Birrieria Zaragoza

by on February 10, 2016 at 1:46 pm in Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

This small, family-owned Chicago Mexican restaurant specializes in barbecued goat.  It is the best barbecued goat I have had, the best accompanying sauce I have had outside of Mexico (you must order it separately), and the best tortillas I have had outside of Mexico.  It is one of the best restaurants in Chicago, for my taste perhaps the best.

Here is a short video about the restaurant.

Note also that goats are not in general raised on factory farms.  It is a significant question how steeply the marginal cost curve would climb, were we to substitute a lot of goat consumption for say pig or cow consumption.  In any case, at the margin it seems like a no-brainer, especially with the Birrieria to guide you.

Strongly recommended.

1 josh February 10, 2016 at 2:28 pm

Doesn’t too many goats cause problems because they eat the roots when they graze?

2 JWatts February 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm

They’re much better than horses. Horses will denude a patch of land quickly.

3 RPLong February 10, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Admit it: you only commented because you had an excuse to use the word “denude.”

4 JWatts February 10, 2016 at 6:21 pm

And the word patch. In the same sentence!

5 RPLong February 11, 2016 at 10:54 am


6 Sean February 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Sheep farmer here. It depends on where you graze them. In wetter areas; The East and North West, for instance, they can be grazed pretty intensively without damage. You’re right, though, that they can be a problem in the Midwest and mountains.

7 Wonks Anonymous February 10, 2016 at 2:43 pm

I concur that it’s pretty good, as far as goat goes. I actually heard about it from a comment at Overcoming Bias criticizing Tyler Cowen’s restaurant advice:

8 mkt42 February 10, 2016 at 7:08 pm

I wonder if that’s also where Tyler heard about this very restaurant, Birrieria Zaragoza, since it’s mentioned in a comment which also mentions him.

9 CMOT February 10, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Some prefer Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan.

But Tyler should never dine in Chicago again without consulting the LTH Forum Great Neighborhood Restaurants list which while not created specifically for him, might well have been …

10 rpenm February 10, 2016 at 3:05 pm


11 Adam February 10, 2016 at 10:07 pm

Happy that Tyler found Birrieria Zaragoza (and liked it!), and second the LTH GNR as a Tyler-esque guide to Chicago eats. In particular, there are some excellent Thai dives both inside Chicago and in greater Chicagoland, fantastic middle eastern in the south suburbs, some notable Korean…

12 The Original D February 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Two places to go for Mexican food in Chicago.

Taqueria El Milagro for their tacos. I usually got the steak tacos and stewed beef

Tito’s Hacienda for burritos

I personally cannot eat Mexican without chips, so go to the chip factory next door to Taqueria El Milagro and get a bag of fresh-made chips.

I used to live in Chicago about two blocks from these places, and 17 years later I still miss them terrible.

13 Marc February 10, 2016 at 4:16 pm

My understanding (from discussions with a well known blogger who lives on a southwestern Wisconsin farm) is that goats are difficult economically in the US. Americans don’t eat goat. (Takes a very long time to cook such that it is decent, I believe.) Goats raised in the US are really there fore the milk for goat cheese. The male goats are either killed or left to starve/freeze in the winter. She tried to start an “ethical” goat business that never went anywhere because it was just too expensive to feed/shelter male goats.

Economically speaking, I would imagine this is a lot like Asian carp, no? Inferior good…try to make it into a fad…but then if successful (which has not yet happened with Asian carp) the logical result will be factory farming.

14 JWatts February 10, 2016 at 6:24 pm

Really? We ate barbecue goat growing up. Not often. But no one was going to throw away the meat. And it’s pretty good as pulled barbecue.

15 CorvusB February 10, 2016 at 8:53 pm

I realize my experience with goat meat is not extensive – but I’ve had goat on a few occasions. More often when I lived in the SW, and went to Mex on business. Never had a problem with flavor. In Mexico it used to get a price similar to beef’s – but the goat is never raised to maturity. Their weight tops out at something like 6-8 mos. So harvest them young, keep enough to breed. And they can eat much more “stuff” w/o issues. Had a friend in Mex who started raising goats on his rancho for meat.

I’ve also been told goats are relatively problem-free, compared to cattle. I’ll have to ask my farmer friend about that next time I see him – he has a few goats amongst his cattle.
I think the market issue here in the US is simply consumer preference (or prejudice, depending on your choice of words).

16 Mark Thorson February 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Unlike adults cows or pigs, not much chance a goat will kill you. I once got into a pen with a bunch of goats including kids, and the ram kept head-butting me to push me away from the kids. He didn’t have the strength to cause me harm, so it was amusing to be butted by the ram.

17 JBob February 11, 2016 at 1:56 am

You must have met a young buckling. A mature buck can break 2×6 lumber, and might very well enjoy demonstrating this on your knees, spine, head, or whatever he can reach. So can a ram. When young, they do start out very playfully testing their butting skills, and it is kinda cute. It gets very dangerous very soon, though. But you’re right that female goats are a lot safer than female cows and pigs.

18 Cyrus February 10, 2016 at 9:17 pm

The goat’s hindquarter, salted and hung for a year, rivals premium hams given similar treatment. Not that this is a large market, but there is a product here.

19 Hadur February 10, 2016 at 4:24 pm

As a native Chicagoan, I am of course biased, but I think Chicago is vastly underrated as a great place to eat Mexican food. There are mom and pop tacquerias all over the place that seem as good or better as the most hyped taco places in other large northern cities.

20 Andrew M February 10, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Mexican food in Chicago? Next time Tyler does a food bleg for somewhere exotic, I’ll recommend a burger joint.

21 SD00 February 10, 2016 at 8:49 pm

A lot of people are surprised, but Chicago is one of the strongest cities in the country for Mexican cuisine. David Chang was talking about this recently in a podcast.

22 extramsg February 10, 2016 at 9:30 pm

I believe not long ago it had the second largest population of Mexicans in the United States after Los Angeles. That may have changed over the years with how strongly Texas cities have grown, but still.

23 Adam February 10, 2016 at 10:10 pm

As noted, Chicago has a massive Mexican population. There are a lot of bus services that take you directly from Chicago to various points in interior Mexico:

24 Josh M February 11, 2016 at 12:53 am

If Mexican food in Chicago is surprising to you, we’ll all do well to avoid your recommendations.

25 Axa February 11, 2016 at 6:24 am

Since “we” is just another way to say “I”……we prefer recommendations that point at specific places in each city. There’s no point of worrying about the average food in the city. LIfe’s too short for that.

26 RPLong February 10, 2016 at 5:32 pm

I’ve dabbled in making goat curry, but in the end I just don’t understand it. I’d much rather eat lamb. Different strokes I suppose.

27 skeptic February 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm

yeah–I made goat curry recently too–was not good.

28 Regular guy February 10, 2016 at 5:42 pm

In the Midwest there are lots of experiments of grazing goats on the worst cases of over grazed land. This works very well as the goats will eat the weeds and shrubs allowing the grass to retake and prosper previously damaged land over the course of a few years. This has become a pretty well accepted technique for pasture restoration.

It has the benefit of generating calories off the land during the waiting years, as opposed to pasture spraying. But has the tradeoffs that they get out constantly, are a nuisance to keep and can have significant predator losses.

29 RPLong February 11, 2016 at 10:57 am

But they’re also cute, so there’s that…

30 londenio February 10, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Next time in Argentina order a “cabrito al asador” and see if that becomes your new gold standard.

31 Mark Thorson February 10, 2016 at 6:11 pm

The best meat I’ve ever had in my life was when I was 10 years old and had some goat jerky made by my greataunt’s husband from feral goats he shot in the wilds of Kauai. They’re a serious problem on Kauai, so you’re encouraged to shoot all you can. (But beware of the pot farmers, who might shoot at you if you get too close to their patches.)

It wasn’t hard or tough at all. The texture was more like the dessicated top layers of baklava, except it wasn’t layered — it was fibrous more like rope. I’d pay anything to get some more, but alas that is not possible. He died of cancer while I was on Kauai.

32 Matt Buckalew February 10, 2016 at 6:34 pm

My great aunts husband was a pot farmer on Kauai that was killed by someone hunting wild goat.

33 mkt42 February 10, 2016 at 7:12 pm

The best Indian food that I’ve had was goat biryani at an Indian restaurant in Phoenix. Tasted more similar to beef than to lamb, which surprised me. But it was not a strange-flavored or exotic-tasting meat, it tasted much like the other meats we eat.

34 efim polenov February 10, 2016 at 9:11 pm

Goats are pretty much at the top of the list of animals who should not be slaughtered for meat due to their capacity to be offended at betrayal. All the large non-kosher animals (dogs, horses, cats and wild cats of various sizes, little monkeys and big monkey-like versions of little monkeys, horses, donkeys, jackasses, burros, mules, llamas, alpaca, to name just a few of the land animals) share this trait (the capacity to be offended at betrayal) with the inexplicably (in the view of some, not always the brightest, rabbis) kosher goats. Non-kosher celebrities like pigs and boars and octopi and dolphins and sturgeon and pike – and maybe even the patriarchally time-delayed autistics known as lobsters – also have enough of an emotional repertoire to deserve forbearance on the part of the humans with whom they share a mutual capacity of befriending one another (see Gerard de Nerval for the facts on lobsters – they neither sing nor sleep, but they know the secrets of the sea). Each animal I have named would delay as long as he or she could, even in a survivalist situation, eating the corpse of a human who had been considered a friend and a companion, just as a human might. By the way, how is Fiona the repentant shark fin kitchen genius doing these days?

35 A February 10, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Basically, if it frolics and bonds, don’t eat it.

36 efim polenov February 10, 2016 at 10:14 pm

Exactly! I humbly salute your compassion and inspired brevity.

37 extramsg February 10, 2016 at 9:32 pm

Both the birrierias mentioned are excellent. Zaragoza’s has a more tomatoey broth than some, iirc. (I’ve only been to each once.) I probably prefer a little more meaty broth.

I don’t know that they actually BBQ their birria, though. Traditionally, birria (de chivo, in this case, since it’s goat; it can be pig, beef, or lamb — or a mix), a form of barbacoa, is cooked in underground pits wrapped in maguey leaves above a pot that can catch the juices for the consomme. However, it’s common for birria to be oven-roasted. In Mexico, places doing barbacoa in pits are often only open on the weekends. I can make birria in an oven in about 4 hours. It will take 8 hours in a pit. I’m not certain which Zaragoza does, but I would guess it oven-roasts rather than doing the traditional method.

So, it’s probably not BBQ.

38 ezra abrams February 10, 2016 at 10:18 pm

in the 90s, i worked at Columbia University medical center, uptown manhattan, in the bio research building, filled with mostly white phds
so far as i know, not one of em, except me, knew that 5 blocks away were half a dozen Dominican resturants, with spanish language menus mostly goat meat

39 ohwilleke February 10, 2016 at 11:15 pm

Goat is not the only “alternative meat” that could be poised to become a little more common in the American diet.

Lamb is growing in popularity, and demand mostly from immigrant Muslims has in particular increased demand intermediated by Middle Eastern grocery stores for leaner lamb which historically was considered to be lower quality meat in the U.S. This distribution channel is now a large share of the total lamb production and has filtered back to U.S. lamb herders who have adjusted what the kind of lamb that they raise for market as a result.

Ordinary grocery stores in Colorado now routinely carry ground bison and bison steaks.

A couple of organic oriented grocery store chains in metro Denver also carry ostrich which seemed like it would be big, experienced a huge industry bust from an expansion of produces that outpaced the demand channels, and is slowly rebuilding. Elk sausage and elk jerky are also available in these stores.

Asian grocery stores in greater Denver routinely offer rabbit and cuts of meat from ordinary meat animals like tongue that can be hard to find elsewhere. Asian grocery stores have also innovated in providing fresh fish and seafood at far inland locations by shipping them live in crowded tanks and killing them only at the point of sales the way that lobsters are sold at more mainstream stores.

Alpacas and llamas are considered to tough for use as a general purpose meat, but jerky is sold, mostly through irregular farmer’s market type venues.

Most adventurous of all, Colorado at least has a small “micro-ranching” industry that raises insects for consumption as food and sometimes processes them (e.g. cricket flour). So far, this is mostly word of mouth and Internet based sales promoted at county fairs and similar events.

40 JBob February 11, 2016 at 2:03 am

“Birrierias?” That is a damn hard word for English speakers to spit out. Can that possibly be good for business?

41 derek February 11, 2016 at 9:43 am

it’s pretty easy, actually.


42 JBob February 15, 2016 at 3:19 am

I think it’s the rolled R before a regular r that makes it hard.

43 Tim February 11, 2016 at 3:18 am

What nonsensical moral theory could possibly hold that it is bad to factory farm goats, but somehow acceptable to kill them simply because they taste good?

Shame on your thoughtless, capricious violence.

44 Asher February 11, 2016 at 3:38 am

Capricious – judicious!

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