SOUTH CHICAGO — Birrieria Ocotlan, the Southeast Side institution that bills itself as Chicago’s original birria spot, is closing its Commercial Avenue location Sunday with no timeline for reopening.
Birreria Ocotlan, 8726 S. Commercial Ave., has served its namesake dish of stewed goat meat — “how birria is intended to be eaten” — to South Siders since 1973, owner Andres Reyes said.
Patrons can have the dish served in a taco; they can order 1.5 pounds of birria, served alongside 32 ounces of consommé broth; or they can get the birria and consommé served together in a 32-ounce cup, with onion and cilantro. Other menu options include lengua and cabeza tacos.
Reyes’ father, Ramon, founded the South Chicago outpost in 1973, though the restaurant’s origins “date back to 1926 with my great-grandfather in Mexico,” he said. It’s named for Ocotlán, Ramon’s hometown in Jalisco.
“My dad knew about some other location [in Chicago that was serving birria at the time], but they served a bunch of other food, too,” Reyes said. “We were the actual first birria spot out in Chicago. That’s our claim, and we’re sticking to it.”
Longstanding building issues in the “really old” Commercial Avenue structure have come to a head and need to be fixed, Reyes said.
Without knowing the extent of the repairs needed, “we’re playing it by ear” on a reopening timeline, he said.
“We don’t want to call it a remodel, and we don’t know when we’ll reopen,” Reyes said. “We’re closing to figure out how we can solve it. We’ll be back — we’re not closing forever.”
The restaurant’s second location at 4007 E. 106th St. in East Side will remain open as the flagship site is renovated. “We’re playing around with a lot of different ideas” for the 106th Street location, from a remodel to an expansion or rebranding, Reyes said.
Reyes, who runs Birrieria Ocotlan’s social media accounts, announced the restaurant’s pending closure with a melancholy TikTok video.
When Reyes posted the video, supporters’ comments and reactions made him think, “Oh no, people really do think we’re closing forever,” he said.
“I broke down. I started crying,” Reyes said. “Our clients have really made us a staple in the community. It was very heartwarming and touching to know that so many people have walked in through those doors, from the great-grandpa to the son and now the son’s son.”
Southeast Siders past and present have shown love on social media for Birrieria Ocotlan since the temporary closure was announced, Reyes said.
“They call us ‘the people under the bridge,'” Reyes said. “There is a sense of community that you really don’t get in other areas of Chicago.”
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