The hunt for quesabirria: An on-trend taco dials up the flavor all over the Santa Maria Valley

Photo by Camillia Lanham
QUESABIRRIA EXCURSION: Nena’s Kitchen in Orcutt is one of several spots in the Santa Maria Valley where birria tacos are on the menu. The Sun staff taste tested the quesabirria tacos from Nena’s, La Pasadita Oaxaqueña in Guadalupe, and Los Tacos Sinaloa and Big T’s Kitchen in Santa Maria.

Who doesn’t want a tortilla dipped in consommé and filled with tender, succulent stewed beef and melty cheese? (Unless your vegetarian or vegan, of course.)

Top it with some cilantro, onions, and the taquera’s choice of salsa, you really can’t go wrong. The meat falls apart, oozing its saucy origins—stewed for hours with chiles, garlic, onion, spices, and possibly tomatoes. Cheese lends its chewy texture and soft mouthfeel, while often-homemade tortillas sop it up with a little heat to top it all off. Dip it all into a side of consommé, and it’s a 10 out of 10. 

From the quesabirria taco’s supposed origins in Tijuana, Mexico, around 2009, these things have been the hottest trend next to Southern-style hot chicken. In Santa Maria, quesabirria abounds on restaurant menus, from food trucks to taquerias to your neighborhood cottage kitchen. 

But how to choose where to place your birria bet? That’s a tough one. We leaned on our readers to show us the way. Based on their feedback, we picked four spots from all over the Santa Maria Valley to taste our way through on a Friday afternoon in April. Then we graded them for taste, texture, how well the tortillas held up to the soak, and the flavor of that consommé, which gives these tacos a little extra drip. Here’s what our staff had to say about it—rated out of five tacos. 

Don’t take our word for it, though. You have to try them for yourself. Don’t be shy.

—Camillia Lanham

click to enlarge The hunt for quesabirria: An on-trend taco dials up the flavor all over the Santa Maria Valley
Photo by Camillia Lanham

La Pasadita Oaxaqueña

Instagram: @lapasaditaoaxaquena
797 Guadalupe St., Guadalupe
(805) 314-1426

Living in Arizona spoiled me with easy access to good and cheap Mexican food for four years, especially tacos. Two-dollar street-style tacos were available right down the street from my apartment and were so delicious they could make you melt into the sidewalk. The tortillas were always handmade, they never broke to pieces after the first bite, and any meat you chose was tender, rich, and came alive beneath cilantro, onion, and salsa. My head still dances with memories of some of the best tacos I ever had at a rest stop next to a gas station in Yuma, Arizona. I’ve been on the hunt to fill the void ever since. 

Walking into La Pasadita Oaxaqueña this April, I knew it could be a frontrunner to make my taco dreams a reality. My mouth salivated as I watched the cooks dip their homemade tortillas into orange-tinged beef broth before sizzling it with shredded cheese on the griddle. Five small, orange, street-style tacos glistened up at me from their takeout container as I grinned back, my hands and a roll of paper towels ready. Single tortillas were filled to capacity with beef and generous servings of cilantro and onion and a drizzle of homemade smoky red salsa. The tender birria took center stage rather than chiles as the tacos’ flavor profile spread rich beef and smokiness across my tongue rather than a lot of spice (but you could add salsa if you want to turn up the heat). The consommé was rich and flavorful. It enhanced the taco and added a slight tingle of spice. I could taste the masa used in each tortilla and savored how each flavor seemed to complement the others and melt in my mouth. 

Everything I could want in a quesabirria taco sat in my orange-soaked hands as I devoured La Pasadita’s taco. At $4.25 per taco, I’d say it’s fairly priced for the quality you get. I’d definitely drive to Guadalupe again to get my taco fix. 

—Taylor O’Connor

click to enlarge The hunt for quesabirria: An on-trend taco dials up the flavor all over the Santa Maria Valley
Photo by Camillia Lanham

Los Tacos Sinaloa 

Instagram: @tacossinaloa805
315 W. Main St., Santa Maria
(805) 925-2953

Operating as both a food truck and a restaurant since 2020, Los Tacos Sinaloa dishes out delicacies from the titular Mexican state in Santa Maria. 

Its small quesabirria tacos make the perfect handheld bite. They’re beefier than they appear and are best eaten over a plate to catch all the juicy goodness. Packed with tender shredded beef, cheese, diced onions, and torn cilantro, the tacos leaked consommé when I bit into them. Most impressively, the neon orange tortillas remained crispy despite carrying the weight of all the fillings for almost an hour before I chowed down. Two light salsas accompanied the quesabirria tacos but the true spice factor came in the form of a single roasted jalapeño on the side. The floral fire from the pepper offset the savoriness of the tacos with incredible balance. The other sides of glossy, cooked onions and crunchy radish slices elevated the tacos to a rounded meal. 

The consommé proved to be the only let-down. It arrived in a small cup, flecked with herbs and onions. It was greasier than your average consommé; however, it was pretty good when I dipped the tacos in it.

Overall, Tacos Sinaloa’s quesabirria tacos were an enjoyable platter, and I’d gladly pay $20.80 again for the five tacos and sides alone.

—Bulbul Rajagopal

click to enlarge The hunt for quesabirria: An on-trend taco dials up the flavor all over the Santa Maria Valley
Photo by Camillia Lanham

Nena’s Kitchen 

Instagram: @nenas_kitchen1
4869 S. Bradley Road, suite 122, Orcutt
(805) 934-4001

Before laying down its roots in Orcutt with the opening of a brick-and-mortar in 2023, Nena’s Kitchen had already made a name for itself among locals as a popular food truck, established in 2021. 

While many of the Orcutt eatery’s taco plates are easy to grab and go if needed, maintaining the spirit of its original iteration’s mobile-friendly tradition, I recommend trying Nena’s quesabirria tacos on-site at a table. Once you get a whiff of the consommé, you won’t want to wait until getting home, work—wherever—to taste it. 

Just put those plans on the backburner for a while, snatch a handful of napkins or a single lobster-style bib, and start dipping. 

“This is consommé I can get behind,” Editor Camillia Lanham said during the Sun staff’s roundtable tasting of Nena’s quesabirria tacos, plated with lemon wedges and radish slices on the side. 

In between the consommé cup’s rotation among staffers to try, the subtle, almost inaudible dipping sounds were quickly replaced with loud slurping noises. The consommé was passed around the table at least three times, allowing everyone to take multiple pours in our own individual party cups to sip from at our leisure.

The broth’s zesty chili profile and hearty beef chunks made it stand well on its own. It’s the kind of soup you want to rest your head over to breathe in its aroma before tasting; perfect to sip during chilly weather or on a sick day.

As for dipping, don’t be fooled by the quesabirria tacos’ double-wrapped stature. Even with two tortillas holding each together, the tacos from Nena’s began falling apart fast after a few dips in the consommé. But the ensuing mess didn’t alter their deliciousness. 

—Caleb Wiseblood

click to enlarge The hunt for quesabirria: An on-trend taco dials up the flavor all over the Santa Maria Valley
Photo by Camillia Lanham
BIG T'S DELICIOUS: Big T’s Kitchen in Santa Maria serves up quesabirria tacos with heft and salsas with a kick.

Big T’s Kitchen

Instagram: @big_ts_kitchen
(805) 406-8279 

Dishing up authentic Mexican food from a Santa Maria neighborhood since 2019, Big T’s Kitchen offers mouthwatering quesabirria tacos at a great price: $2 per taco. 

Big T’s tacos were the perfect size, big enough to not completely devour it in two bites with a strong, tasty tortilla that kept everything together while dipping it in their consommé. While the taco itself wasn’t spicy, Big T’s salsas satisfied my craving for heat. With a mild green sauce that added just the right amount of spice at the back of my throat and a red sauce that had my nose dripping. The beef was tender and savory, and there was a good ratio of meat to cheese in the taco with a little bit of crunch around the edge. 

While the taco, tortilla, and salsa were great, the consommé was a little disappointing. It didn’t have the full flavor we were looking for to enhance the taco. But the taco more than made up for that.

I would gladly return to Big T’s Kitchen and order the quesabirria again. Just make sure to check out his Instagram @big_ts_kitchen to be able to place your order. Big T’s accepts Apple Pay, Venmo, and cash.

—Samantha Herrera

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