It wasn’t the flavorful, fresh-tasting, plentiful grub or the prompt, polite service or the more-than-reasonable price point that sparked my fascination with Birrieria Los Chivas de Oro (4221 Hemphill St, 817-927-2400), a two-year-old Zacatecas-style Mexican eatery. I would say the décor is what struck me about the joint set inside a freestanding orange-hued building on Hemphill Street, but that’s not quite specific enough. If I had to distill the one quality I admired most about the place down to a single feature, I’d have to say it was the mural featuring goat genitals emblazoned on the walls near the bathrooms. Yes, I’m a child. Hear me out.
Imagine the volume of my guffaw when, after one of the most impressive authentic Mex-Mex lunches I’ve enjoyed in ages, I journeyed to the washroom and was greeted by twin goat renderings, side by side. One is a male goat whose comically oversized golden testicles hang like shimmering gunny sacks, directing you to the little lads’ room, and the other, a female of the species whose anatomy is painted in lurid detail, points you to the ladies’ powder room. Just in case you forget what goes on behind the lavatory doors, there’s another depiction of a female goat doing its business just outside the ladies’ potty.
If you’re rolling your eyes over the fact that I just ate up an entire paragraph of a food column detailing goat junk, here’s what you’re missing: This is clearly a restaurant with personality – something you don’t see in our golden age of focus group-engineered concepts, catch-all menus, and bland Dallas transplants. The mural, and many of the striking non-naughty images on the other walls, wasn’t designed for your IG backdrop. You may not like it. You may think it wildly inappropriate. However you feel about the kind-of-lewd art on a couple of the many walls in the three-room restaurant, you cannot deny that the probably guileless owners are at least attempting to create a fun atmosphere when most authentic Mexican places are just slapping a few Virgin Marys on the walls and calling it décor. For the record, I loved it.
I don’t mean to bury the lede, because the food here is worthy of praise – more than good enough to have occupied the prior two paragraphs and the subsequent two. The kitchen makes its own tortillas, which is what drew me there in the first place. Warm, pillowy-soft elephant ears of corn and flour accompany every course.
Zacatecas is nestled in the mountainous center of Mexico, where potatoes, beans, beef, and cheese are plentiful. The Two Amigos ($8.95), a pairing of a cheese-stuffed relleno and an enchilada filled with queso fresco and topped with red sauce, was the most traditional dish my guest and I enjoyed. Also on the Zacatecas greatest hits tour, the tender, juicy plato de cabeza ($9.25) – cow cheek – tasted as though it had simmered for hours. The dish was served alongside a fresh-tasting pico, rice, and deliciously fatty beans. The stew-like chile verde ($9.99), served with the same setup and cooked in a zesty green sauce, was a natural dancing partner for the housemade tortillas.
If you’re wondering where to find the best caldo de pollo ($7.25) in this city, Birrieria Los Chivas de Oro is your place. Zucchini, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and dark-meat chicken swam in a rich, flavorful broth. I’ve never had better within our borders. The standout shrimp ceviche ($7.98), cooked in both lime and orange juices and piled high, was a tad sweet but balanced by slivers of avocado and plentiful pico de gallo atop the tostada. The presentation and flavor were downright nuanced. Someone in that kitchen cares about the food – and someone in the front of the house just wants you to lighten up a little. That takes balls.