Birrieria & Taqueria Jalisco
TACOS ET AL: When I got an email from reader Donna O’Kelley Butler telling me that there was a new taqueria in Nicholson, about 20 minutes from the middle of Athens, it’s a surprise that I didn’t just hop in my car right then and there. It turns out that the restaurant is not only attached to a gas station (score!), but it’s more than just a taqueria, so thanks, Donna!
Birrieria & Taqueria Jalisco (494 Broad St., in Nicholson, 678-767-2912), which has a Broad Street address but actually faces and is right off of 441, attached to an Exxon convenience store, has another branch in the Pendergrass Flea Market food court, an automatic point in its favor. It’s a birrieria as well as a taqueria, meaning that it serves birria, a hearty stew that comes in goat, lamb and chicken varieties and, drained, can be ordered as the featured meat in tacos, tortas, gorditas, sopes, et al. The atmosphere is on the spartan side, with a counter to order, built-in booths, TVs that might be screening “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” a refrigerated case with drinks (Jarritos, Sidral Mundet) and desserts, a bunch of handmade signs and brightly colored welded metal art on the walls.
Most of the food is on the mild side, including the tortas, which come with fries and feature black beans among their fillings. Three salsas (tomatillo-based green, orangey chipotle, not-too-hot red), sliced cucumbers, lime wedges, pickled onions and peppers and other dressings are available in a piece of metal furniture to the right of the counter, to jazz up your order. Tacos come with two corn tortillas, more toasted than usual, which brings out the flavor of the corn but can make them a little dry. You can get chicken, ground beef, chorizo and al pastor, but if cabeza (beef cheeks) is available, don’t you want to be adventurous? Actually, the cabeza is a little too fatty, and I’ve had better lengua (tongue), but the birria de chivo (goat) and birria de borrego (lamb) are the best fillings on the menu, with a tangy gaminess that you can feel in your nose.
The restaurant offers a “Cali burrito” in concession to its customers, but it’s not very exciting: black beans, meat of choice, lettuce, mild cheese dip, avocado. If you opted for one of the birrias and dosed it heavily with the free fixings, it would probably improve a lot. The sopes also use black beans and don’t incorporate the usual shower of queso fresco, which can mean they’re a little short on salt, but the underlying fried masa is chewy and good. The gorditas are better and not too thick.
Everything comes with free soup, or birria, which you shouldn’t pass up. Dunking your spoon into the depths, you might come up with chickpeas as well as deeply flavored goat or lamb, likely cooked with ancho chiles and neither too soft nor too chewy. You might also get a tiny cup of cake with a whipped cream icing. Veggie sides are worth your attention, too, although nopales (cactus) isn’t always available. Rajas (sliced poblano peppers) with cheese can be a good addition to any dish.
Birrieria & Taqueria Jalisco does a few entrees (shrimp, carne asada, carnitas, pollo asado), has horchata and aguas frescas to drink and is theoretically open for Sunday brunch at 9 a.m., although I arrived at 10-something to find chairs on tables and the door locked. Its posted hours are 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Sunday. It takes credit cards and does not have a liquor license.
Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
RAW FOOD: I am not the target audience for Alumni Cookie Dough (480 N. Thomas St., across from 1000 Faces, 706-254-9171), Athens’ first cookie dough café. Sure, I’ll take a bite of the dough if I’m making cookies, but it gets old in a hurry. That said, the store is doing a fine job if you are that audience. You can get one to three large scoops of dough—all of which is safe to eat—and/or vanilla or chocolate ice cream, in a cup or a waffle cone; a scoop between baked cookies or pretzels; three mini scoops; a sundae with ice cream, Reddi-Whip, topping of choice and a cherry; or a milkshake that blends ice cream and cookie dough.
There are 12 choices of dough at any given time, some of which swap out seasonally. A lot of them taste fairly similar, just with different mix-ins (sprinkles, chocolate chips), but the peanut butter stands out as the best combination of flavor and texture. You can also either take home your leftovers or get a Mason jar full of your desired dough to bake at 350 degrees for 8–10 minutes, should you prefer your cookie dough non-raw.
There are punch cards for frequent visitors, sturdy tables and chairs, Jittery Joe’s coffee and some Athens-y merch. Alumni Cookie Dough is open noon–10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, noon–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1–8 p.m. Sunday and closed Monday.