Quarter chicken at Bora Bora, $8
15803 SE Division St., 503-750-1253. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
If you find yourself on the outskirts of Portland, there is an unassuming little cart situated in a parking lot serving the best pollo money can buy. For $8, the two women working the cart offer a quarter chicken grilled al carbon, rubbed with Sinaloan flavors and served with pintos, perfectly seasoned Spanish rice and warm homemade tortillas. The chicken is grilled daily on a pit parked right next to the cart and cut to order. The delicious, juicy chicken can stand on its own—but the flavor-packed, housemade habanero salsa makes it memorable.
Quarter chicken and potatoes at Chicken and Guns, $9
1207 SE Hawthorne Blvd. (Cartopia), 503-234-7236, chickenandguns.com. Lunch, dinner and late-night daily.
Hawthorne's Chicken and Guns, WW's Cart of the Year in 2016, makes woodgrilled Latin chicken with sauce like crack—a crispy-skinned, tender-fleshed, free-range bird laid on top of fried potatoes laden with bits of char whose crisp edges are covered with jalapeño vinegar sauce that stuns the senses. For now, you can get it at only one place—a little cart in Portland's original eastside pod that churns through up to 750 whole chickens a week from Scratch Farms—a free-range chicken farm whose farmer owns part of Chicken and Guns and vice versa. But Chicken and Guns plans to add up to five locations in the Portland area over the next five years—probably all brick and mortar. The cart already forms essentially its own ecosystem, raising its own chickens and growing its own vegetables. "The chicken comes from Scratch, and the eggs from our farm," co-owner Todd Radcliffe says. "The majority of vegetables soon will, too. It started off as a pipe dream, but things just kind of fell into place. We had the momentum. We're going for it."
Jerk chicken meal at Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine, $10
441 N Killingsworth St., 503-289-1423. Lunch and early dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
When Jamaica-born Keacean Ransom first opened her Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine food cart in 2014, there wasn't a single Jamaican spot in Portland. Now, Homestyle is a brick-and-mortar jerk shack, with sweet-spicy smoke spilling out of a barrel smoker in front of her tiny brick-face storefront next to the Florida Room. The offerings are the most consistently flavorful and satisfying among all the four Jamaican eateries, from oxtail to rich goat curry. And then there's the jerk. Jerk sauce at its best is an indelicate balance of intense sweet and hot flavors, and among all the Jamaican spots in town, Homestyle is the most blessedly liberal with Scotch-bonnet heat alongside that sweetness and allspice—not to mention the deep smoke flavor on its jerk chicken quarter plate with rice, beans and veg. Sit out on the patio and let that sweet heat seep into your pores.
Quarter chicken and sides from Pollo Norte, $11
Mexico City-inspired rotisserie chicken spot Pollo Norte may have closed its original northerly location, but this Glisan Street location is better anyway. The slow-cooked chicken still drips onto the cabbage beneath on rotisseries imported from the Mexican capital, and that green salsa is still one of the freshest things in town. The cabbage slaw side is still a wild favorite, with satisfying crunch and bright lime acidity. And the frijoles charros pinto-bean side is still a school in bacon-doped umami. But now there are cocktails, with wildstyle tamarind margaritas and a patio that expands to sunny heaven in the summer.
Leg quarter roti set at Hat Yai, $13
1605 NE Killingsworth St., 503-764-9701, hatyaipdx.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Maybe it’s no surprise that some of the best fried chicken in Portland is inspired by the South. But at Northeast Killingsworth’s fast-casual Hat Yai, in a neighborhood that’s suddenly the fastest-growing restaurant district in town, the inspiration is the south of Thailand. Earl Ninsom and Alan Akwai’s crispy-skinned, tender Hat Yai fried chicken, named after the food-rich metropolis in Thailand’s southern tip near Malaysia, is served with a sweet chili sauce that adds just enough juicy spice to complement the floral notes of the coriander without overpowering it. It’s like Tennessee heat gone subtle and aromatic—more gain than pain. Add Hat Yai’s deep, spicy earthy curry and Indonesian roti bread, and this is one of the best plates in Portland. CRYSTAL CONTRERAS.