Even if you don't think you’re familiar with food from the Mexican state of Michoacán, you probably are. Carnitas, the slow-simmered pork popular in tacos, originated there, as did the wonderfully refreshing sweet treats paletas. Those alone would be enough to guarantee Michoacán a place on the culinary map, but there are other, harder-to-find regional dishes worth your time.
Which brings us to the San Fernando Valley and a weathered pair of restaurants called Birrieria Apatzingan. With two locations, the original in Pacoima — a tiny spot with just a few tables, tucked behind a convenience store — and a somewhat larger space in Lake Balboa with actual booths, Birrieria Apatzingan might be the only place in Los Angeles County dedicated solely to cuisine from the Michoacán city of Apatzingan. Situated in Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente Valley, with a population of around 100,000, Apatzingan has its own style compared with the rest of Michoacán.
Among the regional dishes you’ll find here are the chavindeca, a fluffy, handmade corn tortilla filled with carne asada and cheese, and aporriadillo, eggs cooked in a mild salsa with cecina, a sort of Mexican beef jerky. Then there are uchepos (huechepos), a Michoacán version of corn tamales, served topped with Mexican crema and tomatillo sauce. They used to be available only on weekends, but now you can try them any day of the week.
Apatzingan-style enchiladas are available with either cecina or chicken; the chicken is fried with potatoes in a fragrant guajillo chili sauce. The same sauce is used on the corn tortillas, which are fried and filled with cotija cheese, then topped with lettuce, onion and tomatoes. Morisqueta con costilla, another regional dish, arrives as a hearty stew of pork ribs in tangy salsa, sprinkled with cotija cheese and served with beans and rice.
Should you not be in the mood for regional specialties, there are perfectly fine tacos and burritos. Curiously, carnitas is not an option. Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is, after all, a birrieria. Chef Martin Cruz has been making birria for 24 years, and the version here has wonderful, bone-in goat meat served either as part of a plate or as a soup. There's always a pot of it simmering in the kitchen.
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There’s nothing in Birrieria Apatzingan's food that is weird or exotic to the point of being offputting. With ingredients such as cotija cheese, pasilla chiles and tomatillos, the dishes are warmly familiar. After eating at Birrieria Apatzingan, you might end up wondering why the homey cuisine of Michoacán doesn’t attract the followings that other Mexican regional styles do.
Birrieria Apatzingan, 10040 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Pacoima; (818) 890-6265. Birrieria Apatzingan #2, 16903 Saticoy St., Lake Balboa; (818) 785-8926.