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$20 Dinner

Miami’s El Primo Brings Top-Notch Birria Delights to Avenue A

There's birria ramen, birria smashburgers, birria nachos, and a half-dozen truly excellent birria tacos.

Two birria tacos in a white takeout dish, on a red table.

Birria taco perron, $6; birria quesataco, $5. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Is it exciting that a birria spot just opened in the East Village? I mean, come on, is this 2019? Back then, four long years ago, most of the city had no immediate access to this rich, wet beef stew (there are goat versions as well) that is, among other things, a Tijuana taco staple. Birria, and specifically the Tijuana-style birria taco, was largely unknown around these parts until Pete Wells blew it up with a big review in the New York Times of the Birria-Landia truck in Jackson Heights.  

Whoaaaa, said everyone, and multiple birria trucks, restaurants, and semi-secret spots soon followed. Most every taco shop in town proceeded to add birria to their menu, until this once-rare beast became almost as ubiquitous as the dollar slice, especially in party zones like Jefftown and Hell Square

So, no, the mere fact that a place is selling birria in the East Village in the fall of 2023 isn't really news. But—and this is a big "but"—the spanking-new El Primo, which opened two weeks ago across from Tompkins Square Park, does birria so well, and in so many appealing guises, that not only does it deserve to become a neighborhood go-to, but all taco fans in our city should make a trip just to check it out. 

"I think there aren't any, like, 100 percent authentic Tijuana birria tacos in New York City," El Primo's manager Miguel Hernandez told Hell Gate. "So that's why we are here. Honestly, this birria experience is 100 percent Tijuana-style."  

Those are probably fighting words for some, but Hernandez spent most of his life in Tijuana, and he's been eating this stuff since he was a little kid, back when his mom would take him to get birria for breakfast. "The first time I took a bite of an El Primo taco, I was like, wow," he said.  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

That first bite happened in Miami, where there are two El Primos, the first of which began as a pop-up at a Baja-style restaurant called PEZ, where Hernandez worked as a sous chef. Like any sane person, Hernandez recently fled Florida for NYC—"I don't like Miami. I prefer the city. I like to ride a bike," he told me—and so was tapped by the El Primo team to run this spot on Avenue A.   

The birria tacos, or "red tacos" as the Insta-friendly signage here screams, form the core of the menu, and the two I ate were superb. Get the chewy quesataco if you like fat-fried corn tortillas and a ton of gooey cheese with your stew; the "taco perron" features a flour tortilla, also dunked in the birria juice before grilling, and is laden with meat, some good guacamole, and a bunch of whole red beans. Both of these beasts are a mess, and both are delicious.

Birria smashburger with fries, $12. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Other taco options are further variations on the above. The vampiro is extra crunchy. The huesitaco co-stars bone marrow. The quesabirria is more like a quesadilla. A cup of consommé, for dipping or sipping between bites, costs $2 extra, and is well worth getting if you're feeling flush.   

Other ways to get your birria fix at El Primo include birria ramen; birria nachos (by far the most shareable dish); and a terrific birria smashburger, the charred patty sticking out on all sides from its potato bun, and topped with some sloppy stew, pickles, and a pink sauce. A tip: You should absolutely dunk this beauty into consommé if you have some at the table. 

Birria nachos, $16. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The birria burger also comes with a generous side of fries, and you know how sometimes you get fries at a random place that you wouldn't think really cared about their fries, but then it turns out the fries are freakin' awesome? That's El Primo. These are some serious Top 10-list fries. 

You can get booze with your tacos, either one of several beers or a 12-ounce, $5 margarita. There's housemade horchata and a nice hibiscus agua fresca as well, the latter of which really hit the spot after all that meat, fat, and salt. 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

El Primo is located at 151 Avenue A, between East Ninth and East 10th Streets, and is currently open on Sunday through Wednesday from noon to 11 p.m., and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from noon to 1 a.m. You can expect to see Hernadez at the counter, unless he's out training for the marathon—this year's race will be his third in NYC.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
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