I readily admit that at I will over strategize at times. If I'm not sure that the Missus will enjoy a particular restaurant, I'll usually try it out first. But at times, this approach just doesn't work out. La Nortenita is a good example of that. I first drove by La Nortenita earlier this year, and made a note to check it out. The problem was that each time I tried to stop by, the place was either packed, or no parking could be found. Finally, I just told the Missus about the place, and early one weekend morning we made a drive down to La Nortenita.
As you can see this little restaurant is partially hidden by trees, and if you're driving down Imperial avenue at a fast clip, you might just blink and miss it.
But if you slow down a bit, you won't miss this:
So let's all rub our greedy little hands together, and go "mmmm Barbacoa"!
The little restaurant has a "homey" feel to it, except for the "window" which looks a bit out of place. And the wonderful aromas floating in the air!
The menu is broken down into tacos, gorditas, sopes, and tortas on one page, and the "combination plates" and guisados on the other. First the condiments were delivered to the table:
Since this is a barbacoa/birria restaurant, ordering was pretty easy. I started with 1 Birria de Chivo and 2 Barbacoa de Borrego(in this case slow cooked lamb) tacos($2.14/ea):
Three large size tacos with a generous amount of meat, wrapped in rustic, steaming hot tortillas that were made to order arrived at the table.
The Birria de Chivo taco consisted of shredded roasted meat, that had been dunked into a chili infused broth, which delivered a nice rich chili "punch".
With just a touch of onions and cilantro, I needed nothing else to enjoy this taco.
The Barbacoa de Borrego consisted of shredded lamb that had been mixed with a bit of the lamb broth/consomme.
Adding a tiny squeeze of lime to balance out the richness, and onion and cilantro to act as a counterpoint to the wonderful mildly wild and gamey flavor of the meat. A touch of salsa roja added a nice bit of smokey heat to the taco, making it mucho delici-yoso.......
The Missus was torn, She couldn't decided whether to get the Birria de Chivo or the Barbacoa....so She got both! Luckily, there were medium sized (mediana) portions available.
The Birria de Chivo was the first to arrive (mediana - $4.95):
Along with the good sized bowl of soup, a warmer with about a half dozen thick and steaming tortillas arrived...so hot you could barely hold them! The actual broth was not as spicy as it looks, and had more of a peppery-spicy flavor, with just a tiny hint of sweetness. The broth was hearty, though not too rich.
There was an abundance of meat in the bowl as well.
The Missus also ordered the Barbacoa de Borrego(mediana-$4.95):
A plate arrived with fragrant barbacoa topped with a steaming tortilla. As was our previous experience with the barbacoa at El Borrego a bowl of lamb broth/consomme arrived as well. The consomme was a light broth flavored with lamb drippings, with small shreds of lamb and garbanzo beans. The flavor was not a pronounced as the version at El Borrego, and a small squeeze of lime added some brightness to the dish. The barbacoa had been flavored with the broth as well.
Here's a better look:
The meat was moist, with a nice and rich lamb flavor. As with barbacoa, there's a salt shaker on the table for flavoring.....which I think is unnecessary. As the Missus started to dig in Josefina Ramos delivered 5 more steaming hot tortillas to the table. Man this was good! The Missus, who believes, but doesn't follow the "Yin-Yang" philosophy of eating (i.e. "hot foods" balanced by "cold foods"), told me that even though She almost finished both dishes, there was no feeling of being stuffed silly, probably due to lamb being "hot" food, thus giving Her invigorating energy! Until we went home and She proceeded to go into a food coma.......
A week to the day later, the Missus had a craving for lamb, and so we drove back down to Imperial, and La Nortenita. We arrived at a bit before 10am so the restaurant was empty, and Josefina greeted us with a large warm smile. I think she recalled the Missus's appetite! Not wanting to stuff ourselves silly, the Missus ordered the Birria de Chivo "grande"(sorry, no photo!), and I ordered the Barbacoa (grande - $7.63):
This time a larger plate! Along with the steaming hot tortillas and consomme. On this day, I thought the barbacoa was even better than on our previous visit. Still moist and flavorful, but this time the meat to fat ratio made this an almost decadent dish. The Missus who thought the birria was better, changed Her mind after tasting the barbacoa.
This was very satisfying, and too much for me to finish. Luckily, the Missus was on hand. By this time the little restaurant was completely filled. And through some restaurant ESP, it seemed that everyone knew that the barbacoa was excellent today since almost everyone had plates of barbacoa in front of them. It was interesting watching the different techniques for eating the lamb. Some made little tacos and dipped them into the broth, some poured the broth over the meat and made little tacos, and those dubbed the "efficient eaters" added the cilantro and onions to the plate, and mixed in the broth, and went to town! The Missus kept telling me...just think if we had some rice! So I'm guessing a rather large take out order is in our future.
For us, the experience of eating at La Nortenita is like eating in your favorite Aunt's home. The service warm and friendly, and if they know you love their food..... As an example, while waiting for our food, the Missus was checking out the various cakes, and other confections. Josefina seems to be quite an accomplished cake maker. As we were finishing, the nice young lady working on this day, brought us both a little sample for dessert, now that deserves an exclamation point! The restaurant can be on the hot side, and the ventilation is not the best, so when this tiny restaurant gets full.... The barbacoa is not as refined as El Borrego, but I prefer the rustic flavors and richness of the lamb at La Nortenita. Though I think the broth at El Borrego is much richer in flavor.
Birrieria Y Pasteleria La Nortenita
2455 Imperial Ave
San Diego, CA