Julian, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, are on a journey to find the Mission’s best fried chicken sandwich. If you have suggestions, write a comment — or, if you prefer, send an e-mail to Julian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark: As one who has always roved solo along Valencia on Friday and Saturday nights, I always thought of West of Pecos as one of those places — a watering hole for the weekend Marina/North Bay/ Fidi/perennial Spring Break crowd. I mean, this place could exist anywhere (i.e. Chico or Walnut Creek) and do okay.
Likely, it was only because, in the heat of those bitter judgments I was alone, and the crowd’s weekend abandon and hijinks stung like margarita salt on a long-simmering canker sore.
But, hey, they have a fried chicken sandwich so — perhaps grudgingly — I go on a Sunday morning. (West of Pecos’ fried chicken sandwich is only available for weekend brunch.)
For starters, it’s far closer to 11 a.m. than 11 p.m. — people drink this early? There are baby chairs, with babies in them, and with them parents with margaritas, Bloody Marys, literal chalices of beer. All I’m saying is, it still feels like Saturday night in here. Maybe this is how new parents get wild.
Also, by my crude count, there are 30 different kinds of Tequila behind the bar, all contextualized in the cantina’s jacked-up Tex-Mex motif that makes the place feel like a desert tourist trap (sans the turquoise jewelry) or a Rodriguez/Tarantino movie set — before the carnage.
Speaking of carnage: Bewitched, I order a margarita — and a chicken sandwich.
At some point, halfway into my drink, the lights seem to dim. The sandwich comes. Two wedges of freshly fried chicken masses (thighs, breasts, Mark, some help?) are stacked and accompanied by purple slaw on a toasted potato bun. It looks impressive.
I rip off a flake of the batter. It melts in my mouth like oily magic. But where is the flavor? I take my first bite. The chicken’s white and dark innards drip with juice. There it is. The slaw itself is pickled — no need for anaerobic roadside attractions. This sandwich, in a boozy state, is easy to hold. I order another drink.
As I search for flavor notes, all I can find is, well, fried chicken — and really that’s the only flavor a fried chicken sandwich should have, no?
However, for a Tex-Mex joint — one that that has massive chili ristras dangling from the ceiling — where is the spiciness? Did West of Pecos not want to offend the sensitive palates of the Financial District poodles? Clearly, the ristras are for show.
No matter. I’m now three Margaritas deep and, at this point, my final assessment comes: West of Pecos serves a damn good, juicy, well-crafted fried chicken sandwich. But — and this is a huge but — the margaritas are better.
Cheers to that, I say, as I tip my glass to a nearby toddler. It looks at me blankly, or with secret contempt. Then I wonder: what have I become?
“What have I become?” Julian, this is a common lament among ML reporters on the fried chicken beat. There’s nothing for it but a side of slaw.
Another thing: those toddlers looking down on you for drinking before Church gets out? Little tyrants. What do they know about hangovers? Or making a deadline? They should be looking at a screen, not scaring the customers.
Texas is really one of my least favorite places on Earth. Even though the West of Pecos may be a kitchy kind of Texas on Valencia Street, I must double down on my journalistic objectivity.
For example: as a fan of crunchy, crispy “authentic” southern fried chicken, I had to temper my disappointment. Julian, you swooned over the batter. What batter? The chicken is brined, not battered, then fried, but not very deep. Maybe this the way they do fried chicken in Texas.
So the first bite makes not a great impression.
Ok, crispy is not a deal breaker. How about the taste? Certainly the meat would rise to offset the lack of a satisfying crunch.
It didn’t. A mix of white and dark meat, it tasted as flat and arid as the Trans-Pecos — the white too dry, the dark not juicy enough.
Slaw helps. Topping the chicken is the best slaw on the circuit so far. Purple, pickled, and dry — that is, not drenched in mayo. A modest amount of “shishito aioli” adorns the brioche bun. Given the state of the chicken, the sandwich could have used more.
Maybe it was the time of day (around 1); maybe because I had not drunk three margaritas before eating, maybe it was because the Dubs were playing in Texas like they were hungover and in need of far more than a flat fried chicken sandwich.
And ditch the brioche. Can’t think of any bun more inappropriate.
Julian, I hope you find yourself before our next stop, our last stop in the Mission, Sons Addition. It’s also weekend brunch only, one of many existential challenges facing the fried chicken desk.