Birrieria Tijuana | ★★½ | Mexican | $ | 1111 S.W. 128th St., Burien; 253-259-9465, birrieriatijuana.com; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., daily; no reservations.
If you follow the food pack on social media, your feed likely features a zillion posts of these scarlet-colored birria tacos stuffed with gooey cheese and beef drippings.
They’re everywhere, these tacos, popping up as frequently as fried-chicken sandwiches did last fall.
These are crunchy cheese tacos stuffed with beef that has been simmering in a medley of dried chiles. Nearly every major restaurant section — from The New York Times to the Los Angeles Times — has devoted prime real estate in their food sections to these tacos that originated in Tijuana, Mexico, and in recent years, have migrated to Southern California and up to the Bay Area.
Well, birria hysteria has reached Seattle, via a taqueria in Burien. In December, the wait at Birrieria Tijuana ran as long as airport TSA lines on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
In the past 18 months, you might have seen these cheesy tacos make cameo appearances as “lunch specials” on food trucks. But birria from the wife-and-husband team of Genoveva Arias and Fredy Zavala is the one that has captured the hearts and stomachs of taco hounds and California transplants in and around Seattle.
On weekends, servers drag out folding tables and chairs because the 44 seats aren’t enough. They sell up to 4,000 tacos every Sunday, their busiest day.
The demand remains high enough that the couple recently opened a second branch in Lakewood, with a third outpost in Everett coming in March. They also plan to serve their signature tacos around Seattle in a food truck or trailer by Labor Day.
This all seems surreal for the couple who, last summer, didn’t bother putting up their restaurant Facebook page in English since they expected only Mexican immigrants to frequent their taqueria.
Located 3 miles south of White Center, Birrieria Tijuana sits inside Guadalupe Market, sharing dining space with another tenant who runs a money-transfer booth in a corner.
No chicken or pork here. Their streamlined, 11-item menu derives from one protein: the beef that comes out of the simmering vats filled with chuck steak and chili peppers. They’re served as burritos, tacos or other tortilla variations.
Get the taco dorado if you want a beefy bite unadulterated with cheese.
Or try the mulita, similar to a quesadilla, if you want a crispier surface, with the cheese and beef proportion more evenly spread out.
But their bursting-at-the-seams birria taco is why Seattleites drive to Burien and put up with the long wait.
This taco possesses the three traits every red-blooded barhopper craves: a gooey, crunchy, salty bite.
The corn tortilla gets filled with a scoop of shredded beef and mozzarella and then folded over, each side ladled with fatty skim off the beef consommé and fried until the cheese not only coats the strands of beef, but also turns gooey enough to stretch out in between bites.
Wait! We’re not done.
You eat this like a French dip sandwich, dunking the taco in a Styrofoam bowl of beef consommé ($3) to soak up the beef tallow and the smoky flavors from the ancho and other chili peppers.
It’s damned near impossible to wolf this down without a trip to the salsa bar. I doctored mine with a squeeze of lime and a mound of pickled onions and tomatillo sauce to cut into the milky richness.
Like a poutine, this grease bomb will taste even better after your rec-league game or a tramp up Mailbox Peak.
But there is a point of diminishing returns. The first taco is everything you want. The second gets oozy-heavier but goes down easy. By the third, you’re gonna need a nap or a cardiologist.
Birrieria Tijuana: 1111 S.W. 128th St., Burien; 253-259-9465 birrieriatijuana.com; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Recommended for birria tacos, birria mulitas, tacos dorados and the horchata
Reservations not taken. If you avoid Sundays, there’s hardly a line now, except during the weekday lunch rush. The birria tacos are made to order, so those take longer.
Prices: $3-$5 for tacos; consommé $3.50; burritos $10; aguas frescas $3.50
Noise level tranquil on weekdays, though the decibel level picks up a few notches on Fridays and Sunday afternoons, when the dining room draws crowds and long waits.
Service can take 10 to 15 minutes even without a line, since many place large to-go orders over the phone.
Drinks: no liquor. Sodas and aguas frescas.
Access is challenging if you are in a wheelchair; to get to the restroom, exit the restaurant and go next door to Guadalupe Market, where the men’s and women’s restrooms are tucked in the back, by the bakery.