Gather round, children, and take a knee: it is time to talk about fried chicken. I’ve eaten countless versions of fried chicken throughout my lifetime. It was my grandfather’s favorite dish; his method was the shake and bake, opting for leftover bread crumbs rather than the more typical drudging of flour, always served with white rice and green beans with a cold root beer for me and a Miller Light for him.
Battered or floured, pan-fried or tossed in a vat of oil, glazed, marinaded, dipped in sauce or served with an even hand of salt and pepper, there is no wrong way to make fried chicken. I’ll plan an entire work day around indulging myself and my heart knows no borders: flaky Japanese karaage tinged with soy sauce and ginger in the non-descript streets of San Cristobal, Korean chicken drums coated in sticky gochujang glazes in Flores, Ecuadorian, Puerto Rican and Dominican versions across Once, the popcorn variety buried under a mountain of szechuan peppers or extra crunchy Peruvian broaster dipped in spicy aji amarillo and tempered with slightly chilled mayo.
But there is something special about a simple fried chicken sandwich pressed between a fluffy bun and served with nothing more than crunchy iceberg lettuce and a slathering of mayo. And the fried chicken sandwich at the existentially named Belike Time, a tacky little fast food joint on a quiet stretch of Barrio Chino, may just be the city’s Mona Lisa, if the Mona Lisa was into mint green decor and inspirational posters from Walmart.
The small menu also includes wings, breasts, and thighs, battered and fried, as well. A “chicken hamburger” appears on the photo-heavy fast-food style menu as a rectangularly shaped hunk of meat, it is, in reality, a grilled chicken sandwich. The fried chicken sandwiches, served spicy or plain and also denominated as “hamburgers”, is Belike’s crowning glory.
The sandwich is a standard arrangement of store-bought sesame seed hamburger buns, thinly shredded lettuce and a miniature lathering of mayonnaise. The basket of french fries they come served with are, without a doubt in my mind, frozen McCain potatoes. They are, despite this, awesomely crunchy and the perfect medium to shovel ketchup. On paper it is an indelicate and unremarkable meal with all the makings of the usual edible disappointments wrapped in paper and carried out on plastic lunch trays. But what the restaurant and its staff lack in enthusiasm is made up for by an energetic recipe.
You could go for the plain fried chicken, spiced with salt and pepper and a gentle nudge of red pepper. With the intense summer heat feeling all the more sweaty in this non-air conditioned restaurant, this is a perfectly respectable order. But the spicy version is another animal entirely.
The chicken is brined in a spicy or plain marinade before being dipped in egg and flour and fried to order. The batter puffs outward like delicate snowflakes that shatter and crunch like glass. Inside, the meat is delicately juicy and the tender bits of meat squirt underneath the crackled skin. The spice begins with a tickle at the back of the throat before ballooning outward like a mushroom cloud—dancing up the tip of the tongue, swinging up to the roof of the mouth and back to the top of the throat. It circles around and grows and cools in a continuous greasy stream.
I have congratulated the kitchen on the sandwich on a number of visits. They couldn’t care less about my felicitaciones; I am not telling them anything they don’t already know.
Address: Mendoza 1575, Barrio Chino
Open: Tuesday through Sunday, noon to nine pm.
Price per person: $310 fried chicken combo