Sometimes, a food trend is just a fad, like Unicorn Frappuccinos or desserts served in oversized martini glasses. Other times, they permanently alter the landscape, like the renewed appreciation for bacon in our carb-averse world or the elevation of chicharrones from gas-station pork rinds into heavenly clouds of umami crispness.
While “plant-based” restaurants and lab-grown meatless burgers hog all the headlines, there’s a counter-trend at work, a shameless rededication of our attention to the un-subtle joy of meat and dairy.
It’s quesabirria tacos, greasy gutbusters that combine cheese (queso) with stewed beef (birria de res) to form a sort of hybrid taco-quesadilla that comes with a cup of meat-flecked jus (consomé) for dipping. They’re crispy, they’re gooey, and the broth is enticingly salty, but above all else, they’re packed with slow-cooked flavor. Hailing from Los Angeles by way of the Mexican state of Zacatecas, then onto Pleasanton and finally the Mission, Tacos El Patrón is S.F.’s line-out-the-door destination for what has, until now, been something you have to wait for hours at an East Bay pop-up in order to enjoy. ( There are no lines lately, however. As of press time, equipment woes have kept El Patrón shuttered for a few days.)
At $4.75, one quesabirria taco is a bit more than the standard tacos al vapor with all their fixings at nearby Taqueria Vallarta, but far more decadent than the offerings at the comparatively spartan La Taqueria, which somehow retains its foodie cred in spite of having to pay out half a million in back pay to its workers last year.
Birria, from the state of Jalisco, is usually a goat stew, so this is an everyday variation on what is traditionally a treat for special occasions, albeit one with a good-for-what-ails-you undertone. Tacos El Patrón isn’t settling for a single breakout hit to carry the day, either; the complimentary chips are clearly made in-house, served with four salsas — the liveliest of which are the fiery habanero and smokier red.
While unique among Mission taquerias in what it serves, it also straddles the line visually. Yes, the palette is muted and there are contemporary tropes like gyroscope-esque chandeliers and those brushed-metal chairs you see everywhere, but it does not feel like an alien spaceship touched down on the southern end of South Van Ness to serve offal-free Mexican food to the squeamish. Vegetarian options abut plenty of tripe and chorizo, plus there’s beer and sangria alongside the Jarritos fridge.
This is a multi-napkin lunch, in the best way. The only dilemma at Tacos El Patrón is the hoariest of all: One is not really enough, but two is too many. You know what to do.
Tacos El Patrón, 1500 South Van Ness Ave., 415-829-7315, no website.