California, and Los Angeles in particular, is home to the broadest range of Mexican barbacoa traditions in the United States. There are even more variations here than Mexico City, which boasts outstanding barbacoa vendors mostly from nearby Hidalgo and Estado de México. On the streets of LA, Mexican pit roasted meat traditions from Hidalgo, Puebla, Guerrero, Estado de México, Chihuahua, and Morelos can be enjoyed weekend mornings on sidewalks and parking lots.
One compelling new player is Aurora Gutiérrez’s barbacoa stand on 18th street, outside the Western Plaza Shopping Center in Mid-City’s Harvard Heights neighborhood. Gutiérrez, who was born in San Marcos Tlapazola, makes a living cleaning houses but began selling Valles Centrales-style barbacoa and Oaxacan antojitos during the pandemic to make up for lost income.
San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca, a pueblo that’s home to fewer than a thousand people, holds a special place in the story of Oaxacalifornia. In 1992, brothers Samuel and Celerino Cruz opened Tlapazola Grill in Santa Monica after working at various fine dining restaurants around LA, including at Rockenwagner. Tlapazola Grill was the first Oaxacan-owned restaurant in the city to serve several moles from Valles Centrales and featured a special lentil soup with plantains from San Marcos Tlapazola, a town better known for its artisanal pottery.
Gutiérrez has become LA’s first street barbacoyera from San Marcos Tlapazola to serve barbacoa enchilada of lamb and goat. While the regional dish shines at Gish Bac, and has been sold on occasion at cultural events, Gutiérrez’s weekend stand is one of a kind.
Under a weathered red canopy tent, Gutiérrez and cook Celia Aquina, both dressed in huipiles zapotecos representing their Indigenous heritage, move quickly between a comal and propane burners. The banner at the unnamed stand reads “Deliciosa Comida Oaxaqueña,” barely legible against a red backdrop in the sunlight. As it comes into focus, “Barbacoa de Borrego y Chivo” on the sign reveals a place of origin. Gutiérrez cooks barbacoa enchilada with either lamb or goat depending on availability, the meat coated in an adobo seasoning of chiles guajillos, then covered in avocado leaves and cooked in a large pot.
At the stand, Gutiérrez ladles goat meat barbacoa enchilada from a consomé seasoned with clove, pepper, oregano, cumin, avocado leaves, toasted chile guajillo, tomato, garlic, and onions. A bowl of barbacoa enchilada, complete with bone-in lamb (or goat) ribs, comes with shredded cabbage flecked with cilantro, limes (or lemons when limes are too expensive), salsa verde, and blanditas, which are large corn tortillas. Add a pair of tacos de sagrita de borrego, the local name used in San Marcos Tlapazola for pancita, for an extra dose of offal. Gutiérrez’s pancita uses lamb offal — kidneys, heart, and liver — that’s rubbed in her signature adobo before being congealed lamb’s blood, stuffed into lamb’s stomach, and roasted along with the meat.
In addition to barbacoa enchilada, Gutiérrez also serves antojitos like tlayudas, memelas, tortas, and tacos filled with tasajo (beef jerky), cecina (marinated pork), or chorizo. Her empanadas de amarillo are large fresh masa corn tortillas filled with a sticky, dark orange mole, torn chicken strips, and hierba santa. They’re a perfect appetizer while waiting for the barbacoa.
Gutiérrez’s mother Julita Antonio makes seasonal aguas frescas like pitaya (prickly pear imported from Oaxaca) in the summer, or passion fruit, though classics like horchata and jamaica are available year-round. But that’s not all — Antonio makes tejate, a Zapotec beverage mixing toasted corn, fermented cacao, pixtle (toasted mamey seeds), and flor de cacao, blended by hand, in cacao or coconut flavors. Chilled tejate alongside empanadas de amarillo and a bowl of barbacoa makes for a delicious tour of Oaxaca’s famed Tlacolula Market on a side street in Harvard Heights.
Barbacoa Aurora is located 2317 18th Street, Los Angeles, CA and serves Friday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (323) 446-1100.