Final frontier

Las Tres Fronteras' signature dish features perfectly-fried chicken, plantains, pickled cabbage and onions.

Raphael Flores ducks into the kitchen to whip up a batch of fresh salsa as the Las Tres Fronteras lunch rush settles into a dull roar. Servers’ friendly rapport gives way to chopping sounds, as waiters and cooks are often the same, with the clatter of silverware and the chatter of happy diners filling the intimate space. "This is a slow day," he says with a smile.

Even on this "slow day," every table is full. This is par for the course at Las Tres Fronteras. Known for its killer service and south-of-the-border specialties, the restaurant is located at the southeast corner of 21st Street and Memorial Drive, forming an unbeatable culinary triad with neighbors Viet Huong and Tacos Don Francisco. Serving Honduran cuisine in a cozy dining room with an open kitchen, the place has the energy of a bustling family dinner.

That’s because food is a family affair in the Frontera-verse. Flores’ mom, Blanca Alfaro, owns the restaurant, and his brother Victor owns Sin Fronteras on Brookside, which is earning a name for itself with Tex-Mex offerings alongside traditional Honduran dishes. Although Sin Fronteras is excellent and has introduced the Riverside area to Honduran cuisine, Las Tres was my and many Tulsans’ introduction to the game.

And just look up there at that photo.

Look at it.

That is the signature dish at Tres Fronteras: pollo y tajadas, or "chicken and bananas."

This coyly named Honduran staple is far from humble. Offered simply as "chicken leg," or "chicken breast" on the English menu, the dish is a giant piece of perfectly-fried chicken atop plantains, covered in pickled cabbage and onions, and drenched in mayonnaise and chili sauce.

A more apt name would be Chicken Mountain. But it’s not just a Herculean mass of Honduran cuisine; each component is exceptional. If this chicken was offered in a fast food bucket, you’d order a family size, forgo the fixins, and drive back through for another in an hour.

The onions are as perfectly-pickled as the chicken is fried, neon purple in hue with a floral fragrance and flavor, blending seamlessly into the shredded and lightly-seasoned cabbage. The mayonnaise and chili sauce become one and seep through the entire meal down to the plantains, which is the bedrock of Chicken Mountain.

These ingredients forfeit their own identity and become one perfect bite in every forkful—a savory chicken cake of sorts.

In addition to this poultry powerhouse, Tres Fronteras also serves incredible pupusas. These heavenly cornmeal flatbreads come stuffed with your choice of meat and cheese, and garnished with the purple pickled onions that herald Chicken Mountain’s summit.

For a variation on the theme, try the baleadas, which is similar but encased in Tres Fronteras’ house-made tortillas. The Tres Fronteras crew also makes their own chips, whose slight puffiness distinguishes them from the offerings at your usual south-of-the-border joint. Those puffy chips are accompanied by a savory, rich and spicier-than-usual table salsa. Even their traditional Mexican food has an added degree of flavor. (You’ll find the best shrimp taco in town here.)

But let’s not bury the lede. Look at that photo again.

Put this paper down, toss your phone in the Riverside sinkhole, log off your work computer—no, quit your job immediately—and get your ass to Las Tres Fronteras.

Chicken Mountain is your god now. You live for it, and to eat it is your Everest.

You will scale Chicken Mountain—your fork as trekking pole—with every expertly balanced bite of Honduran excellence. At its summit, you will greet the rising sun and stake your flag in a pile of chicken bones, knowing your legacy is secured. Anthony Bourdain’s ghost will cry a single tear, and Guy Fieri will suddenly wake from a fitful sleep, unsure why.

Then you will take a nap. Because Chicken Mountain is as heavy as it is delicious.

Las Tres Fronteras

7940 E. 21st Street

Open every day 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

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