We met on a brisk Sunday morning. Cheery pleasantries and hugs were exchanged near the church parking lot in Nestor, and then we were seated. After chatting with the folks who run the establishment, we fell silent in a soul-soothing kind of way.
It was spiritual, but it didn't take place inside the church—next door to it, actually, at Restaurant Fernández (2265 Flower Ave.), where the birria de res, a Mexican meat stew, arrives at the table piping hot and delicious. The silence came as we eagerly dug into the meal, spooning birria into tortillas and drizzling salsa on quesa-tacos.
The restaurant is run by brothers Miguel, Jorge and Victor Fernández, as is a catering business based on the property. I learned about it from Kristin and Antonio of the blog Life & Food, where they write about great eats and travel in Southern and Baja California.
Like all good food, the birria at Fernández is even better shared with friends. Good conversation blends into the din of the small restaurant, which is filled with the intoxicating scent of stewed beef. Inside, there's an open kitchen that barely leaves enough room for the dining area. And there are people—lots and lots of people.
Blogger Antonio noted that the brothers started with half the space, which blows my mind, since the current space is already maxed out with the people, the kitchen and the food. It's better to show up closer to the 8 a.m. opening time because hungry folks quickly line up outside the door. It closes at 2 p.m., so consider it one hell of a brunch.
The birria is Tijuana-style, which means it's made with beef. The menu—starring menudo as well as the birria—is limited, butfittingly warm for the cold start to this new year. You can take your pick of stewed meat or offal; either way, it comes in a delicious broth and served with tortillas crisped in oil. If you prefer your broth and meat separate, then there's the consomé (broth) and the quesa-taco, a cheese taco filled with beef. Ask for your tortilla "hecho a mano" and your handmade tortilla will be slightly thicker with a nice chew to it.
For me, it was a half-order of birria, which is a fairly large bowl. Served with lots of onion, cilantro, lime, radishes, roasted chiles and salsa, the birria's rich broth is complemented by the sharp, spicy and tart flavors of the accompaniments. The tortillas come in a plastic warmer with a slight slick of oil. It isn't the healthiest thing, but crisping the tortilla means the broth doesn't soak through quickly. In any case, my tortillas were in no danger of becoming soggy, given how fast I was eating. Mexican Coke and aguas frescas are available if broth isn't enough to wash it down.
And if the birria isn't enough of a spiritual experience, there's always the church next door. However, I'm confident that a hot bowl of broth, filled with fork-tender meat and served with spicy salsa and tortillas, will satisfy your soul.