He had an uncle who cooked birria whenever the Lakers won a championship, and to research the dish, Mr. Jaquez spent months interviewing older generations of home cooks. Do you put tomato in your birria? Do you use avocado leaves, and what are your thoughts on adding agave?
He distilled his notes and practiced. He now makes an adobo full of charred chiles, spices and other aromatics, and slowly, gently braises the meat. His birria is lean, but deep with flavor, made with lamb or beef.
“Marrying the delicate braise with the heavy complex flavors — that process is birria,” he said.
Teddy Vasquez learned to make birria in Tijuana in 2015, just as demand for the local style of birria de res was picking up. He had studied aviation mechanics, and worked trucking goods back and forth between Los Angeles and Tijuana, but his business wasn’t doing well. Neither was he.
He was depressed. He was drinking. He was in debt. When a friend offered him work at Birrieria El Paisa, he almost snubbed him. Before the hype, birria was considered a reliable, old-school hangover cure in Los Angeles, fortifying you late on a weekend morning, or drawing generations of family together after church.
“At first I thought, cooking birria isn’t for me,” Mr. Vasquez said. “I knew birria as this big plate of goat with a strong aftertaste, as something for older generations.”
But what Mr. Vasquez learned in Tijuana was a revelation — birria as contemporary, everyday food, made with beef and a different calibration of spices. He particularly admired the consomé, and the crunch on the tortillas cooked in the rendered fat skimmed from the top. “I started getting excited,” said Mr. Vasquez, who got motivated by watching Tony Robbins and Les Brown clips on YouTube. “I thought, what if I take this back to L.A.? What if it’s possible for me to make my own version of it? What if, what if, what if!”
While driving for Lyft and Uber in Los Angeles, he saved up for basic equipment — a giant pot, a blender, a stainless steel table. And in his old Geo Prizm, he zigzagged through the city, selling beef-shoulder birria tacos to workers at the entrance of a sewing factory, or outside a club late at night, asking his mother to help take orders, telling every single person he met to follow him on Facebook and Instagram.