Listen, I’m not a connoisseur à la Southern California food writers Gustavo Arellano and Bill Esparza, without whose expert guidance I’d never be able to tell my asada from my suadero. Nah, I’m yet another white US transplant who spent a few years helping gentrify a predominantly Latinx urban area, then moved here and briefly contemplated starting my own taco stand to “finally bring real Mexican food to Berlin” before realising that was dumb and kinda racist.
All I know is that when I really like a taco, something happens in my brain. A visceral, Anton Ego-style flashback to 21-year-old me, new in LA and fresh off my first shift putting wristbands on entitled pricks at a nameless hipster venue, tentatively ordering from the taco truck in the parking lot. Devouring my prize by the light of a street lamp, my face covered in grease and salsa and lime juice. Knowing things would never be the same.
Over many years and dozens of tacos in this city, I can count the times I’ve had that same lightning-bolt experience on one hand. There was La Tortilla Atomica, the late Markthalle IX street food stand. There was Taco Kween, the one-man operation that brightened my winter lockdown with at-home taco kits sold out of Neukölln’s Donau115 (now on hiatus). And now there’s El Puesto, the ad hoc taqueria run by ex-employees of the doomed modern-Mexican venture La Lucha and operated out of the same Paul-Lincke-Ufer space, serving Berlin something its never had before: Birria.
When I left LA, the version of birria I knew was a goat stew associated with the state of Jalisco. Now, thanks in no small part to Instagram, it’s been eclipsed by Tijuana-style birria de res, fatty braised beef piled into corn tortillas and served with a cup of consommé (the chilli-infused braising liquid, brick-red and very photogenic) for dipping.
The use of Japanese dashi and miso turns the broth into a veritable umami cyclone.
This is El Puesto’s specialty, and it’s awesome: tender as hell, greasy in a good way, liberally sprinkled with coriander and chopped onion, as spicy as you want it to be thanks to a side of thick, ruddy arbol salsa. The use of Japanese dashi and miso turns the broth into a veritable umami cyclone – I’m not embarrassed to say I chugged it straight-up after dipping and eating the trio of tacos it came with. After low-key opening in mid-March, it seems the stand’s secret is now out, so you might have to queue a bit for your Easter weekend birria fix. It’ll be worth it.
Speaking of which, what of Taqueria El Oso, the extremely hyped al pastor taco specialists poised to set up shop at Prenzlauer Berg’s soon-to-come Markthalle Pfefferberg? Readers, I fucking tried. But their preview pop-up, held Wednesday night at Boxi bar Protokoll, attracted the longest queue in Friedrichshain this side of pre-corona Berghain, and this hangry food critic couldn’t hack it. It did look promising, though: a döner-like spinning cone of layered pork topped with pineapple, sliced and served on corn tortillas or as gringas (basically, pastor quesadillas) along with a choice of seven(!) salsas. When they do open for good, apparently sometime in late April, me and my inner 21-year-old will be there.
El Puesto Paul-Lincke-Ufer 39, Kreuzberg, Wed-Sun 12-18
Taqueria El Oso, check Instagram for updates