Here's The Beef

One Of The Best-Kept Secrets In Local Dining? Try BK's!

By Rebecca Cook

WHILE HELPING WITH Suzanne Myal's book Tucson's Mexican Restaurants, I learned about a little place down on South 12th Avenue called BK's. Myal told me she considered the small taco stand one of the true "finds" of her project, a place with outstanding food and a large neighborhood following that was virtually unknown outside of the confines of the neighborhood.

Myal swore me to secrecy on the subject of BK's until after her book was published, and I honored the solemn oath not to publicly divulge the whereabouts of some of the best carne asada in Tucson.

Chow But the book is out now, so I can tell you about the miraculous world of BK tacos, a place so quintessentially Tucson in all its quirky wonderfulness that you'll find yourself returning again and again--even though the menu consists of but a few items, and most of these featuring a single key ingredient.

At BK's, carne asada reigns supreme.

Oh, sure, a vegetarian can get by on a quesadilla or two, but for the most part BK's is a beef lover's paradise. The biggest dilemma any would-be diner must resolve is whether to nibble on a carne asada taco, or cheese it up a bit with a caramelo--basically a quesadilla with a generous handful of carne asada thrown in for good measure.

In meeting his customers' demand for carne asada, owner Bennie Galaz reportedly runs through no less than 3,000 pounds of rib-eye steak every month. This translates into a lot of tacos.

Originally, BK's was not much more than a hot-dog cart specializing in a Sonoran version of this popular ballpark food. Even though asada seems to be the name of the game now, the hot-dog cart is still operating at the front of this modest establishment, providing customers with a viable alternative if they've hit their max on asada and quesadillas.

Here's the routine at BK's:

Proceeding through the covered patio, you'll notice a central window with the BK menu located directly above it. It's here that you place your order and determine if you'd like to wash down your meal with either a Mexican or domestic soda. The difference between the two appears to be a matter of containers, with the south-of-the-border variety coming in bottles while the U.S. version arrives in the more familiar can.

You'll receive a double receipt (one yellow, one white) with your order printed on it, and, depending on your request, you'll either amble up to the hot dog cart (have the yellow receipt at the ready) or stroll back to the carne asada wagon (white receipt, por favor).

If you're not taking your food to go, this would be a good time to select a suitable table. Like so much else at BK's, the picnic tables are one-of-a-kind. Handmade by Galaz himself (he's apparently as awesome a welder as he is an asada chef), these tables are made of stainless steel, which is cooled down in the hot weather by an idiosyncratic mist system that, in some places, can leave you wishing for an umbrella.

When your food is ready, you'll be called by name.

The hot dogs ($1.75) are unbelievably good. Grilled franks are wrapped in a crispy strip of bacon and dropped into a specially made bun boat topped with freshly chopped tomatoes and onions, and a colorful striping of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and a green chile salsa that, depending on the mood of the cook that day, can set your mouth on fire.

If certain major-league ball clubs are concerned about dwindling numbers, they ought to consider introducing BK's hot dogs into the lineup. Regardless of the win-loss record, they'd pack 'em in on the promise of these wonderful weenies alone.

Meanwhile, back at the asada wagon, life is looking good indeed. One of the many nice touches is a fresh and colorful salsa bar featuring slices of

lime, pickled red onions, shredded lettuce and cabbage, sliced cucumbers, salsa fresca, guacamole and at least three other salsa variants ranging from mildly piquant to a searing 911 intensity.

The quesadillas ($1.25) and caramelos ($1.75) are made with flapjack-sized corn tortillas and asadero cheese, the creamy white Mexican cheese that most closely resembles Monterey Jack. Tacos ($1.50), made with the same corn tortillas, are rolled and jam-packed with carne asada--tender, juicy strips of steak subtly marinated with a little lime juice and flawlessly grilled to perfection.

It may not be fancy, but it's extraordinarily good.

Given the cut-rate prices, it probably won't shock anyone to learn that BK's is extremely popular with families. It isn't unusual, especially on the weekends, to see the entire clan, including grandma, grandpa and all the kids, pile out of the car in a rush to line up for the BK grill.

Mexican music dances on the breeze at BK's, along with the enticing scent of carne asada in the making, lots of laughter and a delightful mingling of Spanish and English voices.

BK's is Tucson at its ever-lovin' best. TW

Photo by Desirée A. Riós

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