Chef Carlos Mortera Wants To Feed The Whole Westside One Half-Chicken at a Time

whole chicken comes with corn tortillas and pickled vegetables The whole chicken comes with corn tortillas and pickled vegetables. (Brad Austin | Flatland)

Chicken isn’t supposed to be exciting. But don’t tell that to chef Carlos Mortera, owner of the newly opened Poi-o (1000 W. 25th St.) just off Southwest Boulevard.

“This is a very personal restaurant,” Mortera said. “I wanted to bring affordable food to the Westside. I think it’s a great representation of what’s happening on the Westside with this move from traditional to hip.”

Poi-o is a new chicken concept located in the former Speak Sandwiches space, from Mortera and his father, Carlos, that serves half and whole grilled chickens, as well as Adobo baby back ribs (Filipino-inspired with vinegar and soy sauce).

“I grew up eating chicken,” Mortera said. “And I’m still eating it.”

Mortera’s father owned eight rotisserie chicken restaurants in Queretaro, Mexico. The rub at those restaurants inspired the brine for Poi-o. The chickens are brined in vinegar, chili, garlic, salt and pepper for 24 hours, baked and then finished on a wood-fired grill.

“We use cherry wood for that bit of sweetness,” Mortera said. “I’ve had a lot of dry chicken and I think this way of cooking helps keep the chicken moist.”

This has been a busy year for Mortera, who is the chef and owner at The Bite, which serves sandwiches that smash up Asian and Mexican flavors, in the City Market. He also developed the menu for Our Daily Nada in the River Market, which opened this summer.

Orders of chicken and sides are taken at the counter. A whole chicken runs $16. Each side is $3. The chicken comes with corn tortillas, a side of pickles (jalapeno, cauliflower and onions and radish, which spend three days in a vinegar bath with oregano, bay leaf and sugar) and a chimichurri sauce made with cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and the tops of green onions.

Chef Carlos Mortera

Chef Carlos Mortera (left) takes an order at his restaurant Poi-o on Thursday. (Brad Austin | Flatland)

“We wanted a salsa verde, but different,” Mortera said of the green sauce. “It goes well with the chicken. It adds acidity.”

He’s also got a red sauce — salsa rojo — with fermented habanero peppers in the works. As for sides, there’s elote (corn), charred broccoli, potato salad and slaw (red cabbage dressed in chili, garlic, soy sauce, sugar and chili).

To drink, Poi-o has soda and water, including fizzy Topo Chico popular in Texas and Mexico. The new restaurant is awaiting a liquor license before adding beer and wine. You can expect Mexican beer, selections from Torn Label Brewing Co. brews (a Mortera favorite) and rosé.

There’s a bank of stools by the window, or you can sit at one of three long steel tables in the dining room. Oversized chickens painted by local artists watch down from above while you eat.

“We’ve had guys in suits and construction workers sitting at the same table,” Mortera said. “I want everyone to have good food.”

Poi-o is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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