We were late heading out the door and needed to pick up dinner on the way to our friends Chuck and Rita’s house to watch the Raiders on Monday Night Football (yes, dear readers, Emma G. is a Raiders fan). For most folks, there would be no dilemma — stop at one of our fabulous taco stands and pick up burritos. However, Chuck really loves fine food, and we wanted to surprise him. What to do?
Driving up Market Street a few weeks ago, I noticed a little place called Urban Chicken on the corner of 25th. Chalked signs above the window advertised organic salads and chicken. My friend Allie had mentioned she’d been there and that it was fantastic. With those leads, I proposed to my husband that we check it out.
Walking through the front door is like entering a different world. The Gypsy Kings play softly on the stereo. Bold photos of Paris, London, and New York City emblazon the grass-green walls; the six tables are a warm, dark wood; and the chalkboard theme continues with intriguing-sounding menu items loopily handwritten in a rainbow of colors. From behind the cash register, in front of the open kitchen, our server smiled and welcomed us to step forward. Eating in Urban Chicken, especially during fall or winter, when it’s not so hot — there’s no air-conditioning in the restaurant — would be a lovely experience. Executive chef Flor Franco and her culinary team have created a wonderful neighborhood spot. However, tonight, we were on a mission to bring Chuck something unique.
The menu is simple: various sizes of grilled chicken dinners, chicken turnovers ($7 for three with one sauce), sandwiches, soups, salads, and a Rice Nest with Lentils and Chicken and Roasted Vegetables ($7.25). The sides include garlic-sesame jasmine rice, brown rice, mashed red potatoes, epazote black beans, seasonal grilled veggies, and organic salads. Just about everything comes with Urban Chicken’s three dipping sauces: cilantro pesto, tomato cinnamon, or tequila chipotle. Such simplicity is deceptive, however, as we would find out. The prices are extremely affordable. A whole chicken dinner with three massive sides is $22. We ordered two, along with an extra salad and turnovers for four adults and one child, and ended up with two more meals’ worth of leftovers.
Eating in Urban Chicken during fall or winter would be lovely (there's no air-conditioning).
When we arrived at Chuck and Rita’s in University Heights, the TV was on and their stomachs were growling. Unveiling our feast, Chuck couldn’t believe that such an impressive meal came from an unassuming place in Logan Heights. Aromas of garlic, cumin, and herbs wafted out of the takeout containers, making our mouths water. As Urban Chicken’s menu notes, all their chickens are natural, free-range, fed a vegetarian diet, and raised without hormones or antibiotics. The vegetables and greens are locally grown, from places like Suzy’s Farm. Biting into a thigh, I could taste the freshness. Each chicken has been marinated for 24 hours, rubbed with a garlicky spice mixture, butterflied, and splayed out on the giant grill that dominates the kitchen. The butterflying allows for the chicken to develop a crispy skin and succulent flesh quickly, so the flavor is locked into each piece.
While the tomato-cinnamon sauce tries to be redolent of barbeque, it’s so watery the flavors fall flat. The sauces to go with are the smoky tequila chipotle and the vibrant cilantro pesto. Dipping your chicken or turnover into either brings things to a whole new level. As for the turnovers (resembling giant empanadas), the crust is so flaky it shatters with each mouthful — a wonder, since the cubed chicken and vegetables inside are so moist they should make it soggy. As for the other parts of our meal: the zingy garlic-sesame jasmine rice pairs well with grilled chicken without competing with its flavors; the grilled veggies are crunchy and have a spicy kick to them; and everyone ooh’d over the creamy, rustic mashed red potatoes. I wasn’t a fan of the epazote black beans — too much liquid for my taste. But my son devoured them. If you do order these, they require a dash of the fiery smoked chili salsa the server doles out in very small containers, as it is an incendiary experience. Finally, it’s great to go to a takeout place that makes an excellent, healthy, and reasonably priced salad, chock full of mixed organic greens and served with a pleasant citrus vinaigrette ($5). There’s also a chef’s special salad served daily for $5.
As Chuck and Rita put it, Urban Chicken fills an important niche — “slow food served fast,” as the sign outside the restaurant states. It’s perfect for those nights you don’t want to make dinner but long for something you might cook for yourself at home. ■
549 25th Street Suite 100, Grant Hill, 619-756-6911; urbanchickenusa.com
Vibe: Calm respite from the busy street; great takeout
Fare: Grilled chicken; organic salads
Seating: Six tables
Must try: Whole chicken dinner with three sides; chicken turnovers