When a great taco shop comes to mind, it’s usually a taqueria that’s associated with a beef speciality like carne asada or maybe pork prepared al pastor with meat sliced from a trompo. Most taco joints also offer pollo asado, marinated grilled chicken, as a taco filling, but often it seems like an afterthought — not badly prepared by any means, but seldom the business’ signature dish. What makes Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa so interesting, then, is that it deliberately and proudly specializes in chicken tacos, with poultry dominating its short menu.
Kiss is found in the Harmon Park neighborhood of Phoenix, hidden in a small storefront at the corner of Yavapai Street and Third Avenue across from Lowell Elementary School. The location is a four block walk from the planned Buckeye / Central light rail station on the South Central extension. There’s currently no bike rack on the block. A sign post outside the restaurant will have to do. Upon arrival, look for the red door facing Yavapai and a small outdoor seating area with a table and benches. Most seating is inside, behind the red door, split among two rooms.
The front room is home to the counter where orders are placed and picked up, a salsa bar, and two tables. A second room in back provides several more tables, but this is still a small restaurant with a big following. It’s not uncommon to encounter a line at the counter during peak lunch hours. Printed menus are available at the counter, and a digital sign overhead features some recent menu additions. From either source, the overwhelming majority of dishes are based on chicken, grilled in the small kitchen behind the counter and then finely diced.
The chopped poultry, with nothing else to dilute or augment it, then serves as a filling on its own for the plain tacos. The restaurant’s namesake Kiss taco adds a little bit of pork to the chicken. The effect is not so much to mask the chicken taste, but instead to amplify it with a bit of fat to carry flavors. The papa taco mixes chicken meat with cubes of crispy griddled potatoes. In both the Kiss and papa tacos, Monterey Jack cheese adds another component that melds into one package of flavors when mixed with the meats. All tacos are made with small corn tortillas.
Vampiros, like tostadas only with the tortilla on the bottom crisped to order, are topped with the same mix of chicken, pork, and cheese as the Kiss taco. The Flip taco takes the vampiro to another level with a second tortilla forming a top layer and creating a sort of sandwich. All the options available as tacos are also available rolled inside a burrito, and the regular burrito adds creamy beans and fluffy rice to the mix of fillings. Small quesadillas use the same flour tortillas to encase a mixture of chicken and cheese. An included side of beans is perfect for dipping.
Of course, beans are not the only option in that area. Kiss’ salsa bar provides red and green options at both moderate and fiery levels of heat. The salsas are unlabeled, but the milder ones are usually on the left with the more incendiary choices on the right. The intensity of the color is a hint, but a little experimentation or dialogue with the nearby staff may be needed to arrive that the best choice. In addition to the salsa, other condiments such as diced onions, sliced scallions, and chopped cabbage are available to accessorize the tacos and other main dishes.
Kiss has a few other choices like French fries dusted with Tajin seasoning and Kiss papas, a big basket of potatoes, chicken, pork, and cheese served with tortillas or tostada shells on the side. An equally large but lighter entree is the salad with chopped chicken over greens with cheese, cucumbers, and a hard-boiled egg. The beverage selection is limited to a small case of bottled sodas and water to the right of the counter, and there is no dessert menu. The neighboring corner store, however, always has plenty of candy, cookies, and frozen treats in stock.
Kiss’ chicken tacos, which have found their way to Phoenix from the western Mexican state of Sinaloa via California, stand out among local taco offerings for their unique take on a ubiquitous meat. They seem like something that should be everywhere, but they’re actually a rare find that makes the somewhat out-of-the-way address on a side street worth the navigational effort. Tacos are popular, and so is chicken, but from its somewhat hidden location near Harmon Park, Kiss makes the typically humble and forgotten chicken taco something to be excited about.
306 W. Yavapai St., Phoenix AZ 85003
Buckeye / Central Station (under construction)