Rival chefs join up for new Santa Rosa food truck

Chef Miguel Canseco likes to claim he was the first to introduce Sonoma County to quesabirria tacos, the now hugely popular creation of birria beef and cheese folded into a fried tortilla with consommé for dipping. They’re bestsellers at his Taqueria El Paisa in Rohnert Park and his Tacos El Paisa food truck in the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa.

But Chef José Rodriguez likes to say that no, he was the first to offer quesabirria at his El Fogón Taqueria in Rohnert Park. Customers love the extra-cheesy version (also available in burrito form).

They both agree that their quesabirria is the best. That’s created a semi-playful competition between them for several years now, as is well-known among their families and friends.

When the two men teamed up to launch Tacos Tijuana a few months back, it raised eyebrows. Who would be the king of the Santa Rosa hybrid trailer truck and tiny kitchen?

According to Uriel Brena (their business partner) Canseco & Rodriguez, Canseco & Rodriguez both committed a crime. But the Tacos Tijuana quesabirria is somehow even better.

“I feel like none of us could have done this project alone, even though suddenly everyone was saying, ‘Who has the best birria?'” Brena said. “Sometimes you think the guy next door is taking away your business, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like him. They’re friends, so they put their recipes together and made it even better.”

The description of these delicious street treats adds to the partnership. Tacos Tijuana’s menu describes their version of Tacos Tijuana’s. “a shotgun marriage of a quesadilla and a birria taco; the quesabirria featured red-stained tortillas, piles of shredded meat and an ample amount of melted cheese.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same description as at El Fogón. Edwin Hernandez Garcia was the Tacos Tijuana’s head cook. The mystery continues.

I’ll just say this — I like the quesabirria at El Paisa and El Fogón, but it’s Tacos Tijuana for the win. They are stuffed with tender beef braised in guajillo, ancho peppers, and stuffed with lots and lots of creamy cheese spurting out of the tortilla. Then they are pan-fried until crisp in a dollop golden brown fat from the birria pot. You’ll dunk the four tacos in the salty consommé and ferociously devour every bite ($15.99).

Many cities offer many flavors

Tacos Tijuana, a unique Mexican food business, is located in the beer garden next to Santa Rosa Plaza.

Beyond that mouthwatering quesabirria, it offers specialty dishes from Oaxaca, Michoacán, Mexico City and, of course, Tijuana. It also features an extensive menu of vegan and vegetarian options, brimming with such luscious, full flavors that you’ll never miss the meat or dairy.

The Oaxaca, Michoacán and Mexico City connections are an homage to the backgrounds of the chefs and Brena. The Tijuana connection is a result of the trio sharing stories and discovering that they had all crossed the border into the United States at the city’s border. They also had a taste for the food in Tijuana.

“One day, we were hanging out and realized we had all started in the same place in search of the American dream,”Brena said. “The night we decided to put this project together, we kept talking about Tijuana. I don’t know if it’s because we were so very poor at the time and we were so hungry — physically, and for wishes of a better life — but the food we had in there was the best we’ve ever had in our lives.”

The tone was set by the grand opening party last month, which highlighted how special Tacos Tijuana in the community. Rodriguez was once the owner of a catering and event supply company. So guests were welcomed with a bounce house that resembled a cowboy ranch complete with log walls, inflatable steer skulls, and a backdrop of bucking bronco.

Mariachis entertain with their high-pitched melodies and blaring horns. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce members mixed with guests, sipping cerveza, while Cosmo, the black cat, looked out from his perch at the Shady Oak bar’s Game of Thrones arcade machine. Some 400 people had RSVP’d, and many lined up at the trailer to buy signature dishes like Garcia’s famous al pastor, slow-roasted on vertical trompo rotisserie.

This is some of the best pastor I’ve ever enjoyed. The sweet-spicy marinade made of pineapple juice, chiles and oregano gives the meat a rusty appearance. The tender meat is placed in double corn tortillas with grilled pineapple pieces, cilantro, minced onion, and a unique addition of roasted potato ($2.99).

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