Los Angeles is the greatest city in the world, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. It is the center of the global entertainment industry. Its scientists pilot spacecraft to Mars. And it is home to a restaurant specializing in chicken neck tacos. It is hard to imagine anything more cosmopolitan than that.
Chicken necks, called helzel, were pretty common in old-school Jewish cuisine, carefully deboned, stuffed with a doughy mixture of giblets and chicken fat, and boiled, like miniature Jewish haggises. You can sometimes find cold chicken neck with chile in the deli cases of Sichuan restaurants, and chicken neck soup is a Jamaican standard.
But none of those preparations can hold up against pescuezos, the deep-fried chicken necks at the Santa Rita, Jalisco, truck parked deep in the Eastside, in the lot of a shuttered restaurant that seems to act as a satellite kitchen.
At Santa Rita, the skin is pushed up the shaft of the neck before frying, which gives the effect of a tanned, meaty cylinder surmounted by an Elizabethan collar of pure crunch: hidden bits of chewy meat and a corona of pure, fatty pleasure. Chicken necks are the specialty of the famous Kentucky Fried Buche stand in Tijuana. You will be no less happy in East L.A.
Because the truck has colonized a largish taqueria, there are plenty of tables to sit around, lots of families even late at night, and you can always find parking. If pescuezos aren’t your thing, the pork al pastor, sliced from its spit to order is decent. But really, you should try them.
Tear off a bit of meat, wrap it in a warm tortilla with a splash of Santa Rita’s peppery tomato salsa, and wash it down with a swig of the truck’s sweet pineapple drink — at $2.25 for an order of four golden fried necks, it’s about the cheapest happiness in town. And on weekends, Santa Rita is open until 3 a.m.
Santa Rita, Jalisco, 3900 E. 1st St., East Los Angeles.