By David Hammond
Driving south on Pulaski, between 48th and 49th, even if you’re looking hard for Birrieria Zaragoza, even if you’ve been there before, you might drive right past it. It’s a small, family-run restaurant, seating around twenty. This well-kept, humble place doesn’t have any flashy signage. It probably doesn’t need it, judging by the crowds inside who regularly chow down, elbow-to-elbow, on what might be the finest birria tatemada you’ll find anywhere (except, perhaps, Jalisco, Mexico).
The birria is prepared and served up by John-Juan, his wife Norma, and their children Jonathan, Erik, Tony and daughter Andie.
The hungry horde that comes to eat at Birrieria Zaragoza is frequently so large that a storefront next door is opened up for people to sit in several rows of chairs, like at the DMV, patiently waiting for a table or take-out.
In early 2016, the Zaragozas accepted the Jean Banchet award for “Best Ethnic Restaurant,” the first time this award was given to anyone. We strongly suspect this category was created specifically to honor the family’s work in perfecting birria tatemada in Chicago. Birria tatemada is goat meat, steamed for hours, slathered with mole sauce, and then roasted to create a beautiful blend of textures, crunchy crisp in places, lushly soft in others, with good spice but not so much that the goodness of the goat is obscured.