“You can’t half-ass birria,” says Leo Oblea, one half of the team behind Oakland food truck La Santa Torta. “This has a whole process you have to respect. It’s like a ritual,” adds his business partner Victor Guzman. These two take birria, and more specifically quesabirria, seriously, and the lines that form outside of their truck are proof that all their work is worth it.
The two friends are both former DACA recipients, and credit the program with allowing them to achieve their dream of creating their own food business. Since opening in 2018, the truck has become so popular, it’s now expanded to multiple trucks, with an upcoming restaurant in the works. “For us, we’re DACA recipients so we can’t go back [to Mexico], we don’t have the privilege like other people do,” says Oblea. “So this is kind of like keeping us connected to our culture.”
“It tastes like home,” says Guzman.
This savory flavors and juicy, crunchy textures of their quesabirria tacos come from time and effort. Each day the team receives a beef shoulder that gets rubbed down with an adobo marinade, garlic and other other spices, and left to marinate for at least 24 hours. The then beef gets cooked on a low temperature for five to seven hours. “Birria is one thing you cannot make on the fly,” says Guzman. “That’s why when you run out, you run out.” Once the birria is ready, they dip tortillas in beef fat, put them on the grill, and layer them with cheese, the finished birria, and onions and cilantro. The team also makes fresh green and red salsas. Once everything is assembled, Guzman demonstrates the final and arguably best step: dipping the taco into the steamy beef consommé.
“A set of parents that hadn’t gone back to Mexico for 20 or 30 years tasted our food, and [the man] was like ‘Hey dude I was able to taste the flavors as if I was in Mexico,’” remembers Guzman. “So you have that Ratatouille moment like in the movie where you taste it, and you get that flashback to your childhood. So that right there, for me, it was...we’re doing good.”