Pollo Bravo in 2022 looks like a particularly happy ending to two not particularly happy restaurant stories in Portland.
One was the pandemic and its effects on the entire restaurant business. The second was the dissolution of John Gorham’s Toro Bravo restaurant group in 2020, although on that front Pollo Bravo was in fact unaffected. While the roast chicken restaurant was started by Gorham and longtime Toro Bravo chef Josh Scofield in the spring of 2016, it became independently owned by Scofield and his wife, Sarah (who ran Toro Bravo), at the end of the same year.
When it comes to the pandemic, Pollo Bravo held its own for a while with takeout and delivery at Pine Street Market, with the downtown food hall – built on crowds and friendliness, not to mention tourists and office workers – largely emptied. Now, after a 10-month hiatus, it’s a stand-alone restaurant in North Portland, taking over the former Garagiste Wine Bar space on the same stretch of North Killingsworth Street as Haymaker and Up North Surf Club. Signature chicken and solid sides (radicchio salad, patatas bravas, sauces) are back, as are select tapas and Toro Bravo favorites including padrón peppers, chicken and ham croquettes and a rebooted Bravo burger.
Pollo has its roots in a research trip to Spain that Gorham and Scofield took in 2013. Seeking inspiration from Toro, they were struck by the ubiquity and simplicity of the country’s rotisserie chicken, spiced with pimentón de la vera, and thought Portland could use more of this sort of thing – an observation that turned out to be correct. Pollo Bravo opened two years after the original location of the Mexican-inspired Pollo Norte, and around the same time as Providore’s Arrosto, but predated Big’s Chicken and newer places like Mama Bird and Rotigo (there also has El Inka Peruvian Cuisine, a Portland revival of the longtime Gresham restaurant Pollos at Brasa el Inka).
Experimentally, the new location brings Pollo back almost in a loop, to his short-lived second location at Southwest Alder Street (at what is now called Yalla, and had been Shalom Y’all). It’s a perfectly casual little counter service space with an open kitchen, indoor and outdoor seating, and just nine menu items, plus three cocktails, six beer and wine choices, eight wines on the menu. glass or by the bottle and many non-alcoholic options (kombucha, ginger beer, CBD, Italian and New York seltzer sodas). You can also order drinks at the Up North Surf Club.
In its Toro Bravo incarnation, the Bravo burger was one of Portland’s OG fancy burgers, with appearances on numerous “best” lists, in addition to taking the top spot in the bistro category of WWThe “Burger Madness” parenthesis of 2017. Briefly available in Pollo’s early days (before Bless Your Heart became Pine Street’s burger option at the time), it comes with manchego and romesco sauce, as always, but at instead of bacon, a more delicate slice of speck, and instead of buttery zucchini pickle bread, a heap of tangy pickled padrón peppers ($12). In some ways, this is a toppings-focused burger, but with a very solid foundation: freshly ground Angus chuck cooked on the rare side of medium-rare, and an excellent Dos Hermanos sesame seed bun.
Fans of Pine Street Pollo Bravo will also be delighted to hear that the Roasted Pork Loin Sandwich with Grilled Manchego, Caramelized Onion and Romesco ($10) is also back. For extra veggies, there’s broccolini a la plancha ($10) and roasted cauliflower ($10).
Of course, at the end you will have chicken. The heirloom bird (from Cooks Venture, which Sarah Scofield says is a “leader in sustainable regenerative farming practices”) comes in multiple configurations, from Familia dinner to whole chicken, with a large salad, patatas bravas and two sauces ($49), at Winner Winner Chicken Dinner ($15), which is a quarter chicken with a small salad and sauce. You can also get it à la carte (quarter $9, half $16, full $30).
Flavorful but not aggressively spicy, the chicken is cooked on a Rotisol roasting pan and derives its juicy tenderness from an overnight rub/marinade using both the restaurant’s homemade fermented hot sauce paste (made with chilies, onions, carrots and spices) as well as brine from fermented padrón. The chicken and radicchio salad—a longtime Toro/Tasty favorite—travels well whether you get takeout or delivery (the latter is about to be available again), though the patatas bravas might need to be crispy.
And here’s the real secret to Pollo Bravo: the sauces, which include the aforementioned hot sauce, decadent aioli, creamy green goddess, and romesco, as well as bone broth and brava sauce. Almost everything on the menu is ready to dip. In fact, most dishes are more or less condiment delivery vehicles.
“Some might say it’s all in the sauces,” admits Josh Scofield.
TO EAT: Pollo Bravo, 1225 Killingsworth Street North, 503-477-8999, pollobravapdx.com. 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.