Rival chefs join up for new Santa Rosa food truck
Chef Miguel Canseco likes to claim he was the first to introduce Sonoma County to quesabirria tacos, the now hugely popular creation of birria beef and cheese folded into a fried tortilla with consommé for dipping. They’re bestsellers at his Taqueria El Paisa in Rohnert Park and his Tacos El Paisa food truck in the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa.
But Chef José Rodriguez likes to say that no, he was the first to offer quesabirria at his El Fogón Taqueria in Rohnert Park. Customers love his extra-cheesy version (also available as a burrito).
Either way, both say their quesabirria is hands down the best. That’s created a semi-playful competition between them for several years now, as is well-known among their families and friends.
So, when the two men joined forces a few months ago to launch Tacos Tijuana, it raised some eyebrows. Whose quesabirria would reign supreme at the hybrid trailer truck and tiny kitchen in Santa Rosa?
Canseco and Rodriguez compromised, according to their business partner and marketing director Uriel Brena, and somehow the Tacos Tijuana quesabirria is even better.
“I feel like none of us could have done this project alone, even though suddenly everyone was saying, 'Who has the best birria?'" Brena said. “Sometimes you think the guy next door is taking away your business, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like him. They’re friends, so they put their recipes together and made it even better.”
Adding to the collaboration is the description of these tasty street treats. At Tacos Tijuana, the menu describes their version as “a shotgun marriage of a quesadilla and a birria taco; the quesabirria featured red-stained tortillas, piles of shredded meat and an ample amount of melted cheese.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same description as at El Fogón. Yet the Tacos Tijuana head cook, Edwin Hernandez Garcia, used to work at El Paisa. The mystery deepens.
I'll just say this — I like the quesabirria at El Paisa and El Fogón, but it’s Tacos Tijuana for the win. They are simply lavish with succulent beef braised with guajillo and ancho peppers, stuffed with lots of creamy cheese spurting from the tortilla and pan-fried until crisp in a dollop of golden brown fat from the birria pot. You’ll dunk the four tacos in the salty consommé and ferociously devour every bite ($15.99).
Many cities, flavors
Tucked in the beer garden behind Shady Oak Barrel House next to Santa Rosa Plaza, Tacos Tijuana is a fascinating, uniquely Mexican food operation.
Beyond that mouthwatering quesabirria, it offers specialty dishes from Oaxaca, Michoacán, Mexico City and, of course, Tijuana. It also features an extensive menu of vegan and vegetarian options, brimming with such luscious, full flavors that you’ll never miss the meat or dairy.
The Oaxaca, Michoacán and Mexico City connections are an homage to the backgrounds of the chefs and Brena. The Tijuana link comes because, after the trio started sharing stories, they discovered they had all crossed into the United States at the city's border and had a taste for the food there.
“One day, we were hanging out and realized we had all started in the same place in search of the American dream,” Brena said. “The night we decided to put this project together, we kept talking about Tijuana. I don’t know if it’s because we were so very poor at the time and we were so hungry — physically, and for wishes of a better life — but the food we had in there was the best we’ve ever had in our lives.”
The grand opening party last month set the tone for how special Tacos Tijuana is in the community. Rodriguez once owned a catering and event supplies company, so guests were greeted with a fantastic bounce house designed like a cowboy ranch, complete with inflatable steer skulls, log walls, a bucking bronco backdrop and a faux mechanical bull the kids could ride on.
Mariachis serenaded with soaring melodies and blaring trumpets. Members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce mingled with guests sipping cerveza, and Cosmo, the black cat, viewed the crowd from his perch on a Game of Thrones arcade machine in the Shady Oak bar. Some 400 people had RSVP’d, and many lined up at the trailer to buy signature dishes like Garcia’s famous al pastor, slow-roasted on vertical trompo rotisserie.
This is some of the best pastor I’ve ever enjoyed. Rust-tinged from its sweet-spicy marinade of pineapple juice, chiles, oregano, achiote and cumin, the tender meat is piled in double corn tortillas with grilled pineapple chunks, cilantro, minced white onion and an unusual addition of roasted potato ($2.99).