Barbacoa might be the most treasured meal of the weekend for Mexican families. The pre-Hispanic tradition of pit-roasting lamb, goat, and even chicken and beef has proliferated across California thanks to immigrants who settled into the state’s busy urban centers and in agricultural communities throughout the Central Coast and Central Valley. These cooks prepare their passed-down family recipes through the styles and techniques found in small Mexican towns and the notable regions of Hidalgo, Texcoco, and greater Estado de México, establishing a trail of barbacoa up and down California. Here are 14 places to get traditional, slow-roasted barbacoa, from LA’s busy streets and Bay Area flea markets to quiet suburban backyards.Read More
14 Places to Get Traditional Slow-Roasted Barbacoa in California
Follow California’s barbacoa trail from Los Angeles to the Central Coast to the Bay Area to find weekend servings of tender roast lamb, goat, and even chicken
If you only had barbacoyero Omar Mejia’s lamb barbacoa at the Richmond Pulga (flea market) on a Saturday, you’d roll your eyes back in ecstasy over delicate cuts of lamb barbacoa on blue corn tortillas, seasoned by a salsa verde mingled with briny chinicuiles (grubs). Take a sip of tangy consomé, made with chipotle, and ask for directions to his Sunday location in American Canyon. There, Mejia offers the pride of Tulancingo: ximbo, a pit-roasted, spatchcocked chicken encrusted in a red adobo and cactus strips. A rare side, pancita blanco, is an offal-stuffed stomach without adodo that goes nicely with the salsa verde. Grab a corn tortilla and tear off a taco’s worth of chicken, cactus, and pork rinds at this home in the gateway to Napa Valley.
Rosario’s Barbacoa Estilo Querétaro
Located in the Garden Acres neighborhood on the eastern edge of Stockton, bordering fertile farmland, is one of California’s only Querétaro-style lamb barbacoa operations. There’s lamb barbacoa and consomé, but the top attractions here for offal lovers are the montalayo (regional name for pancita) and machitos (offal wrapped in tripe). Tacos de montalayo here are chopped from a tightly packed lamb stomach filled with heart, liver, and intestines slathered in chile guajillo, while machitos are torpedo-shaped intestines, wound by a continuous string of tripe that’s cooked on a grill. Together, the pair of bold-flavored lamb tacos makes this stand a barbacoa destination.
La Pulga Hidalguense Vendors
While Barbacoa Mejia is the stand to hit up at the Richmond Pulga, there are around a half-dozen competing vendors, all from the state of Hidalgo, selling lamb barbacoa along with essential dishes, including consomé and pancita. This might be the only place in California you can have a Hidalguense barbacoa crawl in one location, all while shopping for cell phone accessories, small appliances, and dishware.
Barbacoa Los Ramones
In a quiet suburban home in Richmond, Ramon Coss prepares tender goat barbacoa, consomé with fatty streaks of goat oil, and a dark-hued, mineral montalayo from Guanajuato, a state not usually acknowledged for its barbacoa. Coss serves his barbacoa and montalayo on handmade corn tortillas, garnished with purple onion and cilantro, in a cheery backyard setting that feels like an invitation from a friendly neighbor.
Get barbacoa to go at a home located in this East Bay suburb, or get there early for the only table, a plastic picnic set four-top, for Hidalgo-style lamb barbacoa, barbacoa de pollo, and lamb heads. The chicken barbacoa is a whole bird stuffed with cactus and pork rinds, rubbed in an adodo and cooked in the pit, along with both beef and lamb heads clotted with adobo. Be sure to call in advance.
Borrego de Oro Estilo Texcoco
Barbacoyero Rodrigo Chaparro sells Texcoco-style lamb barbacoa at his busy Bakersfield food truck, where customers crowd into a half-dozen picnic benches under a tacked-on tarp, providing shade for his regulars. There he serves a moist, stew-like reddish-brown pancita scented with epazote, and a light consomé to accompany popular cuts of supple lamb barbacoa such as ribs and shoulder. It’s an ideal breakfast stop on Highway 99 from Southern California toward Fresno and Yosemite.
Barbacoa Mixteca in Santa Maria
California’s barbacoa mixteca region in Oxnard and Santa Maria specializes in yique, a traditional dish that’s essential to barbacoa mixteca. With permission from community members, we visited a pair of stands at the homes of Mixteco barbacoyeros. Because it’s important for Mixtecos, and Indigenous people in general, to have safe spaces for their communities, Eater agreed not to publish these addresses.
Barbacoa Estilo Atotonilco El Grande
Gonzalo Ramirez has been cooking barbacoa as long as he can remember, first with his grandfather in Atotonilco El Grande, Hidalgo, and today in Arleta, where his son Erik Ramirez is learning the trade. Ramirez’s method includes raising the lambs, butchering them, loading the lamb cuts into the pit, placing pots for the consomé under them, and making the pancita in the pre-Hispanic tradition. The lamb is pink, supple, and perfect in a tortilla with just a little salt. The consomé is a beautiful expression of smoke, adobo, and the essence of the pit, rich with lamb oils. Grab a blood sausage taco, enhanced by green herbs, and slices of chile jalapeno to accompany a memorable breakfast from a true barbacoa artist.
Barbacoa Estilo Chihuahua
Taquero Ian Leyva’s beef barbacoa stand has put northern Mexican pit-roasting on the LA map, in a city that’s more familiar with central and southern lamb and goat barbacoa. Like his contemporaries in Chihuahua, Leyva slowly simmers beef cheeks and tongue in a large pot on a stove top, until the meat melts and fuses together in juicy clumps to spoon onto tacos, lonches (tortas), and into thin burritos. The buttery-rich must-have consomé is the star of the show.
From a backyard in Baldwin Park, veteran Petra Zavaleta offers one of the most unique barbacoa styles in LA from her hometown of Tepeaca, Puebla. In addition to tender, flavorful lamb, and barbecued lamb skulls with eyes, tongue, and cheeks attached for making tacos with warming lamb consomé, Zavaleta serves a rich, iron-flavored lamb menudo called mole de panza enchilada that you can only find here.
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Maria Ramos is a third-generation Oaxacan barbacoa master with deep roots in the Mercado de Tlacolula in Oaxaca. Her barbacoa enchilada, or pit-roasted lamb in a chile-based marinade, is a smoky, spicy taste of pre-Hispanic tacos de barbacoa. In a city full of Oaxacan restaurants, Gish Bac is the best in its class for its esteemed barbacoa and traditional cookery.
Barbacoa Estilo Tlacotepec, Puebla
From his camper taqueria mounted on his pickup truck in East LA, barbacoyero Javier Ramirez serves delicious goat barbacoa, simply salted and roasted in a pit, with a flavorful consomé to complete his pithy menu. The rich consomé stock is cooked with goat bones that leech their marrow into the dish, with some adobo for color, pungent epazote, and garbanzos. Together it all represents Tlacotepec, Puebla, a little-known style of barbacoa from this southern Mexican state.
Aqui es Taxco
Tucked into a print shop parking lot, cloaked behind a canvas banner proudly displaying the Mexican silversmith capital of Taxco, Guerrero, Julio Jaimes prepares excellent lamb barbacoa, pancita, and goat birria with fresh tortillas made to order. One of the deepest skills of the barbacoa master is pancita, the offal-stuffed stomach of pit-roasted lamb, which requires meticulous cleaning before being covered in a scarlet plaster of chiles and spices. Julio gets this right — a balance of forbidden flavors of lung, heart, kidney, chitterlings, and liver with a rich chile guajillo that’s both subtle and alarming.
Aqui es Texcoco
It took a feat of engineering to produce legal and traditional barbacoa inside of a U.S. restaurant. Former engineer and barbacoa master Paco Perez has done just that with his own oven design to simulate the conditions in an underground pit. Pit-roasted tender lamb cuts, pancita, and lamb skulls are served with corn tortillas, papalo (wild greens), and green and red salsas for making tacos, just like back in Texcoco at this large restaurant in Commerce.