Tucson Taco Madness: The battle between goats and porks

Pima Post

The state of Jalisco has given the world tequila and mariachi, but equally as artful of a cultural contribution — is birria.

Birria has a rustic origin, has a rich tradition and is known for its versatility. 

You can enjoy it as a broth with a birria taco on the side. As a taco with broth on the side for dipping … or as a straight up taco.

People eat birria for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And with beers, the day after some beers or in family gatherings.

Nearby states of Jalisco are known to have mastered the craft of making birria, but one of them is the state known for their carnitas.

Michoacan gave birth to this beautiful incarnation of pork — it is tender on the inside and crisped to golden perfection on the outside. 

Carnitas tacos use simple ingredients. But when cooking with simple ingredients, the technique is the most important thing. And when executed well, a carnitas taco can be the most glorious creation.

Birria and carnitas tacos are two of the most wholesome in the tournament and Mexico … we’ll soon find out who makes the best one in Tucson.

There’s not a more pronounced division in basketball philosophy than the explosion and rise of the 3-point shot in the past six or seven years.

Basketball purists argue that a playing style of just bombing 3-pointers is not real basketball. On the other hand, contemporary and analytics-minded people argue that it’s the most effective way of playing the game.

A similar philosophical divide in styles exists in the Birria & Carnitas Taco Division.

Tucson is seemingly having a birria explosion, and many places are adopting this trend. 

However, most places serve beef birria — and traditionally — birria is made with goat meat.

Purists might say this is closer to barbacoa than it is to birria. Others might argue that the preparation is the same except for the cut of meat used.

*Turns and summons the spirit of post-game show Charles Barkley:*

Charles Barkley (Wikimedia/CalDoesIt)

“Let me tell you something Ernie, in my time living in Jalisco I tried many birria tacos … real goat meat birria tacos. And you know what, I don’t care if places use beef, it’s still delicious.”

It should be noted that the committee sought goat birria. And according to Tucson Foodie, Maico Restaurant Mexican served this traditional style to Andrew Zimmern during his Tucson visit.

But when the committee ordered a birria taco and asked if it was goat meat, the answer was no.

Naturally, the committee had to order two more tacos to make sure that the change in protein didn’t violate the integrity of the tournament.

After careful deliberation, it was decided that it would be allowed. High-scoring games between good 3-point shooting teams are fun to watch, and good beef birria is fun to eat.

Maico had a solid outing — but like other teams in the tournament, ignored the powers. And the other representative for birria, El Taco Rustico, had an outstanding tortilla.

It was greasy in all the good ways and crispy enough to provide more texture for dipping the taco in the consomé (broth from the birria meat). 

The powers of El Taco Rustico were saved by the consome. But the protein ultimately held back the taco from advancing.

For several years, Carnitas La Yoca has dominated this division. And after dispatching a feisty and tasty carnitas taco from Taqueria Juanitos, it beat Maico and El Taco Rustico to advance to the South Central Conference Finals.

Making a great carnitas taco is all about the fundamentals and playing within the scheme.

Powers for a carnitas taco shouldn’t be the focal point of the taco gameplan. But an effective lineup of red and green salsa, pickled jalapeños, lime, and sometimes cilantro with chopped onion, can push a carnitas taco to victory.

The tortilla has to be soft, yet strong enough to hold the carnitas. It can’t be anywhere close to crispy, because it’ll ruin the tenderness carnitas aim for. And it can’t be as fragile that the grease from the carnitas will break through.

Similarly, carnitas have to be tender but conserve a bit of crispiness on the edges for texture — and they have to be greasy, but not overwhelmingly greasy.

Carnitas La Yoca consistently performs this balancing act at the highest level. And proved once again that in order to win, the whole taco has to be greater than the sum of its parts.