On a brisk day in north Phoenix, just west of the Deer Valley airport, a parking lot that was utterly vacant the day before starts to fill very early in the lunch hour. A cluster of portable tables and chairs. A canopy. A cramped kitchen on wheels. All makeshift on the pavement beside Deer Valley Road. Sitting at a table, waiting for food, you feel at ease.
Cars zip by. The blue sky glares. Now and then, you whiff the sudden tang of gasoline.
People at tables hunch, softly talk, cradle tacos. They sip horchata, giant vessels of agua fresca, and tiny cups of dark broth floating with chopped herbs. Many dip spoons into yawning bowls of birria, their faces warmed by fragrant steam.
The religiously quiet crowd at Birrieria Tijuana is here for one thing: Tijuana-style birria. At this truck, which has quickly become one of the more drive-worthy Mexican food trucks in town, the beloved beef stew comes in many forms. One you have to try: quesabirria.
Quesabirria is the meat and solid goodness of birria taken from the broth and married with melted cheese and a hot tortilla, all eaten as a taco. The stew’s broth often comes on the side, coiling steam just like birria bowls, for spooning to your mouth or direct sipping between rich bites of taco. These days, quesabirria is in the vortex of a wild moment on the West Coast. In cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, people are traveling and waiting in line for a cheesy taste.
If you pull up to Birrieria Tijuana before 11:30 a.m., there shouldn’t be a line. You should get one of the precious few tables.
Food comes fast. On that recent day with cars swishing by just a few yards away, my lunch came in three or four minutes. Two orders of quesabirria. One quesataco. Not to mention an agua fresca that carried the fruity flavor of overripe pineapple, poured with ice into my wide Styrofoam lid.
The quesabirria here is $6.99. Each comes as a quesadilla, though you can also get it in other variably priced forms, like quesataco and vampiro. The quesadilla’s orange-tinted shell is bisected, yielding two half moons leaking gloppy cheese and long-stewed beef.
It’s on from the heartbeat these babies arrive. Though out of the broth, the tender beef still leaks juices. These threaten to sog the bottom tortilla. So add extras quickly from the portable salsa-and-condiment station between the tables — be sure to grab a lime to cut richness; consider skipping the hot sauce, which though nice seems to subtract by addition — and get busy.
Start with the cup of broth that comes on the side. It has a touch of fire, a slow-rising chile heat that sneaks up on you in the course of sipping. This rich broth seems to have a restorative power, a feel-good antidote to the doldrums of life that intensifies when the cool wind gusts and slips into your sweatshirt hood.
Under the low-key pressure of the leaky broth and spell of the general goodness of quessabirria, I tend to knock down mine pretty quickly.
The one from Birriera Tijuana has all the richness of a forever-simmered birria, and all the molten cheesy glory of a great quesadilla. It makes for the kinds of rabid bites that vanquish all non-lunch thoughts and immerse you completely in the moment: the richness of primal beef, all the drip control, watching the bustling of the kitchen and kind waitstaff, seeing people arrive as hungry as you were, and lowering for soft, cheesy bites until your lunch is gone.
By noon, the truck’s modest patch in the greater parking lot will likely be packed. Luckily, you can also find quesabirria at a few other places here in town, like Birrieria Obregon and Birria Queen. The number of quesabirria spots should increase as its trend filters to the Valley.
But coasts and trends aside, roadside at Birriera Tijuana staring down a beef-spilling quesadilla come lunchtime is a great place to be.
1926 West Deer Valley Road; 480-250-0274.
Hours: 1 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.
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