I've been waiting to post today's stop for a while now. I came across it while driving down 55th street last Spring and decided to stop in. Mexican grilled chicken stops aren't uncommon on the city's southside but not many of them are using charcoal like they do here. Mezquite Pollo Express is the second restaurant from the family behind Pollo Express in Pilsen.
a new S'C'&C favorite in Gage Park
The addition of Mezquite to the name is what caught my eye when riding by. After stepping inside and walking up the counter, it was the charcoal rig used to place burning mesquite onto that kept my attention. The man behind the counter was using a shovel to scoop red hot burning coals from one space and then layering them out into the extra large grill on wheels. It was a glorious day to be a food explorer. There's lots of spots that "grill" food in Chicago. I have to use quotation marks because most all of them use gas burning grills. They can still be effective for what's being sought but they will never replace the taste achieved when using real charcoal.
Grilling the chickens over charcoal
On my first visit I got a couple tacos, the meat for the chicken tacos comes from the charcoal grilled birds so they're actually pretty good as are the steak which had an extra black pepper kick to it. While not cooked to order they did cook it over the charcoal when it was made, if only they didn't let it sit and steam. Maybe on weekends they get a rush and cook and chop to order. Either way, this is a chicken movement I'll happily ride behind. Also of note is that all these Mexican chicken spots do a free half chicken deal with the purchase of a full chicken a few days a week. They make for one of the best bang for buck meals in Chicago.
Chicken and Steak Tacos
I haven't even had the chance to try their grilled chicken as a meal yet because for most of us that have been here the star of the show comes from a cow. The Charcoal Grilled Arrachera is one of my favorite plates of food in Chicago. As winter creeps up on us, I'll be creeping towards here. The plate comes with a beautifully marbled piece of steak which gets cooked on it's own personal grill, over live coals. As it cooks the grillman takes a fresh avacado, opens it up and then proceeds to make as fresh a batch of guacamole as you can encounter. Wait it gets better, accompanying your slab of juicy cooked to perfect medium rare beef you get creamy refried beans, perfectly plump rice and also a banana pepper stuffed with cheese and a couple charred knob onions to boot. We're still not done because on another plate you'll get some fresh pressed tortillas and also a beautiful dark red house salsa which as expected is made from charcoal roasted peppers.
Charcoal Grilled Arrachera (Marinated Skirt Steak) Plate
I forget the exact price but I can promise you it's a bargain. If you do like I did and make yourself some steak tacos using a little bit of each ingredient you can make it last for two meals. However that's not going to be easy. One of the simpler yet more satisfying plates of food I've ate all year. The true definition of a mom and pop roadfood stop. You can check out this cool little piece by Mike G. at Sky Full of Bacon from the old Chicago outpost of Serious Eats for more.
Self-Made Taco with beans spread onto the tortilla and topped with rice, steak and guacamole
Mezquite Pollo Express
2809 W 55th St
Chicago, IL 60632