"It's my mother's recipe."
I perked up as the friendly woman behind the counter rang up my order.
"Yeah," she continued, "but she would never tell me how to make it. She says it's never going to be the same, and the differences are in the cook's hands."
I nodded, having had the same argument with my own mother. Not every parent is a culinary genius, but if a recipe makes it to the next generation, I'll bet it's worth trying.
To think, my birria order was an impulse buy. I never could resist a stew that features meat—usually goat—slow-cooked in a broth made from multiple types of chiles. My original mission was to order tacos.
There are a lot of taco shops in San Diego. Comparing them would be an exhausting task, not to mention the fact that all tacos aren't created equal. If I feel like lamb tacos, I drive to Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista. If I want tacos el gobernador (shrimp), I head to a Mariscos German truck. And, now, if I want tacos done in the simple style of street vendors, I go to Rudy's Taco Shop.
Nestled in a quiet part of Solana Beach near the library (524 Stevens Ave., Suite 1, ), Rudy's boasts usual suspects like burritos and enchiladas. However, there's a section labeled "street tacos" that includes carne asada, carnitas, cabeza (head), lengua (tongue), al pastor and chicken. Along with my birria, I had the cabeza, lengua, carne asada, and al pastor tacos, all served on a double layer of corn tortillas and topped with cilantro and chopped onion. It was easy to try more than one at $1.35 per taco.
The meats for all four were flavorful with varying textures. On this visit, the carne asada was tender and falling apart, while the cabeza was a little chewier. I liked the al pastor, which was served with onions cooked soft in the same delicious chile-based sauce. While certainly tasty, sticklers to tradition should know it was missing pineapple. The lengua was the winner for me, with cubes of beef tongue simply seasoned and grilled.
As for the birria, it's part of a weekly circulation of caldos (soups). Birria is served on Mondays, and caldo de res (beef), pollo (chicken) and camarones (shrimp) can be found during the rest of the week. I ordered mine to go, and it was $5.35 for a virtual tank of soup. Topped with a red slick of chili oil, it was scalding hot and mildly spicy. The meat was a little too tough for my liking, but the broth was something else. Rich and subtly herbal, I found an occasional fresh oregano leaf while I sipped.
Rudy's has two locations, the other one in La Costa (7662 El Camino Real, Suite 102). The Solana Beach location boasts a tiny market, along with a deli counter containing cheeses, packs of rolled tacos and Oaxacan mole paste. The refrigerator by the door has Coca-Cola and Fanta in glass bottles. There's not much in the way of ambiance, and there are no restrooms for customers, so grab some tacos and birria to go—the beach is just a few blocks away.