photo credit: Adam Friedlander
In order to mine gem-quality red beryl, you have to make a pilgrimage to the Wah Wah Mountains of Beaver County, Utah. We mention this not because we particularly care about gemology, but because there’s a truck in Jackson Heights we consider to be our own mythical mountain range. It’s called Birria-Landia, and it’s where you’ll find the city’s best example of a precious rust-colored commodity known as birria.
This isn’t the only place serving birria in NYC (there are a few others, including another spot in Jackson Heights), but it is the only place that specifically focuses on this Tijuana-style stewed beef. And it shows. The menu here is brief, and you get the impression that Birria-Landia calculated the maximum amount of love they could pour into each of the few dishes they make, then added a bit more.
photo credit: Adam Friedlander
The birria here is cooked in a tangy, mildly spicy, and mysteriously deep consome, and that’s the glue that holds this place together. You can get it on its own in a small or large paper cup - but its presence is felt throughout the four-item menu. When you order a taco, for example, you’ll notice the tortillas are crisp and orange. They were dipped in the consome, then crisped on the griddle, experiencing a degree of personal growth on par with someone who just climbed Everest. And when you eat a tostada, a copper-colored liquid will drip down your fingers. It’s consome. Don’t waste it. As for the mulita, it’s a little less juicy - but just take your crunchy disc of beef and melted cheese, and dip it in your cup of consome. What happens is a sea change. The word “delicious” seems somehow inadequate.
Birria-Landia is a New York City landmark. Like the Statue of Liberty, except it’s under a set of subway tracks in Queens, and it’s actually worth visiting. Bring at least $13, get one of each item on the menu, and lean against the counter on the side of the truck while your brain attempts to process the scope of what you’re eating. Once you’re finished, you can tell your friends that you’ve been to the top of birria mountain, looked down, and found most other food lacking.
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If you don’t get a cup of consome here, you’re a fool. Eat it straight with a spoon while you wonder how such a thin broth can pack so much deep, tangy flavor. Or dip your tacos and mulitas in it. Actually, do both of these things. And fish out all the chunks of tender beef hiding in the bottom.
It’s essential that you get at least one taco here. The orange tortillas dipped in consome should be standard-issue at all other taco spots, and the juicy beef leaks broth over your hands. Dip your taco in additional consome, and embrace your new life with orange fingers.
Crispy, covered in cheese, and packed with beef and plenty of mozzarella, this mulita (pictured on the left) is a perfectly engineered dish. You want it - somehow even more than you want the tacos. Dip it in consome, eat, repeat.
At any other truck (or full-service restaurant), this tostada would be a star. People would whisper about its audibly crunchy tortilla and dripping mound of beef. But here, this near-perfect vessel of meat plays third fiddle to the tacos and mulitas. Order it once out of curiosity, then resume your consumption of everything else.