Cheesy, messy fun: Melbourne's TikTok-fuelled birria taco boom

Dingo Ate My Taco co-founder Katherine Simkins who only started making birria tacos so she could enjoy them herself.
Dingo Ate My Taco co-founder Katherine Simkins who only started making birria tacos so she could enjoy them herself. Photo: Scott McNaughton

For the past few years, Melbourne's new wave of Mexican cuisine has largely championed light, fresh ingredients and the kind of three-bite tacos that can be held in one hand while the other cradles cerveza.

Lately, however, there's a new tortilla trend in town: cheesy, hulking birria tacos designed to be dipped in soup and requiring multiple napkins.

Birria tacos dipped in a soup made from their beef brisket filling marinade at Dingo Ate My Taco in Melbourne.
Birria tacos dipped in a soup made from their beef brisket filling marinade at Dingo Ate My Taco in Melbourne. Photo: Scott McNaughton

Birria hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco also the home of tequila. Its recipes are many and varied, but the "quesabirria" style popular in Australia usually features slow-cooked beef bolstered by lots of cheese in a crispy, fat-fried tortilla.

A cup of spice-laden consomme made from the meat's cooking juices and marinade is served on the side for taco dunking between bites. Perfect for winter; not so great for white clothes.

"For the original recipe, goat was cooked in a stock of dried chillies to create the delicious stew known as birria, then served with raw onion, spicy salsa and tortillas," says Rosa Cienfuegos, the Sydney-based author of tamale and taco-loaded cookbook Comida Mexicana.

Fat-dipped birria tortillas grilled and topped with brisket and cheese at Dingo Ate My Taco.
Fat-dipped birria tortillas grilled and topped with brisket and cheese at Dingo Ate My Taco. Photo: Scott McNaughton

"I'm from Mexico City and I used to eat it at the cantinas where you go to either have a few drinks and a good time, or to cure a hangover."

Like fruit-topped porridge and poffertjes pancakes, the filling snacks have become a global TikTok sensation over the past 12 months with "#birriatacos" videos racking up more than 470 million views on the social media platform.

Birria's viral popularity partly stems from the appeal of cheese-heavy dishes on the internet, generally, plus the theatrical, messy process of eating the tacos.

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"I think the experience of dipping the tacos into consomme is really attractive to people, especially in a group," says Dingo Ate My Taco food truck founder Katherine Simkins. "It's something that feels like an event, especially if there's a COVID lockdown in place and you can't dine at restaurants."

Originally from Austin, Texas, Simkins and her husband sell birria and smoked breakfast tacos from a pop-up store on St Kilda Road and a truck that appears regularly in Maribyrnong and Collingwood.

A permanent shop for the couple's Tex-Mex-style street food will open in Fitzroy by Christmas, but birria was never part of the business plan when the couple launched Dingo Ate My Taco last year.

Vegan birria tacos with cabbage filling from Si Senorita in Fitzroy.
Vegan birria tacos with cabbage filling from Si Senorita in Fitzroy. Photo: Jess Sargeant

"To be honest, we put birria on as a special [in November] largely so I could eat it myself," says Simkins.

"We had no idea it was blowing up on TikTok. All of a sudden, it just went nuts, and teenagers started coming to the truck after school and posting videos of themselves eating the tacos. No one was really doing it in Melbourne at the time and birria quickly became half our business.

"Now every day we're open, at least one person will say they've travelled two hours to try our tacos – provided there are no COVID restrictions, of course. But we also have tradies working in the area who visit us and have no idea about birria. It's fun when they come back the next week with all their mates."

Birria tacos can also be found at Superchido in Seddon, while Latin American restaurant Si Senorita hosts birria nights twice-weekly in Fitzroy. Si Senorita is offering limited birria packs for delivery during lockdown too. The tacos are made to its head chef Marlene Michel's family recipe from birria's birthplace city of Guadalajara, the Jalisco capital.

Michel's birria is a labour intensive process with spices ground from scratch, vegetables pre-roasted for stock and beef slow-cooked for six hours. The tortillas are dipped in adobo for extra flavour before hitting the hot grill.

Si Senorita managing director Mariano Cingerle insists you must drink the accompanying consomme, post-dip.

"That's the best part of it because it's super rich and flavoursome," he says. The restaurant also offers a vegan version, with thinly shredded, grilled cabbage mimicking the colour and texture of pulled beef.

At Dingo Ate My Taco, Simkins recommends birria customers order ahead through the food truck's website as there can be "a pretty long line".

"We dip the tortilla in fat skimmed from the birria cooking stew then grill it until it's nice and crunchy, which can take up to 10 minutes," she says. "People seem more than happy to wait though."

The next frontier is birria ramen – that is, pouring the coppery side broth over Japanese noodles. The mash-up is hugely popular in the US, and Dingo Ate My Taco has dipped its toes in the spicy soup too.

"We have done birria ramen, and might do it again," says Simkins. "It's really good – I expect it will take off in Australia. Mexican and Japanese flavours work together really well."