The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic aside, Peter Luna opened his Crunchy Red Tacos at an opportune moment. Region-specific Mexican food has only recently gained popular ground in New York, at least compared to Mexico-adjacent California. Birria, a stewy culinary staple of the central-west Mexican state of Jalisco, hasn’t been difficult to find in New York for a long time. But according to Luna, good birria is a recent development.
The young restaurateur, whose vividly designed truck sits on Wyckoff Avenue a block from the Jefferson L Stop, isn’t shy in admitting why that is: Birrialandia.
Responsible in large part for New York’s current obsession with birria, Birrialandia is an absurdly popular food truck permanently ensconced on the corner of 78th and Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. It’s been written about glowingly by Pete Wells of the New York Times, among other professional gourmands who normally pen odes to, or screeds against, Manhattan’s crystal palaces of fine-dining.
To birria fans in Brooklyn, Birrialandia means multiple subway jags, not to mention a 30-minute wait in line. For them, Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos in Bushwick is a godsend: Luna’s birria, each batch of which takes about six hours to make, is a worthy competitor. Luna expects his new customers to take quickly to what he’s offering Bushwick in the way of authentic Mexican food.
“I love Brooklyn,” said Luna, speaking by phone from the truck. “I love Bushwick; the people here are really down to earth. The police are cool, the MTA. We get a lot of people from the hospital [Wyckoff Medical Center].”
For the un-initiated, birria is the Beethoven of soups, with its weighty crescendos of tender flesh soaking in mahogany waves of oil-spotted string orchestrions, given heft by fat bass notes of adobo spices and guajillo chile. In its native Jalisco (where there’s a square in the state capital, Guadalajara, entirely devoted to it) the soup is most often made with goat or lamb. But Luna’s birria recipe comes from Tijuana, where beef birria is common.
Another innovation that sprung from Tijuana: the birria taco whose tortilla is first dipped in the upper layer of birria broth and thrown on the griddle before being filled with stewed meat. As if a holdover from a previous stage of evolution when birria was just a bowl of soup, a common complement to the tacos is a steaming cup of rich birria consomme for dipping or sipping; Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos serves it free with an order of tacos, tostadas or the birria torta, i.e., sandwich.
Luna’s heritage points neither to Tijuana nor Jalisco, however. His parents are from Puebla, a state north of Oaxaca. They raised Luna and his two brothers in their collection of Queens restaurants, Los Tres Potrillos (three locations) and El Gallo Negro (two). Birria at these restaurants was, by Luna’s own admission, an afterthought.
“80% of the time, the birria [in New York] is not very good,” Luna said, customer chatter and Wyckoff street traffic audible in the background. “They don’t have the right ingredients and the right recipes. And, hey, the birria at our own restaurants was horrible, too! But then I tried birria in California; about 80% of the birria food trucks there are good. It’s a traditional thing for them; it was so good, I got curious.”
Following what sounds like Luna’s quasi-religious experience, a quest for a suitable vehicle and reliable birria recipe was undertaken, involving a 2,700 mile drive from Puebla (where he and his father purchased a very used truck) to New York, with a quick stopover in Tijuana for a friend’s birria recipe. The result, a highly respectable iteration of an age-old classic by a neophyte, has benefited not only Bushwick, but the Luna family’s other restaurants; the reportedly lackluster birria of yesterday has been replaced at Los Potrillos by a satisfying witch’s brew made according to the exact same specifications and ingredients as the Queens restaurants’ food truck satellite in Brooklyn.
While as cagey with specifics as he is with revealing the ingredients and proportions that go into his birria’s homemade spice mix, Luna made clear that he and his brothers are looking with a favorable eye at expanding their business deeper into Brooklyn.
Future growth aside, the here-and-now looks promising for a food truck that ably traffics in a comfort food dish currently experiencing a flashbulb moment on New York’s dining scene. And with a license that allows him to stay open until 3 a.m., once the pandemic shutdown is over Luna’s nightlife-adjacent business seems well-positioned to benefit from a re-opened city.
For pick-up and delivery (limited radius), send a direct message to the truck’s Instagram.
Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos
A newly opened taco truck specializing in birria, a central-west Mexican speciality.
348-416 Jefferson St, Brooklyn (off the Jefferson Street stop off the L train)
Mon-Sun: 10 am – 3 am
Follow Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos: Instagram
Cover photo credit: Matt Fink
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