Tacos, Tacos and More Tacos! by victoria petersen
While the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered small businesses across the world, and at home in Alaska, some local restaurants were just getting their start when areawide shutdowns closed the doors on dine-in establishments. In the Anchorage area, multiple restaurants have sprung up since Alaska announced the first known case of COVID-19 in the state, many of which specialize in tacos.
Most recently, El Jefe Taco Joint opened March 1 on International Airport Road. The new taco restaurant serves four different types of tacos, including an all-day breakfast taco, a burrito, street corn in a bowl, and a handful of other side dishes. And just north of town, El Pastor opened up in 2020 in Eagle River, serving tacos al pastor, seafood tacos, tortas, burritos, soups and other Mexican fare.
Fuego Birria opened the Sunday before the city of Anchorage shut down indoor dining for the first time in March 2020. The pop-up restaurant, housed inside Alaska Bagel Restaurant, recently announced a hiatus, but plans to be open in time for Cinco De Mayo. Owner Karter Chaeum, who also owns and operates Alaska Bagel Restaurant, says Fuego Birria sold out in one hour on their first day. During the hiatus, Chaeum said he will be using that time come up with new taco recipes, and possibly finding a food truck.
“Of course, everyone faced that struggle of uncertainty in not knowing what was going to happen,” Chaeum said. “But the light in the darkness were the tacos -- I think, one thing about Anchorage, at least when there is something new -- people are excited and they want to try it. We did really well for doing literally all to-go (orders). We sold out many days during the initial start of the shutdown. We’re pretty fortunate.”
Chaeum said the original idea for Fuego Birria was to change the scene in Anchorage, opening pop-up restaurants that are social media based. Encouraging people to follow the restaurant to see where and when they might open next. Chaeum, who lived in California for about 20 years before moving to Alaska a decade ago, says he’s always had a love for Mexican food and cuisine. When he saw birria tacos for the first time on social media, he dove in. For about three months, he researched all about birria, and practiced making it.
“I worked hard on it for about three months -- doing the meat, making the soup and making my own salsa,” Chaeum said. Fuego Birria specializes in serving birria tacos, which is an intensely flavorful meat that’s stewed with a variety of spices and chiles, originating from Jalisco, Mexico. The tacos are served with consommé, or a rich broth, for dipping the tacos in.
Tamara Stallworth and her husband also capitalized on the popularity of the birria taco, taking the flavorful meat and using it in their quesadillas, nachos and fries for their new business: AK House of Birria. “I love cooking, and I’m always cooking new things,” Stallworth said. “My husband encouraged me, and it’s been taking off. We’ve been keeping busy.”
They started serving Anchorage in August 2020 and have been operating and delivering their food out of a commercial kitchen. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, Stallworth said facilitating to-go orders would have been easier, but as vaccinations ramp up around the city, it’s been easier for Stallworth to allow for a pick-up option for customers.
The couple recently added desserts to their menu, like churro cheesecake. They have also acquired a food truck, and have plans to be on the road, ready to serve, later this spring. Residents can find out more about where to find Stallworth at EatAKHouseofBirria.com, or by finding the business on Facebook and Instagram.
PROUDLY POWERED BY SOL DE MEDIANOCHE NEWS, LLC. Sol de Medianoche is a monthly publication of the Latino community in Anchorage, Alaska