Hospitality & Tourism  May 1, 2023

Birrieria puts goat meat front and center

LONGMONT and EATON — Jalisco, the state halfway down Mexico’s Pacific coast, is known for Guadalajara’s plazas and culture and is said to have originated both tequila and mariachi music. Its savory cuisine, however — especially “birria” with its signature goat meat — may not be as familiar to Northern Colorado.

But it will be, if Jorge and Maria Fregoso have a say.

They brought their family recipes from Jalisco to Eaton and Greeley two years ago, and two months ago opened their third location in a former Chinese restaurant in Longmont. They also own a food truck that is a familiar sight in Loveland.

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Birreria Doña Maria’s new location in Longmont, in a building that had been home to the Royal Wok Chinese restaurant. Dallas Heltzell/BizWest

At the Birreria Doña Maria locations as well as Casa Maria in Eaton, it’s all about family — which is why the Fregosos had little trepidation about opening restaurants in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions.

“We tried to do the best for the family,” said Jorge Fregoso. “We are the first generation from Jalisco. I know what I want and where I’m going to, and I needed to pay for school for my kids. One’s in college and another one is going soon.”

The name Maria not only pays tribute to Jorge’s wife but to his mother and grandmother as well — the women who created and built on the family recipes featured at the restaurants.

“I make it all for my Marias,” he said.

The menu is voluminous, packed with traditional Mexican favorites such as tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, soups and seafood ceviche along with some dishes and ingredients rarely seen in the region. Sopa de Mariscos, for example, is a soup that includes fish, shrimp, scallops, octopus, onions, tomatoes, avocado slices and chopped jalapeños. Borrego Doña Maria is a 16-ounce slow-cooked lamb shank served with rice and charro beans, cactus salad and consomé.

Eighteen different seafood entrees are offered as well, including six or 12 oyster shots.

But Birreria Doña Maria’s featured attraction is Birria, a comforting spiced stew traditionally made with goat meat braised in adobo, a marinade flavored with dried chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs.

They’ll serve it with beef instead, if a customer insists — and Jorge Fregoso said most do. However, he added, goat is the Jalisco tradition.

“Goat meat has more flavor and less fat. Some people like it and some people don’t,” he said. “The flavor is different. It’s a little heavier, but it depends on how you cook it. Slow cooking gives you all the texture.”

The family recipe employed at the Fregosos’ restaurants calls for marinating the meat “nice and slow for many, many hours — five hours,” he said, but some in Jalisco let it rest in the savory mixture for a day or more.

“Everyone makes their own style,” he said, “but these recipes come from my grandfather.”

At the restaurants, he said, “it’s not as spicy because I make it for everybody.”

When Hernán Cortés and his Spanish soldiers landed in the New World in 1519, they brought along domesticated animals including goats, but goat meat was considered so unpalatable that the explorers called it “birria” in Spanish, or useless, worthless, a monstrosity.

However, Mexico’s indigenous people found that goat was very tasty if cooked slowly for hours, and “birria” became synonymous with the cuisine.

Besides the marquee stew, Birreria Doña Maria also serves birria as plated entrees, in tacos, quesadillas and even pizza. 

There’s even a cross-cultural dish that could be seen as a nod to the Longmont building’s former longtime occupant, Royal Wok, which moved in with East Moon Asian Bistro just up the street last year. “Maru Barria” has chunks of goat or beef with ramen noodles.

Sopapillas at Birreria Doña Maria are stuffed with shredded chicken and smothered in green chili, then garnished with melted cheese, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, rice and beans. Dallas Heltzell/BizWest

Sopapillas at Birreria Doña Maria aren’t what Coloradans might be used to at Casa Bonita. These are stuffed with shredded chicken or beef — or goat, of course — and smothered in green chili, then garnished with melted cheese, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, rice and beans.

The full bar serves Mexican and domestic beers and several types of margaritas including some that include a bit of jalapeño heat, as well as a cocktail called a Cantarito, described as “the drink of Jalisco” with tequila, grapefruit and lime juices and grapefruit sodas.

The Fregosos opened the Longmont location, he said, because “I’ve lived here in town 14 years, but all the time I’m working in different towns. Me and my wife have worked in different restaurants for 20 years,” including at Casa Margarita in Ault. When the Royal Wok location became available closer to home, he said, “I thought, hey, it’s a good time for doing something for my family.”

Is more expansion on the horizon? Fregoso isn’t so sure.

“Probably I could open one more, but this life is pretty good to me, so if some opportunities come in, and it’s a good idea, it’s the right time, a good time,” he said, “but if not I’d like to wait. I don’t like to push anything because everything comes easy for me.”

But what’s most important for the Fregosos is family. If Jorge Fregoso couldn’t involve them and be close to them, that would really get his goat.

LONGMONT and EATON — Jalisco, the state halfway down Mexico’s Pacific coast, is known for Guadalajara’s plazas and culture and is said to have originated both tequila and mariachi music. Its savory cuisine, however — especially “birria” with its signature goat meat — may not be as familiar to Northern Colorado.

But it will be, if Jorge and Maria Fregoso have a say.

They brought their family recipes from Jalisco to Eaton and Greeley two years ago, and two months ago opened their third location in a former Chinese restaurant in Longmont. They also own a food truck that is a familiar…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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