(Formatted with All Pictures here:
Ever since being introduced to the tasty Barbacoa de Borrego (Slow-Roasted Lamb traditionally covered in Maguey Leaves) last year, I've been on a quest to find the best version possible. After El Borrego de Oro's dried out version left me disappointed, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to try this authentic Lamb dish in all its glory outside of traveling to Mexico.
That is until a wonderful recommendation from kare_raisu about a specialist that only does Barbacoa de Borrego, 7 days a week, immediately caught my attention. While this specialist is located in Chula Vista, I was visiting friends in San Diego and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do both things at once: Meeting friends and trying out this Lamb specialist known as Aqui Es Texcoco. :)
The restaurant is a standard, bare bones, hole-in-the-wall, with a mesmerizing scent of fresh-roasted Lamb pouring out from the kitchen. When we arrive, the tables are completely packed with people enjoying Aqui Es Texcoco's Lamb dishes. Looking over the menu grants a sigh of relief as it has all the signs of a good specialty restaurant. In this case, they serve Lamb Tacos (regular or Dorados), Lamb Plates, Lamb by the Kilogram, an entire Lamb Head, Lamb Consomme and Lamb Flautas, and you can choose what *cut* of Lamb you prefer! Wow. We excitedly place our order and await the offerings from the kitchen. :)
I start with their homemade Horchata (Chilled Vanilla, Cinnamon and Rice Drink), which totally hits the spot on this warm Summer evening. It's an excellent rendition of the classic beverage, with very light, slightly creamy, refreshing taste that's not too sweet with a fragrant Cinnamon and Vanilla aroma with every sip.
While Aqui Es Texcoco lacks the pit-in-the-earth cooking apparatus (it's not very feasible to dig up the kitchen floor in a restaurant :), they fresh roast Lambs every morning, wrapping them in the traditional Maguey Leaves (Agave Americana) like they do in Texcoco.
Our server brings out 4 distinctly colored bottles of homemade Salsa to pair with our upcoming Barbacoa. Ostensibly, they look like 4 generic bottles of some "throwaway" Salsa perhaps, but after tasting each one directly, nothing could be further from the truth:
(Pictured from the left to right)
The Salsa Borracha is the darkest of the four salsas, made-from-scratch in-house, with Tomatillos and Pasilla Chile. It's the mildest of the four, *gorgeously* smoky, intense with a light burn. My favorite of the four. :)
Their Salsa Verde is made with Raw Tomatillos and Jalapeno Chile. There's a very grassy note and a more immediate spiciness that hits with each bite.
The Salsa Aguacate made from fresh Avocados is surprisingly even more spicy than the Verde. It's more spring-like, slightly silky and very fresh-tasting. Wonderful. :)
But it's the Salsa Morita that hooked my guests: The spiciest of the four salsas, they use the Morita Chile as the basis, and there's an immediate, fiery burn as soon as it enters your mouth. But the heat is intoxicating; there's a real depth and complexity that makes the Salsa Morita irresistible.
The Lamb Consomme arrives first: Made from the Lamb Jus of the slow-roasted Lamb itself, Aqui combines that with Garbanzo Beans, Rice, Chile Chipotle, Chile California, Garlic and Onions and this results in an earthy, vibrant, fresh tasting Lamb Broth that's soul moving. Easily the best Lamb Consomme I've had to pair with Barbacoa. :)
Our combination order arrives with a Half Kilogram of Barbacoa de Borrego ("Lamb Barbecue" according to the menu) with all 4 different cuts of Lamb(!).
Fresh Tortillas, Lime, Onions and Cilantro are served with this order.
We begin with the Costilla (Lamb Rib), adding a bit of the fresh Cilantros, Onions and a dash of Lime: It's juicy, slightly fatty, meaty with a nice textural chew (just slightly), leagues ahead of L.A.'s specialist El Borrego de Oro. Wow! :) When finished off with a sip of the Lamb Consomme or a bit of any of the 4 homemade Salsas, it's one of the great Lamb dishes I've had this past year.
The next cut we try is their Pancita ("All Lamb Organs" according to our server). The Pancita is extremely gamey, intense and has that unmistakable metallic liver flavor. It's a bit too powerful for me and my guests, but I'm glad I tried it.
Their Cabeza (Lamb Head Meat) is fatty, juicy with a good Lamb flavor (more so than the Lamb Rib meat). It's a bit more messy, varied in texture and fatty than most standard cuts of Lamb, but I found it delicious.
And if Lamb Cabeza is your favorite, keep an eye out for their Cabeza Completa (Whole Lamb Head) which looked freaky, disturbing and smelled absolutely delicious all at the same time! :)
Finally, their Maciza (Regular Lamb Meat (from Shank and Shoulder)) is probably the most straightforward of the offerings. It's still moist, leaner than the other cuts, and retains a nice Lamb flavor with each bite.
Continuing on, we try another rare offering in So Cal: Flautas de Barbacoa (Lamb Barbecue Rolled Tacos) with Fresh Cream and Cotija Cheese. The Flautas are so crispy, piping hot and tasting *very fresh*. This is important to note because far too many restaurants have been serving mediocre Flautas with slightly stale shells and dried out meat. Not so here: Aqui Es Texcoco's Flautas are beautiful celebrations of texture and flavor: The crunch of the Fresh Flautas, the smooth and creamy Crema and Cotija Cheese, and the juicy, clean Slow-Roasted Lamb within.
Their Tacos Dorados de Costilla (Lamb Rib Fried Tacos) are hearty, pan-fried Tacos filled with the Slow-Roasted Lamb Rib meat. While there's always something satisfying with freshly fried Tortillas, I think I prefer the non-fried versions better.
Finally, their Quesadilla con Huitlacoche (Quesadilla with Mexican Truffle (Fungus from the Corn Plant)) is a surprisingly non-greasy, light, crispy offering, with Huitlacoche and gooey Mozzarella Cheese melted together in a great pairing. It's very earthy and very mild at the same time.
For dessert we try their homemade Camote Con Miel (Sweet Potato with Honey). It's slow-cooked Sweet Potatoes mixed with Cinnamon, Honey, Sugar and Cloves. It's a nice idea, but it's simply too sweet, becoming cloying after only 2-3 bites.
Service is to be expected at this little hole-in-the-wall: There are 2 servers taking care of the little restaurant, and you just flag one down if you need anything, or go up to the counter / cash register to order more items. Prices range from $1.60 to $33 for an entire Kilogram (2.2 pounds) of Slow-Roasted Lamb. We averaged about ~$13 per person (including tax and tip).
There's nothing like finding a specialist restaurant that excels at what they do: From the amazing Barbacoa de Borrego (Slow-Roasted Lamb) to the pure, spicy, intense Lamb Consomme, to the crispy, juicy Lamb Flautas, Aqui Es Texcoco is one of the best Lamb Barbacoa specialists in Southern California. It easily eclipses the Barbacoa de Borrego offerings I've found in L.A. so far and is a humble eatery worth visiting if you're even remotely in the area.
*** Rating: 8.3 (out of 10.0) ***
Aqui Es Texcoco
1043 Broadway, Suite 108
Chula Vista, CA 91911
Tel: (619) 427-4045
Hours: 7 Days A Week, 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.