“It’s like Mexico here,” says Vanessa Sánchez, a resident of Muscoy, a community of San Bernardino County. “You can ride horses, 4Runners, and it’s a party 24/7.” In this semi-rural area, Latino families make up the majority, and live in homes with large lots ideal for small-scale farming, raising livestock, running horse stables, and even operating speakeasies (serving pajaretes, a kind of spiked chocolate milk).
It’s here that Francisco Salinas opened Tacos de Cabrito y Machito El Lagunero three months ago with Sánchez, his wife and business partner. The food stand operates from the neighborhood Good Choice Tires store and specializes in cabrito al pastor, a northeastern Mexican-style, spit-roasted goat that was practically impossible to find in California until now.
Muscoy was home to one of the largest street food fairs in the Southland until about a year ago, when San Bernardino County authorities shut down the viral scene along State Street, fencing off the area where vendors set up shop. “[County officials] are not supportive of street vending, but we were partly inspired by all of those vendors to pursue our dream of working for ourselves, doing something we love,” says Salinas. “You can find cabrito in Houston, Texas, and Torreón and Monterrey, but we are the only ones doing this in California.”
Cabrito al pastor is a young goat spit-roasted over mesquite. The animal is sectioned into large cuts of meat including paleta (shoulder), pecho (breast), pierna (leg), cabecitas (heads), and machitos (offals wrapped in chitterlings). The prized riñonada is a fatty cut with kidneys still attached, while other classic dishes include cabrito en salsa (young goat in sauce) and fritada (young goat stewed in blood).
This northeastern Mexican tradition is found in the states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, among others, using recipes developed by shepherds who craved filling meals during their long journeys from Saltillo to Ciudad Juárez and Mexico City. In 1931, the restaurant El Tío in Monterrey pioneered serving cabrito al pastor in a more formal setting; the restaurant closed in 2015. Today, the dish is found in familial spaces and upscale restaurants alike. Notable restaurants serving cabrito al pastor include El Gran Pastor and San Carlos in Monterrey, La Fogata de Reynosa in Tamaulipas, and La Majada in Salinas’s hometown of Torreón.
Now this dish is at Tacos de Cabrito y Machito El Lagunero. Salinas adheres to the most traditional recipes: The smoky meat is simply seasoned with salt and pepper, as are the chopped hearts, kidneys, and livers encased in a fine threading of chitterlings. He mounts and roasts the goat on a metal tube, while the machitos are tightly wound up a rebar spike — both skewers are fastened to a steel barbecue stand with a rustic grill centered at the bottom. The cabrito is roasted for six hours at the couple’s Muscoy home before being transported to the stand for service.
Being the only cabrito vendor in the state is not without challenges. “Lots of people here in Muscoy are from Jalisco, Zacatecas, Michoacán. Some from Oaxaca, Guatemala, and El Salvador,” says Salinas. “They are more used to eating goat in birria.” Salinas finely chops the cabrito and its offals for a small menu of tacos de cabrito, tacos de machitos, quesabirrias de cabrito (to capitalize on the trend), and consomé. Cabrito is leaner and muskier than a mature goat; the meat’s assertive flavor is perfectly balanced with the bright orange chile de árbol salsa on hand. The couple offered goat head and fritada when they first launched the stand, but people didn’t buy it and preferred tacos instead.
The best dish is the consomé con cabrito, a well-smoked stock made with goat fat, toasted chiles guajillos, garbanzos, a bit of garlic, and blackened maguey leaves (century plant leaves) with some cabrito incorporated as well. “In Torreón, restaurants either have a red consomé with rice and garbanzos, or frijoles charros (cowboy beans), but in our consomé we leave out the rice — I prefer a cleaner, more pure stock,” says Salinas.
Salinas served as a cook in the military for 12 years in Torreón, where he made traditional Mexican breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for a dozen military officers, governors, and other high-ranking officials. In the Inland Empire and Orange County, he worked as a cook at Culichi Town before moving to Rincon Taurino in Chino, where he met Sánchez. The two began serving their cabrito at private events, weddings, and parties around Muscoy in 2021.
For the couple, who met working side-by-side as cooks in 2016, this is a dream come true. (Salinas currently works in construction, while Sánchez cleans homes when they are not running the new business.) “People are coming from Oxnard, Bakersfield, Long Beach, and the San Gabriel Valley because there’s nowhere else to get cabrito,” says Salinas. “Someday we hope to have a restaurant serving cabrito.” For now, find the duo under a pair of black canopies, each hung with a banner featuring El Cristo de Las Noas (a Jesus Christ sculpture in Torreón) and El Lagunero’s makeshift barbecue rig.
Joyfully anticipating the next customer, Sánchez smiles over a spread of salsas, chopped cilantro and onions, and business cards. “We have always been working for others, helping other people live their dreams, and we just want to work for ourselves, and create an environment where the people that work with us will be treated fairly, respectfully,” says Salinas. “When you do something with love, it tastes better. And we’re reaching new customers and fans, one palate at a time.”
Tacos de Cabrito y Machito El Lagunero is open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2598 State Street in Muscoy, (909) 254-1843.