5 great San Antonio Mexican restaurants for birria ramen, the beyond-trendy evolution of birria craze

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It was early 2021 and San Antonio college students Johnny and Jason Rinza needed cash. “Dad got sick and we had to find a way to cover the bills. And there were a lot of them,” Johnny Rinza said.

The brothers, who had only ever cooked at home, decided to start a small food trailer, which they could operate around their class schedule. They were looking for dishes guaranteed to sell, and nothing was trendier than birria. For two years, this hearty Mexican stew has dominated Instagram feeds and San Antonio restaurant and food truck menus, and is still going strong.

The Rinzas’ birria trailer Los Carnalitos on WW White Road has succeeded, and their most popular dish is the beyond-trendy evolution of the birria craze: birria ramen. This dish features instant ramen noodles, a popular culinary export from Japan, cooked in a bowl of birria broth and served with the meat.

“We saw that the ramen was hitting a lot on social media and decided to try making it,” Johnny Rinza said. “People eat with their eyes first, and if you’re able to attract them visually, they share it with their friends and family.”

The Rinza brothers aren’t alone in their embrace of birria ramen. Over the past two years, the dish has found a solid foothold in San Antonio restaurants and food trucks alike. From elaborate presentations in rustic clay pots to simple affairs prepared directly in store-bought packages of ramen, a hungry customer can find a hot bowl of that red-hot dish in nearly every corner of the city.

On ExpressNews.com: 5 great Mexican restaurants for birria tacos in San Antonio

Birria ramen stormed onto the international food scene about seven years ago. The dish’s invention is credited to celebrity chef Antonio de Livier. According to a 2019 Los Angeles Times article, the chef simultaneously had a surplus of lamb birria and a hankering for noodle soup. When he tossed ramen noodles into the birria, he instantly fell for the way the bouncy ramen noodles soaked up the potent broth. He liked it so much he placed it on the menu of his Mexico City restaurant Ánimo in 2015, and it quickly became the restaurant’s signature dish.

The photogenic dish gradually migrated to the U.S., taking over the social media feeds of countless foodies here.

This week I sampled as many versions of birria ramen as I could find in San Antonio. If you’ve never given the dish a try or are curious about the various styles available around town, consider any of the following five restaurants for your next (or first) bowl.

Birria ramen from Birrieria Estilo Jalisco

Paul Stephen/Staff

Birrieria Estilo Jalisco

Birria ramen is sold as a combo deal with an oversize birria taco at this restaurant tucked into a shopping center along Nacogdoches a couple miles north of Wurzbach Parkway. And it’s a showstopper: Your meal will arrive in colorful earthenware pottery wheeled to the table on a cart with oodles of onion, cilantro, lime wedges and a selection of salsas to customize your bowl.

The ramen noodles retained a pleasing chew, swimming in a broth with a very clean flavor of beef, spices, chile and just enough salt. The meat fell into tender shreds interspersed with flavorful bits of jiggly fat, all under a slick of crimson oil. If you’ve never had birria ramen before, this is a great place to start thanks to the showy presentation and well-balanced flavors.

Birrieria Estilo Jalisco, 13327 Nacogdoches Road, Suite 5, 210-529-2491, Facebook: @birriaestilojaliscotx. Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Birria ramen from Birrieria y Taquer?’a Ay Arandas

Birria ramen from Birrieria y Taquer?’a Ay Arandas

Paul Stephen/Staff

Birrieria y Taquería Ay Arandas

This restaurant on Culebra near Woodlawn Lake is the only one sampled for this story that served both beef and lamb birria ramen. The lamb was silky soft without a hint of gaminess, and the beef delivered the deep and rich meaty flavor birria lovers seek out. In both cases, the noodles were more on the tender side, almost like a pot of fideo that’s had a chance to simmer for a while.

And don’t skip the salsa bar. You’ll find plenty of onions, cilantro and several types of salsas to augment the flavor of your bowl. Additionally, the bar is loaded with roasted serrano chiles, cucumbers, radishes and several preparations of diced vegetables.

Birrieria y Taquería Ay Arandas, 2426 Culebra Road, 210-888-1010, Facebook: Birrieria y Taqueria Ay Arandas. Hours: 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday

On ExpressNews.com: Chuck’s Food Shack: How to make beef birria tacos at home

Birria ramen from El Chivito Tortas Ahogadas

Birria ramen from El Chivito Tortas Ahogadas

Paul Stephen/Staff

El Chivito Tortas Ahogadas

This popular spot near Wonderland of the Americas is best known for its addictive tortas ahogadas, but birria ramen has made a recent appearance on the menu. Only outdoor seating is available, but it’s well shaded, and misting fans keep the space cool.

The broth here was lightly salted and tasted primarily of beef and chiles. Once dressed with cilantro, onion and a generous squeeze of lime juice, the flavors balanced into a bright and refreshing bowl of soup. And the kitchen had a light touch with the noodles, which held onto plenty of bouncy chew.

El Chivito Tortas Ahogadas, 204 Crossroads Blvd., 210-369-9638, ahogadaselchivito.com, Facebook: @ahogadaselchivito. Hours: 11.a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Birria ramen from La Que Birrieria

Birria ramen from La Que Birrieria

Paul Stephen/Staff

La Que Birrieria

This eatery is housed in a retro-style drive-in along South Flores near the missions, with an ordering window and covered outside tables. Birria ramen has taken off as a top seller here, as evidenced by the towering stack of Tapatío-brand instant ramen just inside the ordering window, and customers can choose from beef, chicken or extra spicy flavors.

With the broth receiving an extra boost of seasoning from the spice packets in those bowls, La Que’s birria ramen had the most aggressive and punchy flavor of all varieties sampled. There was a generous quantity of incredibly delicate beef that fell into feathery ribbons of protein.

La Que Birrieria, 6203 S. Flores St., 210-999-5272, no web presence. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

On ExpressNews.com: The ultimate guide to San Antonio’s food trucks

Birria ramen from Los Carnalitos

Birria ramen from Los Carnalitos

Paul Stephen/Staff

Los Carnalitos

Operating out of a tiny food trailer parked in a partially shaded lot lined with picnic tables, this option for birria ramen along South WW White Road near Martin Luther King Park provided one of the most distinctive bowls sampled.

While the dish is served in Tapatío instant ramen bowls, the assertive flavor packets are not used. Instead, the kitchen pours a lightly seasoned broth of chiles and tomato at near boiling temperatures over the noodles to soften them, and then top everything with cilantro, diced pickled red onions and a hearty portion of tender beef simmered in a brick-red sauce of deeply flavorful guajillo chiles and other spices. The complex layering of flavors made this an absolute standout star of San Antonio’s birria ramen scene.

Los Carnalitos, 1231 S. WW White Road, 210-914-2651, Facebook: @loscarnalitosTX. 4:30-10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 1-10:30 p.m. Sunday

[email protected] | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen

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