Poor Jeff Overley. He's a good reporter for The Orange County Register who usually covers Newport Beach, but also contributes posts for the paper's Food Frenzy blog. A couple of weeks ago, Overley wrote a post titled "Please, foodies, don't be scared of Santa Ana," in which he pleaded for the Reg's retrograde readers to drop their consistent anti-Mexican bias and visit the county's seat for great food. That, of course, didn't happen, and racist hilarity ensued (on Food Frenzy, as well as on our Stick a Fork In It blog, alas).
Screw the racists! Ustedes gentle readers know of SanTana's many gourmet pleasures, especially the Mexican kind, so here's another dive we get to keep for ourselves: Birrieria Chivo de Oro, a ramshackle space devoted to the art of roasting meat. Oh, how the Reg's core audience would hate this place! There's no menu, and there are tables outside for weekend grilling, plus a swampy aroma emanating from goat slowly roasting until the meat turns into a mound of crispy, fatty strings. The kind cooks collect the chivo drippings for a powerful, amber-colored consommé, oily and spiked with chile, that's presented to you steaming in a bowl with the birria de chivo or to the side in a cup—regardless of vessel, it jolts with the liquefied power of goat. The goat meat itself (your choice of ribs or leg; the former is fattier, the latter, crunchier) is presented simply: rubbed with chile, cooked so the top of the meat is crisped à la carnitas, the inside ruddy, gamy, covered with sheets of yellow fat that slowly melt. Cilantro, onions, lime wedges and two salsas (one smoky, another with a curious vinegar kick) are on the side, but the birria really doesn't need any more flavor: You'll reek of goat for the rest of the day—and love it.
But there is more to Birrieria Chivo de Oro than just goat. It's one of the few OC restaurants that offer birria de res: the same preparation, but using beef, which results in a cleaner taste that's still popping with birria's fatty brilliance. And weekends bring fritanga, one of the hallmark dishes of Sahuayo, the Michoacán city that is to Santa Ana what Iowa was to Long Beach a generation ago. The child of menudo and carnitas, it's beef tripe cooked in pork fat, slathered in salsa, unctuous and likely to scare off the average consumer. But Weekly readers are no mere eaters; we embrace the great and let the Register audience waste away in its xenophobic foolishness.
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This column appeared in print as "The Golden Goat."