“You can’t do a half-hearted birria,” says Leo Oblea, one half of the team behind the Oakland Food Truck La Santa Torta. “It’s a whole process that you have to respect. It’s like a ritual, ”adds his business partner Victor Guzman. These two take Birria and Quesabirria in particular seriously, and the lines that form outside of their truck are proof that all of their work is worth it.
The two friends are both former DACA recipients and it is thanks to the program that they can realize their dream of starting their own grocery store. Since it opened in 2018, the truck has grown so popular that it is now being expanded to include multiple trucks and an upcoming restaurant is in the works. “For us we are DACA recipients, so we cannot return [to Mexico]We don’t have the privilege like other people, ”says Oblea. “So it’s like being kept in touch with our culture.”
“It tastes like home,” says Guzman.
These hearty flavors and juicy, crunchy textures of their Quesabirria tacos come from time and effort. Every day the team is given a shoulder of beef that is rubbed with an adobo marinade, garlic and other spices and marinated for at least 24 hours. The beef is then cooked on a low temperature for five to seven hours. “Birria is something you can’t do on the fly,” says Guzman. “So if you run out, you run out.” Once the birria is done, dip tortillas in beef fat, place them on the grill and layer them with cheese, the finished birria, and onions and coriander. The team also makes fresh green and red salsas. Once everything is put together, Guzman demonstrates the final and arguably best step: dip the taco in the steaming beef broth.
“A group of parents who hadn’t returned to Mexico in 20 or 30 years tried our food, and [the man] was like, ‘Hey man, I could taste the flavors like I was in Mexico,’ recalls Guzman. “So you have this ratatouille moment like in the movie you tried it in, and you get this look back at your childhood. For me it was just that … we’re doing well. ”