Los Picudos Chicken Milanesa Sandwich. Photo by Julian Mark

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 julian.mark@missionlocal.com.

A March 26 email from Mark:

“Went to Tortas Picudos today but could not go through with it.

First of all, not fried chicken. It’s breaded. Milanesa at best. It comes with butter and mayo, sounded terribly unappetizing. Then, after standing in line, got a glimpse of it. No way.

You can do solo on Picudo if you wish, Julian. I am moving on to Birite [sic] tomorrow.”

Mark: When I tried Los Picudos’ fried-chicken Milanesa torta for the first time, I felt a strange tingling — perhaps it was like a homecoming, perhaps the warmth of the womb. Perhaps, this fried chicken sandwich diverged from our more common notion of the fried chicken sandwich — the Southern Fried Chicken sandwich — with its dubious colonial beginnings in a 1747 British cookbook that later found its way to slave kitchens, as outlined in your last column.

I could go on here about the history of the chicken milanesa, a South American variation of the cotoletta alla milanese, the pounded and breaded chicken/veal cutlet. But, Mark, I won’t, because there is a bottom line here: it’s chicken, and it’s fried, and it’s in between two pieces of bread.

And it’s great. We are in the Mission, after all. And, until now, we left out an entire class of fried chicken sandwiches that seem fairly germane to our website’s mission. The Los Picudos fried chicken torta is among that class, and perhaps the best of that class.

Its bread — a traditional telera — is toasted on a well-seasoned grill and touched up with just enough mayo (not, mind you, aioli, as the Son’s Addition/Monk’s Kettle crowd likes to say) and butter. It comes with all of your classic torta offerings: avocado, lettuce, tomato and pickled jalapenos — a nice break from the coleslaw.

But the chicken is something to behold. Pan-fried, the breaded and pounded chicken cutlet is not so much tender as it is tectonic: the way it is cut allows the chicken to fall apart in your mouth in pieces, or plates, if you will. Add to that the queso fresco, which mixes so well with the milanesa breading that I could probably subsist on a combo of those two things, perhaps in bowl or bar form.

After each of the eight or so times I have had this sandwich — there will be many, many more — I have felt a sharp pang of despair that it’s all over. The Los Picudos chicken torta is the king of tortas and the king of chicken sandwiches in the area, hands down.

And next time, Mark, it really only takes three easy words: Hold. The. Mayo.

Fake News!

I didn’t author that email. As everyone knows (which includes, presumably, Julian) my email account was hacked by the Russians — or the Deep State — earlier this year and all sorts of outrageous emails, posts, comments have been flying around the internet ever since.

Even a bored NSA contractor giving it a quick scan can see the email was not written by me. The syntax is all wrong — and the word choice? Where does this trash come from? A troll farm in Bulgaria?

To clear up any confusion, I sincerely apologize to Los Picudos, although I have no need to do so. The remarks, which were not mine, were taken out of context.

Which brings us to Los Picudos’ awesome milanesa de pollo. Almost.

First I want to make clear that ML’s fried chicken sandwich desk does not endorse Julian’s wild theories and unfounded assumptions. Just because you can put the word “chicken” between “fried” and “sandwich” doesn’t make it a fried chicken sandwich.

Nor can we ignore Julian’s hapless attempts to conflate the diversity of the world’s great gastronomic cultures into one bland global dish. I’ve just come back from Mexico City. During the celebrations for AMLO, I literally asked hundreds of people where I could get a fried chicken sandwich. Most couldn’t understand me. Those who did pointed to the nearest KFC.

Given these and other journalistic errors (his unaccountably unbridled subjectivity, for one), readers will, with good reason, doubt the credibility of Julian’s review.

The good news is, once you clear away the clutter, he’s got it right!

More or less. The Los Picudos milanesa is, and has been, one of the neighborhood’s premier sandwiches. If you want a break from fried chicken sandwiches, this milanesa is for you.

And it begins with the chicken, heavily pounded, lightly breaded and fried in a pan over a high heat. The result is a juicy piece of white meat covered with a thin tasty crisp.

What else you put on the unremarkable, though well-toasted, bun, is up to you. No messy coleslaw to contend with and, as Julian snarkily points out, if you don’t want the mayo — or the butter or “crema” — they leave it off. It comes with a choice of cheeses. Avocado is extra.

Warning! A couple months ago I met a young woman I wanted to impress, so I took her to Los Picudos for lunch. Although a great hole-in-the-wall “Old Mission” venue, it was packed that day with hungover hipsters hunched over mayo-dripping milanesas. As we waited in line, one of them, a young man clearly new to the neighborhood, suddenly exclaimed “King of the Tortas!” Then faceplanted into his sandwich.

She was not impressed.

The fried chicken showdown begins at the Salumeria, Dec. 7, 2017

The fried chicken showdown takes a detour to Wes Burger, Dec. 18, 2017

The fried chicken showdown goes to Monk’s Kettle, Jan. 4, 2018

The fried chicken showdown goes to Rhea’s cafe, Jan. 23, 2018

The fried chicken showdown at Buttermilk, Feb. 22, 2018

The fried chicken showdown at Bi-Rite, March 30, 2018

The fried chicken showdown stops at West of Pecos, April 23

The fried chicken showdown at Son’s Addition, May, 24, 2018

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

Mark Rabine has lived in the Mission for over 40 years. "What a long strange trip it's been." He has maintained our Covid tracker through most of the pandemic, taking some breaks with his search for the Mission's best fried-chicken sandwich and now its best noodles. When the Warriors make the playoffs, he writes up his take on the games.

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