s not going to be happy.”

“Leave this to me,” says Will. We pull up outside this cute IB cottage. Will takes the food with him. Ria looks inside the bag. “Oh, the second taco?” says Will. “You wouldn’t like it. You ever heard of a chupacabra, that mangey monster that sucks the blood of goats? Disgusting animals!”

Actually it is very delicious, even though the most delish of all is that queso taco with no tortilla ($5.50). They have wrap-toasted the cheese around the mound of totally tender, umami-ish beef. It is dee-lish. Specially with glugs of broth, and the burning flavorsomeness of the orange hot sauce that Jorge makes every day. It’s all so good. (’Course, you’ve got to eat it leaning over, because ooze is gonna happen.) I’m surprised Jorge hasn’t put his prices up already. Except he’s not that kind of guy.

“I heard [of the honor] on a Monday, when we’re closed,” he tells me. “I was running when a friend of mine texted me. He said ‘Did you know that you’ve been voted #1 in the United States?’ I thought it was a mistake, that he probably meant San Diego. I know I have five stars in San Diego. But then friends started texting me with congratulations. They said ‘You have been voted Number One in the whole nation!’ I found it unbelievable. But I give my thanks to my wife Rogelia, and my team. I’ve got the best team in the world.”

The Place: Ed Fernandez Birrieria, 2265 Flower Avenue, Suite D, Nestor, South Bay, 619-628-8235

Hours: 7am-2pm daily (closed Monday, Tuesday)

Prices: Taco de birria, $3.15; taco de birria con nervio (tendons), $3.45; taco tatemado (chargrilled), $3.35; quesataco de paquete, $4.50; quesataco extremo, $4.75; chupacabras, $4.75; handmade mulita, $5; consomme, $2.75; consomme con carne (with two tortillas), $5.75; large order of birria tatemada with 6 tortillas, $16; cafe de la casa (coffee, cinnamon, brown sugar, cream) $4.60

Buses: 901, 933, 934

Nearest Bus Stops: Coronado Avenue at Hollister

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