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April 1, 2023

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Clark County eateries offer spicy, meaty birria ramen, perfect for fighting off winter’s chill

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Birria ramen from El Jefe.
Birria ramen from El Jefe. (Photos by Rachel Pinsky) Photo Gallery

Birria fever has splashed across Portland and spilled into Vancouver. Lines form around trucks serving this red-tinged velvety meat stew that originated in Jalisco, Mexico. Its popularity has inspired purveyors to come up with variations. One of the more intriguing twists is birria ramen, made by cooking the dried bricks of Japanese noodles in a rich birria consommé and topping it with diced onions, cilantro and lime slices.

This list of excellent birria ramen options may expand Vancouverites’ idea of the perfect cold-weather meal. “When you eat that ramen on a cold day, it’s like the soul coming back into your body,” said Eldy Prado of El Viejon.

El Jefe

2711 N.E. Andresen Road; 971-381-8950;; open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Friday

Adiel Ramos started his business with a taqueria in northeast Portland. He noticed the birria trend and visited Los Angeles and Guadalajara, Mexico, to try it. He asked his mother and mother-in-law to show him how they make their birria. He combined all this information and then added or removed ingredients to get his recipe just right.

Ramos makes two batches of birria every morning with 180 pounds of beef each. The meat is slathered with a combination of spices and chiles just before it’s slow cooked for three hours. He was reluctant to serve ramen, but after trying it, he decided to add it to the menu.

El Jefe’s birria ramen ($13) comes in a large container filled with a smoky, rust-colored broth (from the guajillo chiles that are part of the chile mixture in the marinade), noodles and tender chunks of beef with a side of chopped purple onions, cilantro and lime. Customers can also get green or red salsa to add to the flavor.

Los Alambres

6331 E. Mill Plain Blvd.; 360-859-3747;; open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Everyone who works in the kitchen at this Heights spot for Mexico City food follows the social media accounts of food fanatics in Mexico. They kept seeing posts featuring birria and decided to add it to the menu. A final recipe came together by experimenting with various flavors and cuts of meat.

Birria is made every three days here by slow cooking beef without the seasonings. The spice blend is sauteed and then blended with roasted guajillo chiles. This sauce is added to the meat after it’s almost fully cooked. The mixture is cooled, and the fat layer is scraped off to create a clear broth.

The popularity of this meaty dish led to birria ramen ($10.80), which isn’t on the regular menu. This trendy soup is listed on a cardboard cutout near the register for now. The restaurant is revamping its menu, and birria ramen will have a permanent place on the new edition.

For takeout orders, birria ramen comes in a large plastic container. Customers are given a choice of mild, medium or spicy broth. Los Alambres uses a house chile de arbol spice to create different levels of flavor — a half teaspoon is added to the medium version, while a full teaspoon creates the spicy version.

When I opened the top of the container, the red broth gave off a meaty smell. I tried the medium spice level, which provided a nice kick but wasn’t crazy. Fresh cilantro was mixed into it to brighten up the richness, and slices of lime were provided to add a bit of acid. The noodles were firm and abundant, and entangled in them were chunks of velvety beef.

Carlos Birrieria

10512 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd.; 360- 975-0328;; open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

Carlos Birrieria is sandwiched between an Arco station and an Auto Zone store. Victor Vargas opened his birria truck five months ago, offering interesting twists on this popular stew, including birria ramen ($9.99) and a birria pizza ($18-$26) made with a large flour tortilla as a crust.

The large container of birria ramen comes with a small plastic bag filled with diced purple onions, cilantro and lime slices. Tender meat floated through the light broth and mixed well with the noodles, a warm and satisfying dish to slurp at the picnic table by the truck.

El Viejon

705 S.E. Park Crest Ave., D430 (next to Vice Beer);; open noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Eldy Prado, formerly head chef at The Hammond Kitchen and Craft Bar in Camas, brings his 22 years of experience in the restaurant industry as well as his fondness for food from his hometown of Nayarit, Mexico, to his food truck parked next to Vice Beer. His birria recipe comes from his mother and grandmother, who are from Jalisco.

“The ramen is an Oregon and Washington thing,” Prado said. “It works with the cold weather.”

Ramen doesn’t appear on the menu affixed to the truck, but regulars know to ask for it as part of the secret menu. Prado’s birria ramen ($14) comes in a large paper container topped with loads of fresh diced purple onion and cilantro. On the side, there’s slices of lime and small containers of green and red salsa to brighten up the meat broth.

As I opened the lid, an earthy smell with hints of cinnamon wafted out. In addition to cinnamon, Prado uses whole cloves, allspice and black pepper as well as guajillo and California chiles to give his birria a warm complexity. The velvety meat pulled into ropes as I worked my way through the dish. It was so good that I couldn’t stop slurping until the large container was empty.

I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite birria ramen from this list. They’re all riffs on the same rich and flavorful theme, and they all provide a soothing winter respite.