Essential T: Heads up! Lamb Barbacoa at La Barbacha

Cabeza tacos in Boyle Heights are this week’s Essential T

The very best Mexican foods start with the letter T—tacos, tortas, tlayudas. Here we showcase the tastiest “T” bites from the streets of L.A.

Lamb barbacoa is such an artisanal tradition—best in Hidalgo, the State of Mexico, and Tlaxcala—that it has been difficult to find an exceptional restaurant, stand, or clandestine backyard vendor that does it right in L.A. If I really have a craving for excellent pit roasted whole lamb wrapped in maguey spines, and offal-stuffed and chile-rubbed stomach, called pancita (like a Mexican haggis) I head down to Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista, where I can get one of my favorite treats from the barbacoa pit: lamb skulls.

The best places in L.A. to date have thus far been off the grid—hidden from the brick-and-mortar-set, in backyards, the Mercado Olympic, and even a print shop parking lot. Most places claiming Hidalgo-, and Texcoco-style are far from legit. El Borrego As de Oro on Slauson even warms their poorly cooked lamb on a comal—sacrilege!

Down in Boyle Heights, in what was once the space occupied by Breed Street legend Antojitos Carmen, is La Barbacha. There, one can find Hidalgo-style barbacoa from the ancient Toltec center of Tula de Allende, Hidalgo.

The barbacoa is cooked as traditionally as it can be under our oppressive health codes. It comes out tasty and supple, better than most restaurant versions, and the pancita is really just tripe, not the offal stuffed stomach of the lamb.

But the showstopper is a whole steamed lamb’s skull on your plate with delicious eyes, cheeks, tongue, and brains attached and ready to be tugged and torn off for making tacos. It’s only available on the weekends, and you’d better get there early before they’re all gone.

It’s not all about tradition here; barbacoa is available every day—not just weekends (and at night). And in a truly unorthodox twist, beans and rice are served with the barbacoa. But you know how the song goes, as sung by Cheech Marin, “Mexican-Americans…” Barbacha, 2510 E Cesar Chavez Ave, Boyle Heights, (323) 264-1451