Goat Love, Zacatecas-Style
The Mexican state of Zacatecas occupies the same status as Colombia in the county’s culinary scene: Despite having thousands of its residents and descendants (including your humble scribe) living in la naranja, there are almost no restaurants devoted to Zacatecan cuisine—no dives selling asado (a version of mole so sweet it makes mole negro taste like cork), asadura (Mexican haggis, complete with beef lungs, blood and stomach), or even a type of salty, orange-rinded cheese lovingly nicknamed queso de pata (foot cheese) due to its rank smell. Indeed, the only Zacatecan dish I know of that is easily available ‘round these parts is our version of birria, the goat stew we stole from neighboring Jalisco in our eternal struggle for the title of the más chingones Mexicans. Even then, one of the few places that offers it is Birriería Nochistlán.
Zacatecan birria differs from its Jaliscan rival in two key areas: spicier broth and being hacked off the bone until it achieves the stringy glory of pulled pork. You can order it at Birrieria Nochistlán (named after a municipality on the Zacatecas-Jalisco border) en su jugo—in a broth redolent of a thousand roasted-goat drippings mixed with cloves, seeds of chile de árbol, lemon, onions and tomatoes. You can send a cup of Nochistlán’s broth to researchers at UC Irvine, and the eggheads wouldn’t determine all the ingredients for years. Or you can order it the best way to enjoy Nochistlán’s birria, with jugo al lado—on the side in a cup, the better to enjoy its concentrated vigor.
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Nochistlán serves this non-soup birria on a Styrofoam plate—just a mound, at least a pound of goat served as is. It’s up to the eater to decorate the meat with an accompanying plate of diced white onions, cut limes and cilantro (no oregano, which would be a menudo heresy). Another bowl holds fresh salsa made from chile de árbol, a gnarled demon that has the dry smokiness of chipotle and the fury of jalapeños. The hand-made tortillas sit warm in a canister—you know what to do. Scoop the goat meat into the tortilla, add in onions and cilantro to taste, squeeze on the limes, throw in a dash of salsa, then wrap tightly and dunk into the steaming cup. Nochistlán’s goat meat is already great—a tad crispy, gamy—but that broth! It would make a block of wood a gourmet meal. Birria isn’t the only item on the menu, but hell if I know or care what else they sell.
Oh, and one warning for those of you who care about these types of things: Birriería Nochistlán is located in a part of Santa Ana that makes Stanton seem as glamorous as Coto. Whatever—look at the taxidermied goat head on the wall!
Birriería Nochistlán, 1628 S. Standard Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 972-1482.