I've long been a fan of Birrieria Zaragoza on Pulaski and their more recent outpost on Lake Street in Melrose Park. I am infatuated with their stewed goat, and I think it's kind of cool that this one meat dish is pretty much all they serve.
Sitting down to lunch with Norma Zaragoza last week, she announced that they had some "new menu items."
An electric jolt of fear ran down my spine: Please, oh please, I thought, don't stray from the basic "just birria" menu of the past. I've very much enjoyed the fact that this place makes basically the one thing – slow-cooked goat – and so I sat in freezing fear that Norma would announce that now they'd also be serving pizza puffs, Chicago hot dogs or some other sop to the masses that would dilute the purity of their current offerings.
Apparently, owner John Zaragoza's brother was visiting the restaurant one day, and "he had a taste for goat, but he also was in the mood for a quesadilla," Chihuahua cheese warmed in tortillas. So the kitchen made him kind of a "mini-goat pizza," with both goat meat and cheese between two tortillas. When John's brother was served this innovative Mexican sandwich, another guy sitting at the counter said, "Hey, I want one of those, too." Thus a new menu item was born. We had one; it was excellent, and I'm now okay with this menu addition.
For lunch, we had the usual and pretty much the only thing they serve here: goat meat in a plate of highly flavorful consomme. I'm touched that whenever I visit the Zaragozas, they always honor me with La Pistola, the curved goat bone that looks kind of like a handgun and is the preferred macho menu item. The meat near the bone is so soft, and the outside of the meat beautifully crusted with spice and drier meat.
There's a practice among some food enthusiasts to carefully watch for what the restaurant staff is eating…and then get some of that. We asked Norma what the staff was eating that day and she brought us out some of the staff lunch: a complex mole over chicken. "We cook it for two days," said Norma, and although I liked it, I'd hate—as I said – to see Zaragoza serve any main courses but goat. Goat doesn't get the attention it deserves, and the Zaragoza family does goat right.
As the weather gets cooler, a big platter of roasted goat seems more and more appealing. This is one delicious lunch…and make sure if you stop by, come early: Birrieria Zaragoza closes at 7PM most days.
2211 W. Lake Street
Melrose Park, IL