I remember the good old days when birria meant a bowl of stew—probably goat, maybe lamb—that you picked up at a food truck or gas station on the weekend. The time was, oh, about 2019. The new wave of birria seems to have quickly arisen out of nowhere, but if you’re tuned in to food trends, you’ve almost certainly seen quesabirria, a stewed beef quesadilla served with a side of broth. Think of it as a sort of Mexican French dip. However you define tacos filled with braised beef and melty cheese, social media has made birria’s latest form a sensation.
From Taco Rock in Arlington to Locals Tacos & Tequila in Sterling, birria tacos are popping up all over NoVA. But no one is quite as devoted to the meaty dish that likely originated in Jalisco as La China Poblana Taqueria in Manassas. This Meaty Monday, we salute them.
Though there are birria tacos and burritos on the menu, I wanted to sample the quesabirria that’s most common in California where the trend blossomed. The massive folded-over tortilla was already cut into quarters, so unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of doing an Instagram-worthy cheese pull. But that did little to diminish my enjoyment. The tender beef melted seamlessly with the cheese into one creamy, spicy unit. A squirt of lime and a dip in the chile-flecked consomé resulted in alchemy. If it wasn’t quite quesadilla into gold, at the very least it was quesadilla into fully fledged, habit-forming quesabirria.
I could have left happy with just that. But I couldn’t resist the tug of the Molcajete de la China Poblana. Check this out:
This photo doesn’t show the scale, but it’s a large, pig-shaped molcajete (mortar), stuffed with meat. Juicy shrimp and chicken breast are suffused with garlic. Crisp-skinned chorizo is cut into easily comestible quarters. Steak? They’ve got that market cornered, too, with a slab of fat-lined sirloin with a lush pink center. It comes with homemade tortillas and a side of rice and beans, but near-carnivores like me will probably just pick at them so as to leave more room for the meat. Sure, the grilled cactus and blistered peppers and onions are fine, but this is Meaty Monday. And whether you’re following a trend or just your flesh-loving heart, La China Poblana is worthy of a pilgrimage. // 9792 Center St., Manassas
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