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Deliciosos Tacos: Chicken necks! Kentucky Fried Buches! Not KFC

My rule of thumb is if there’s a crowd, the food is fine

Amato is hidden behind his chorizo peppers, fried chicken legs.
Amato is hidden behind his chorizo peppers, fried chicken legs.

“Let me show you my favorite chicken neck place.”

That’s me. Neighbor Kevin and I are crossing the border, heading south.

“Your favorite chicken…what?”

“Chicken necks, dude. You ever tried them?”

He looks at me like I’ve finally gone over the edge.

“You have not lived, dude,” I continue. “Chicken necks! Kentucky Fried Buches! Not KFC, KFB! Like little corn cobs. You nibble them end to end.” By now we have landed on Coahuila near Constitucion in TJ’s Zona Norte. Or “Naughty Zone,” as some foreigners call it. I know Kentucky Fried Buches from way back. Love it. It is somewhere around here. For half a century they’ve supposedly had this deal with the chicken suppliers in San Diego to buy the one piece of chicken that the likes of KFC refuse to use: the necks. In TJ? No problem. Once you get used to the idea, and once learn how to nibble down the length of the deep-fried necks — lubricated, natch, with some kind of chela (beer) and plenty of spiced, fried corn tortillas — you realize you are honoring a tradition, a Tijuana tradition that must live on. Except here, tonight, oh no. Guys on the street say Kentucky Fried Buches has closed up shop.

Amato reaches for the roast peppers, part of any taco meal.

We look up and down Constitucion. KFB’s gone, sure ’nuff. Still, if there’s anywhere that has alternatives, it’s this sinful, and, okay, slightly scuzzy part of town. Bingo: right beside us, a taco stall is making all the right sounds (sizzle!), and giving off all the right smells (Asado! Chorizo! Al pastor!) That slightly garlicky deep-fried whiff of piernas de pollo. Fried chicken legs.

Actually, while we were stumbling about, wondering what to do, we got ourselves led astray a little, listening to the band Lobito de Sinaloa belting out “Era Una Aventura,” (“It was an Adventure”). We’ve ended up just inside this really old-school dance place of the sort you’d imagine, say, Vincent Van Gogh wandering into. The Reno Bar. Nothing like the slick, expensive places nearby, the Hong Kong and Adelita and Chicago Club. Here in the Reno Bar, it’s like a community social evening. Everybody’s singing the chorus. And hey: a couple of girls grab us, Susana and Cecilia Rubi, and soon we’re clumping our best out on the small floor, with vaqueros and their senoritas dancing around us. So intense, so graceful. Yes, we get a beer. “Wow. This is the real TJ,” says Kevin, as Rubi swirls him past me, “but I’ve gotta eat, dude. Cerveza on an empty stomach, no bueno. Where to?”

So now we’re back on the street, standing up against this counter lined with hanging strings of sausages, chunks of fried chicken legs, the turning rotisserie of al pastor pork, with, smells like, roasted al guajillo peppers, and the whole panoply of extras, like the stuffed peppers that come with your tacos and tortas. I like that it’s all prepared here, everything from chopping up and cooking the meat to this guy cutting tomatoes and cilantro on a side cutting board. Arturo. Turns out he’s the dueño, the owner of the business. “Like my father before me,” he says. “We have been on this street for many years.”

Like a complex haiku, a taco can encompass a world of tastes in its small disk.

Beside him, Amado, his taquero, is handing over a steaming taco al pastor that he’s just made for a customer, a corn tortilla loaded with chunks of pork. And now he comes up with a torta, which you can get with 8 tortillas for $60 -whu? Ah. That’s pesos. Comes to $3.50 U.S.

But I’m interested in these strings of sausages dangling above the counter.

“Chorizo,” says Amado. “Is that what you want?”

Heck yes. Why not, specially at a buck-fifty? “Okay, this is yours,” I say to Kevin. “On me.”

“That’s alright, dude,” says Kevin. “I’ll pass. Wait till I get home. Don’t want to pick up anything down here.”

OMG. We’ve got a bona fide homebody. My rule of thumb is if there’s a crowd, the food is fine. Guess I’ll just have to eat this one for him, slowly, so he drools.

So I’m scrunching into my second taco when I ask Arturo about Kentucky Fried Buches. “What happened?”

Neighbor Kevin holds his $1.50 chorizo taco before giving it to me.

“Covid,” he says. “They had to close. After nearly 60 years! Tijuana has been hit just as hard as you guys. We’re only getting customers back little by little. Saturday night, this street should be packed.” Well, at least Amato seems to get a steady stream. I like to see him cut off the chorizo sausage, fry it up, mix it with — is that al pastor pork? — plus something orange that tastes almost of marmalade. Scrunchy, sweet, but only as a cheeky side-taste leaning up against the majesty of the long-hung necklace of sausages: strong, savory, peppery.

I have to say, the taste of garlicky sausage plus this sweetness leaves me craving more. Specially as Kevin and I more or less have to buy the ladies a couple more Tecates: small bottles, but five bucks above the standard rate, basically for the bar to pay Susan and Rubi. They’re fun, but it is the taco that has seduced me. Man, this is so substantial, crunchy, full of life, and — $1.50! I think of also going for the $3.50 torta, but after two of these, I realize it’ll overfill me.

“Mmm. You’re missing out, dude,” I say to Kevin. I try to order one for him anyway. Except a bunch of guys from the bar next door have burst out and start ordering from Amado. This could take a while.

“So, no chicken necks like you promised,” says Kevin, as we head back up the street. “Thank the Lord. I’d been dreading this. Let’s get back to America. I need a burger from the Mickey D’s on the border, right now.”

Me, I want to hang around here. Is it Lobito de Sinaloa I hear? No, Laberinto, with that famous song, “El Indio Enamorado.”

Kevin isn’t having it. “I need a Bud, and don’t need to hear no ‘Indio Enamorado,’ I want to hear something American. Hey! How about Billy Currington: ‘God is Great, Beer is Good, People are Crazy.’ Now that’s music! You got a problem with that?”

“Not if you’re paying.”

  • The Place: Deliciosos Tacos, Calle Coahuila, near Constitucion, Zona Norte, Tijuana
  • Hours: 11am-all night, seven days
  • Prices: Tacos, $1.50; tortas, $3.50 (with 8 tortillas); quesadillas, $3.50; fried chicken legs, $3.50
  • Trolley: Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: San Ysidro (Take taxi from across the border, ask for “Hong Kong.” Should be around $7)
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Amato is hidden behind his chorizo peppers, fried chicken legs.
Amato is hidden behind his chorizo peppers, fried chicken legs.

“Let me show you my favorite chicken neck place.”

That’s me. Neighbor Kevin and I are crossing the border, heading south.

“Your favorite chicken…what?”

“Chicken necks, dude. You ever tried them?”

He looks at me like I’ve finally gone over the edge.

“You have not lived, dude,” I continue. “Chicken necks! Kentucky Fried Buches! Not KFC, KFB! Like little corn cobs. You nibble them end to end.” By now we have landed on Coahuila near Constitucion in TJ’s Zona Norte. Or “Naughty Zone,” as some foreigners call it. I know Kentucky Fried Buches from way back. Love it. It is somewhere around here. For half a century they’ve supposedly had this deal with the chicken suppliers in San Diego to buy the one piece of chicken that the likes of KFC refuse to use: the necks. In TJ? No problem. Once you get used to the idea, and once learn how to nibble down the length of the deep-fried necks — lubricated, natch, with some kind of chela (beer) and plenty of spiced, fried corn tortillas — you realize you are honoring a tradition, a Tijuana tradition that must live on. Except here, tonight, oh no. Guys on the street say Kentucky Fried Buches has closed up shop.

Amato reaches for the roast peppers, part of any taco meal.

We look up and down Constitucion. KFB’s gone, sure ’nuff. Still, if there’s anywhere that has alternatives, it’s this sinful, and, okay, slightly scuzzy part of town. Bingo: right beside us, a taco stall is making all the right sounds (sizzle!), and giving off all the right smells (Asado! Chorizo! Al pastor!) That slightly garlicky deep-fried whiff of piernas de pollo. Fried chicken legs.

Actually, while we were stumbling about, wondering what to do, we got ourselves led astray a little, listening to the band Lobito de Sinaloa belting out “Era Una Aventura,” (“It was an Adventure”). We’ve ended up just inside this really old-school dance place of the sort you’d imagine, say, Vincent Van Gogh wandering into. The Reno Bar. Nothing like the slick, expensive places nearby, the Hong Kong and Adelita and Chicago Club. Here in the Reno Bar, it’s like a community social evening. Everybody’s singing the chorus. And hey: a couple of girls grab us, Susana and Cecilia Rubi, and soon we’re clumping our best out on the small floor, with vaqueros and their senoritas dancing around us. So intense, so graceful. Yes, we get a beer. “Wow. This is the real TJ,” says Kevin, as Rubi swirls him past me, “but I’ve gotta eat, dude. Cerveza on an empty stomach, no bueno. Where to?”

So now we’re back on the street, standing up against this counter lined with hanging strings of sausages, chunks of fried chicken legs, the turning rotisserie of al pastor pork, with, smells like, roasted al guajillo peppers, and the whole panoply of extras, like the stuffed peppers that come with your tacos and tortas. I like that it’s all prepared here, everything from chopping up and cooking the meat to this guy cutting tomatoes and cilantro on a side cutting board. Arturo. Turns out he’s the dueño, the owner of the business. “Like my father before me,” he says. “We have been on this street for many years.”

Like a complex haiku, a taco can encompass a world of tastes in its small disk.

Beside him, Amado, his taquero, is handing over a steaming taco al pastor that he’s just made for a customer, a corn tortilla loaded with chunks of pork. And now he comes up with a torta, which you can get with 8 tortillas for $60 -whu? Ah. That’s pesos. Comes to $3.50 U.S.

But I’m interested in these strings of sausages dangling above the counter.

“Chorizo,” says Amado. “Is that what you want?”

Heck yes. Why not, specially at a buck-fifty? “Okay, this is yours,” I say to Kevin. “On me.”

“That’s alright, dude,” says Kevin. “I’ll pass. Wait till I get home. Don’t want to pick up anything down here.”

OMG. We’ve got a bona fide homebody. My rule of thumb is if there’s a crowd, the food is fine. Guess I’ll just have to eat this one for him, slowly, so he drools.

So I’m scrunching into my second taco when I ask Arturo about Kentucky Fried Buches. “What happened?”

Neighbor Kevin holds his $1.50 chorizo taco before giving it to me.

“Covid,” he says. “They had to close. After nearly 60 years! Tijuana has been hit just as hard as you guys. We’re only getting customers back little by little. Saturday night, this street should be packed.” Well, at least Amato seems to get a steady stream. I like to see him cut off the chorizo sausage, fry it up, mix it with — is that al pastor pork? — plus something orange that tastes almost of marmalade. Scrunchy, sweet, but only as a cheeky side-taste leaning up against the majesty of the long-hung necklace of sausages: strong, savory, peppery.

I have to say, the taste of garlicky sausage plus this sweetness leaves me craving more. Specially as Kevin and I more or less have to buy the ladies a couple more Tecates: small bottles, but five bucks above the standard rate, basically for the bar to pay Susan and Rubi. They’re fun, but it is the taco that has seduced me. Man, this is so substantial, crunchy, full of life, and — $1.50! I think of also going for the $3.50 torta, but after two of these, I realize it’ll overfill me.

“Mmm. You’re missing out, dude,” I say to Kevin. I try to order one for him anyway. Except a bunch of guys from the bar next door have burst out and start ordering from Amado. This could take a while.

“So, no chicken necks like you promised,” says Kevin, as we head back up the street. “Thank the Lord. I’d been dreading this. Let’s get back to America. I need a burger from the Mickey D’s on the border, right now.”

Me, I want to hang around here. Is it Lobito de Sinaloa I hear? No, Laberinto, with that famous song, “El Indio Enamorado.”

Kevin isn’t having it. “I need a Bud, and don’t need to hear no ‘Indio Enamorado,’ I want to hear something American. Hey! How about Billy Currington: ‘God is Great, Beer is Good, People are Crazy.’ Now that’s music! You got a problem with that?”

“Not if you’re paying.”

  • The Place: Deliciosos Tacos, Calle Coahuila, near Constitucion, Zona Norte, Tijuana
  • Hours: 11am-all night, seven days
  • Prices: Tacos, $1.50; tortas, $3.50 (with 8 tortillas); quesadillas, $3.50; fried chicken legs, $3.50
  • Trolley: Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: San Ysidro (Take taxi from across the border, ask for “Hong Kong.” Should be around $7)
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