Is South Bay birria taqueria the No. 1 taco shop in America? Yelp reviewers say yes
Fans of Ed Fernandez Restaurant Birrieria in Nestor say the quick-service outlet’s tender beef stew, thick house-made tortillas and finger-licking consomé keep them coming back
For the past 17 years, Ed Fernandez Restaurant Birrieria in the South Bay border community of Nestor has been one the area’s best-kept secrets. Not anymore.
Two weeks ago, Yelp.com named Fernandez restaurant No. 1 on its 2022 list of the 100 best taco spots in America.
The rankings were based on both the total volume of reviews and the percentage of high-star reviews that included the word “taco” on the crowd-sourced ratings website. Located just off Interstate 5 a couple exits north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Fernandez has collected nearly 700 customer reviews, and the vast majority of reviewers gave the restaurant five out of five stars.
Diners, both on Yelp and enjoying an early lunch outside the walk-up restaurant one morning last week, say they love the tenderness of the restaurant’s slow-stewed beef dish known as birria, the mouthfeel of the thick house-made corn tortillas served on some of the tacos, the rich savoriness of the beef consomé dipping broth, the generous portions, the fast service and the fair prices.
Since the story was published online Oct. 4, restaurant owner Jorge Fernandez said he’s been overwhelmed with new business, but he and his 16-member staff have managed to keep up with demand, and he’s grateful that so many new people have discovered his food.
“On the first day the story came out, the crowd cashed us out because we weren’t expecting it,” Fernandez said. “Since then, we’ve been running out of food on some days, but there’s only so much you can prepare in one day.”
Fernandez was born in Mexico City and moved with his family to Tijuana at the age of 4. They immigrated to the U.S. when he was 15. Now 56, he lives with his wife and family in Chula Vista. He discovered a talent to cook from his parents, and when he decided to open his own Mexican restaurant in 2005, Fernandez said he decided to focus on birria because nobody else was serving the popular TJ breakfast dish at the time on the north side of the border.
Birria is a popular street food in Mexico, with different preparations and spices, depending on the region where it’s served. In the Jalisco region of Mexico, birria is prepared with goat meat. But in Tijuana (and San Diego) only beef is used. Fernandez has his own recipe, which is a secret, he said, except for what he calls the “two main ingredients: love and passion.”
When Jorge opened his restaurant and catering business in 2005, it was originally known as Fernandez Restaurant Birrieria. But when his brother, Eduardo, died in 2013, Fernandez added his brother’s nickname to the business moniker as a memorial tribute.
Birria tacos at Fernandez range in price from $3.15 to $5.15 and are mostly of the smaller “street taco” size. But don’t be fooled. With the wealth of beef, cheese and tortillas, most diners will be satisfied after eating two. The restaurant’s lowest-priced taco is the basic taco de birria. Served on a house-made corn tortilla, it features beef, cheese, diced onions and fresh cilantro, served with a side of lime wedges, crispy radish slices and a small tub of fiery salsa. A side of consomé is $2.75.
The restaurant’s top-seller is the Quesotaco Extremo, which has fried tortillas, fried cheese, grilled Serrano chiles and onions and birria that’s been oven-roasted to give it a crispy crust known as tatemado. Also popular is the Chupacabras, similar to the Extremo but spicier and without the tatemado crust. Another up-and-comer is the Questotaco No Tortilla, which has a shell made entirely of grilled cheese. Beef tendon (nervio), which has a gelatin-like consistency when cooked, is a popular ingredient at Tijuana birria shops and Fernandez said he’s pleased that so many of his non-Mexican customers have tried and enjoyed it.
To accommodate the crowds and speed up orders, Fernandez is only offering walk-up service for now. There are shaded outdoor tables and chest-high counters for stand-up dining. Diners can order at two walk-up windows and pick up their food at a third. There’s also an express window for phone orders. The menu is taped on the front windows and can also be found on the restaurant’s website. Although the menu is mostly in Spanish, the bilingual cashiers are happy to translate and make suggestions for first-time visitors. When the food is ready, order numbers are called out in both Spanish and English.
The street in front of the restaurant is undergoing major construction, so parking for the large crowds has been a challenge. But Fernandez is thankful for his customers’ patience, their five-star reviews and the work of his restaurant staff.
“My wife and my mother are my inspiration and my gasoline. They lift me up when I’m tired,” he said. “I thank God every single morning. The reason I’ve had so much success is I have a great team.”
Ed Fernandez Restaurant Birrieria
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays
Where: 2265 Flower Ave., Suite D, San Diego (Nestor)
Phone orders: (619) 628-8235
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