Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
One of the best things about Lunch in the Loop is making discoveries—finding places I haven't seen before, things people don't know about, and encountering genuine surprises. Pollito's Grill and Rotisserie is one of them. I'd seen its storefront a while back down Wells, hidden right behind the stairs going up to the El platform. It's extremely easy to miss. To add to the mystery, Pollito's doesn't have a website, which is slightly baffling, yet intriguing. When I stepped through the door for the first time, the place was bumping. There's a pretty good amount of seating for such a small place, and it was paaaacked. That's always a good sign.
Also, pollito means "chick" or "little chicken" in Spanish. I know, I know, my supreme language skills are so amazing. I am a true man of the world when I can translate the word for "little chicken." I'm so sophisticated and charming. Just kidding. I couldn't charm my way out of a paper bag.
There aren't many places in the Loop that have rotisserie chicken on the menu. Chicken Planet is one of them, but look out, because here comes Pollito's, swinging chicken at your face! They have a similar setup; you can get a 1/4 chicken to a full chicken with one side, along with some pita bread (or regular bread) to munch on. The half chicken ($7.90) is rubbed in a balanced herb seasoning that includes rosemary, thyme, and oregano. The meat is moist, and the dark meat has a deep pronounced chicken flavor. Well, I guess it is chicken. Maybe that was a dumb thing for me to say, but I have no regrets. You hear me? No regrets!
The chicken is a few dollars more than the same amount of food at Chicken Planet, but you know what? I have to say it's better and worth the extra money. As a side, I picked the onion rings, which are heavily breaded, almost exactly like Burger King's version. Crunchy, heavy on the coating, and easy to bite through without the onion sliding out. I have to say, I like them.
The mole wrap ($5.75, includes one side) is a chicken wrap with chicken, mole sauce, rice, and Jack cheese, and it's definitely something you want to put inside you. For someone who ordinarily hates rice in wraps and burritos, the rice is a great pillowy addition that helps soak up the dark chile flavor of the mole. I didn't detect the cheese much until my coworker pointed it out, and I honestly don't think it's necessary. The white meat is a touch dry, but with the rich mole—slightly bitter and slightly sweet—you won't even notice. Plus, it comes in a red tortilla. I don't know what it is, but I love colored tortillas!
As a side for the mole wrap, I picked the poblano macaroni salad, mostly because it sounded like one of the most interesting items on the menu. But I was sorely disappointed. The noodles were extremely overcooked to the point where they were nearly baby food, and they were simply tossed in a puree of poblano peppers and nothing else. In theory, it's a terrific idea, but in execution, it falls flat on its noodle face.
The steak sandwich ($6.50) features beef that is thinly sliced and grilled, and then piled onto a long French roll along with jack cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato, mayo, grilled onions, and avocado. It's pretty much what you'd expect, and a solid choice for lunch, though I think it could use more steak, as the additional toppings throw the balance off. The steak is tender enough to chew through, and you probably won't need to break into the "emergency floss" stashed in your desk drawer.
Yet another intriguing option is the tamales Oaxaquenos ($3.00), which are long flat chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves. The masa exterior is nice and moist, without much much crumbling, and the chicken filling is mixed with tomatillo sauce, which brings a slight bitter salsa into the mix. The chicken, unfortunately, is dry, and it sort of brings the whole experience down a notch.
The menu at Pollito's is impressively large, and what you see here is just a small portion of what they offer. Some of the other items include fish and chips, fried shrimp, and soup of the day. You can bet I'll be back for a mole wrap or some pollito. That means "little chicken," in case you forgot.
Pollitos Grill and Rotisserie
39 North Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60606 (map)
312-263-0078 No website