Downtown, the only goat you’ll find is goat cheese, but in almost every surrounding neighborhood, restaurants serve the meat itself. There’s nothing strange about that: more than three-quarters of the world’s population eats goat, and the low-fat meat makes up two-thirds of all red meat worldwide. In the United States goat farmers are trying to satisfy the immigrant demand that’s more than quadrupled goat consumption over the last 20 years. A few days after the end of Ramadan, a holiday that’s often celebrated with the slaughter of a few goats, here’s a short tour de goat exploring the other red meat.

The modern meat goat, the Boer, was first bred in Africa about a century ago, and goat is the primary protein on much of that continent. Very different in shape from much thinner dairy goats, it’s featured at almost all Chicago’s African restaurants: with a day’s notice at Vee Vee’s (6932 N. Broadway, 773-465-2424) or Toham African Restaurant (1422 W. Devon, 773-973-4602) you can get a stew made with a whole goat head, a Nigerian specialty. Toham offers practically an entire buffet’s worth of goat dishes, but that doesn’t mean you can order them.

Me: Do you have your smoked goat?

Waitress: Oh, no.

Me: OK. Can I have the goat-pepper soup and the goat stew?

Waitress: Yes. So I’ll bring you goat stewed with tomatoes.

Me: Is that the goat-pepper soup?

Waitress: It’s goat stewed with tomatoes.

Me: So you’re out of goat-pepper soup?

Waitress: Yes.

So I ate the goat with tomatoes: it was hearty, deeply flavored, and a little tough, with a touch of goat tang. In the back of the restaurant, behind the television broadcasting African telenovelas, cauldrons of stew bubbled away.

Goat meat’s sold up and down Devon Avenue in butcher shops and in more traditional restaurants: generally speaking, the more nonnatives in a restaurant’s clientele the less goat on the menu. At its prominent new location, Khan BBQ (2401 W. Devon, 773-274-8600) offers up a quartet of fiery goat dishes; a couple blocks east Chopal Kabab and Steak (2242 W. Devon, 773-338-4080) tops that with five. Chopal is ludicrously decorated–the chairs look like they were bought at a British imperial fire sale–but on a good night its goat chops (called “goat champs” on the menu) will leave you oblivious to your surroundings. Rubbed with a thick coat of spices and yogurt, then grilled, the chops are powerful and mildly gamy, a wonderful antidote to cold weather.

When it comes to variety a birreria is the Mexican equivalent of a self-respecting barbecue shack: you get what’s in the name or you go elsewhere. At Birreria Reyes de Ocotlan (1322 W. 18th, 312-733-2613), a welcoming Pilsen storefront with windows that are often fogged up from long-cooking vats, there are just two alternatives to goat: tacos of beef tongue and brains. Birria is goat that’s been rubbed with spices, moist roasted for hours, and is served either dry inside tacos or in a bowl with its juices made into a consomme. At Reyes de Ocotlan, the broth’s like pure liquid umami (the fifth basic taste, “savory” or “meaty”). I went there on a recent rainy night, and it may be the best refuge in Chicago: a bowl of the restaurant’s goat consomme, topped with cilantro and onions, is more invigorating than the best chicken noodle soup. In fact, a birreria may be the closest thing we have to the original French concept of a restaurant, the 18th-century establishments that sold curative broths to help “restore” their customers.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.