Four blocks south of the ugly U.S.-Mexico border wall, the unmistakable scent of frying chicken sings its siren song to lost tourists. Tijuana's red-light district, the Zona Norte, is famous for its "table dance" halls, its rundown character, and the whores who skulk just off the main sidewalk. It's not an especially dangerous part of Tijuana, but it's not inviting and family-friendly either, the way the Zona Río or the 5 y 10 are.
That scent is emanating from a small restaurant, open to the street (like many in Tijuana), called Kentucky Fried Buches. Buches is the Spanish word for chicken necks, that bastion of soul food, and all the restaurant serves is deep-fried chicken necks, salsa, tortillas and soda.
The décor is nil: This is the original hole-in-the-wall. The few tables are lit by long fluorescent lights; there's not much on the walls. A long trough of simmering schmaltz takes up a third of the counter, a brick-lined swimming pool of gallons of rendered chicken fat with dozens of necks floating in it. A large plastic bucket of tomato-and-fresh-chile salsa sits on the counter next to a pile of corn tortillas. The menu is simple: an order of these is 35 pesos ($3) and gets you five necks; a half liter of bottled soda is 10 pesos ($0.85).
They're difficult to eat; the work-to-reward ratio seems like it shouldn't be worth the effort. It takes skill to get the bone out without burning one's fingers while the meat is still hot and appealing. Once that's happened, slap the meat into a tortilla, add the surprisingly hot salsa and eat. The burst of fried-chicken flavor belies the small portion; KFC would kill to be able to pack a gustatory punch like that. The salsa is juicy and perfect, the obvious inspiration for El Pollo Loco's watery salsa fresca.
There are imitators: Buches have been spotted occasionally on the streets of SanTana and East Los Angeles, but they're not the same thing. There's only one Kentucky Fried Buches, the world's most perfect post-alcohol snack.
Kentucky Fried Buches: Constitución, 670, Zona Norte, Tijuana, B.C. Located one block north and one block west of the corner of Revolución and 2nd/Benito Juárez.
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