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COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Oh, You Kid

March 24, 1994|JONATHAN GOLD

Birrieria Guadalajara is a sweet little place in Long Beach's Wrigley District, a Mexican goat restaurant amid a stretch of laundries and diners and bars without big-screen TV, in a patch of the South Bay that seems more like a small Midwestern downtown than it does like a part of the Southland.

Guadalajara is split-level and well scrubbed; its customers range from stroller-intensive family crowds on weekend mornings to the sort of late-night folks who enjoy many, many cans of Modelo with their goat. This is the kind of idiosyncratic neighborhood Mexican restaurant we tend to take for granted in Los Angeles but miss to distraction when we move: a place with reliable carnitas tacos and steak burritos and chips with blender-whirred hot salsa; with a banda -stocked jukebox that occasionally roars loud as a Megadeth show; with menudo and with home-style tongue in spicy tomato sauce; with ultra-long hours.

This isn't a destination birrieria-- both Birrieria Tepechi in Wilmington and El Parian in the Pico-Union area are lots better, but this is a good neighborhood place. And it may not be the restaurant for seafood: Ceviche tostadas and seafood cocktails have had the funk of iodine about them. A dish intriguingly named camarones levante muertos --shrimp to make the dead rise--involved a half-dozen or so flaccid marinated crustaceans, ghostly white, in a chop of tomatoes and chiles and onions and citrus.

Birria' s always the thing to get in a birria specialty restaurant--entree and supposed hangover cure rolled into one. Here, the goat stew is gamy and chile-red, sweet, a little fatty, stripped from the bone, served in a shallow puddle of its amplified pan drippings. ( Birria drippings are so delicious that certain other restaurants actually serve jugo de birria as a separate course.) You season the birria to taste with chopped onions and cilantro and lime; you amplify the chile heat with fiery homemade chile vinegar served in a cruet. Barbacoa , a similar braise of beef rather than goat, is fine, but somehow too bland: Stick to the goat.

* Birrieria Guadalajara 2336 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, (310) 424-3016. Open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Cash only. Beer and wine. Street parking. Takeout. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $8-$12.

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