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Northeast Portland's Pollo Norte an Ode to Mexico City's Rotisseries

Take-out ready free-range birds with a smattering of Mexican sides.

Avila/EPDX

The chickens have landed at the corner of NE Killingsworth and NE 42nd Avenue.

Rotisserie-focused Pollo Norte opened December 4, bringing a slow-food-fast lunch and dinner option to the Concordia and Cully neighborhoods. With its small menu of free-range rotisserie chickens, tortillas, salsa, and five Mexican-inspired sides (think pinto beans stewed with pork and chiles; potatoes roasted in pan drippings; and tangy cabbage slaw), it's an ode to the ubiquitous chicken shops that pepper the neighborhoods of Mexico City.

In fact, Pollo Norte was born out of a craving. "I came back from a year in Mexico City highly addicted to Mexican-style rotisserie chicken," says partner Wade Shelton. I had to have more chicken. And I couldn't get it so I had to create it."

Wade brought the idea to his brother, Kelly Shelton, a Portland chef who has worked in kitchens all over the city, including Clarklewis, Genoa, and most recently Luce. Kelly and his friend, chef Ryan Gibson, had been talking about opening a place together for years. They met while opening the kitchen at Rontoms, and Gibson's pedigree included time at Taqueria Nueve and DF. Would they be interested in opening the rotisserie chicken place of Wade's dreams? Hells yes.

Though they had all traveled extensively in Latin America, in 2011 they took a research trip to soak up the rotisserie scene in Mexico City. For the next few years, they met weekly to dial in the business plan, continue their research, and raise capital.

After three years, they were finally able to pull the trigger this fall, even importing the same brand of rotisserie used in Mexico, even though it was a serious customs hassle. "It's called a Valmex. It cooks at a higher BTU than the standard French or US oven, and it seems to make this particular chicken super well. I was anxious to see if we'd achieve the same flavor as what I remember in Mexico, and we did!

Because it's mainly intended as a takeout spot, Pollo Norte is small. But there are a few seats where customers can eat in, or sit and drink a beer from one of the three taps while they wait to pick up their order. One tap is dedicated to Mexican beer for lime-spiked Micheladas, but there's a larger selection of beer by the bottle and can, and wine, too.

Wade says they'll apply for a full liquor license in the near future, when they build a patio out front in the spring.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a quick but healthful dinner option, you better hit Pollo Norte early. They're still working out the kinks of supply and demand.

"Early supporters will note that we run out of chicken more often than we want to," says Wade. "We're insistent on using free-range birds and there's been a bit of a supply issue, especially in winter."

But selling out is not a bad problem to have when you're a brand-new restaurant. And he's grateful the neighborhood has been patient as they work on getting new suppliers in line. "Everything has exceeded our expectations."

Pollo Norte: Tuesday - Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 503-287-0669

Pollo Norte

5427 NE 42nd Ave, Portland, OR 97218 (503) 287-0669

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