THERE AIN'T NOTHING like the real thing, baby. The problem is, everyone else knows it too.
Take Reel M Inn, a wonder of a dive bar holdout on the ever-yuppified SE Division. As such, it's packed most nights with people looking for a fried chicken fix, a cheap pint, and the sweetest bar service this side of the Mississippi. Waits can be long, and hangry can happen.
Betcha didn't know there's a sister bar serving up the same fantastic chicken—Sadie Mae's in East Portland—in a strip mall near an indoor trampoline park. But it's not the only place you're going to find some killer bird at a less-likely spot. Here's your travel guide for Peruvian chicken without a commute, wings without a wait, and even some damn fine deli chicken.
If you want Reel M Inn: Try Sadie Mae's.
10530 SE Washington, 257-0660
It's Monday at 6 pm. Two girlfriends and I—all of us wearing office clothes—walk into this lottery-focused bar that shares a wall with a Dollar Tree. Just one step inside, a visibly intoxicated man sitting by the entrance asks us if we are "working." Welcome to the other Reel M Inn.
No matter the time of day, there's an assortment of humanity playing lotto machines that take up the entire western wall of Sadie Mae's; gamblers on a recent noon weekday included an octogenarian with a walker and a pregnant woman. Purple velour curtains block all light.
Pay it no heed: You're there for the massive Draper Valley chicken, coated and fried, served up with dino-sized jojos that stay scalding hot for well over a half hour. Get the thigh, wing, breast, and leg with four jojos for $9.50, prepared by a lady behind the bar who is far nicer than you have any right to be treated. Or, you know, you can order to go.
If you want Double Barrel's marionberry habañero wings: Try Club 21.
2035 NE Glisan, 235-5690, facebook.com/club21pdx
Club 21, the grand old dive bar off NE Sandy, with its weird spire entryway, predates its younger sibling bar, Double Barrel, by decades. I'm partial to Club 21's vintage '70s-era neon beer sign grunginess. But Double Barrel got my attention ["On a Wing and a Prayer," Last Supper, April 30, 2014] for having slammin' wings that easily fall within the top 10 in the city. My mistake. These wings are also on the menu at Club 21, along with their incomparable build-a-burger menu. Try out the marionberry habañero sauce on an order ($7)—it's a true Oregon shoutout. And Club 21's patrons definitely won't judge when you wash it all down with your third shot of well whiskey and a PBR back.
If you want Peruvian-style chicken like Pollos a la Brasa El Inka: Try Polli-Tico.
SW 3rd & Oak, 971-258-2845, polli-tico.com
I'm not knocking Gresham, and I'm not knocking driving long distances to get a good meal. At all. But, if you're downtown and want Peruvian chicken in a pinch, give Polli-Tico a try. This new cart imported its rotisserie from South America and is pumping out birds most days a week. An early standout dish is the pollo bowl ($6.50 small/$8 large) with spring mix, white rice, black beans, cilantro and a super spicy yellow salsa. It's an inconsistent experience: A visit right at opening revealed that the chicken wasn't ready yet, so we waited a half hour for a slightly underdone half-chicken. With two sides—very decent yucca fries and some totally bland rice and beans—it all came to $11.50. They're still ironing out the kinks, and will probably never surpass El Inka's greatness, but Polli-Tico's basic charred chicken is a promising prospect.
If you want decent grocery store fried chicken: Try QFC.
Various locations, qfc.com
A friend of mine tipped me off that QFC is the grocery store to score some decent deli chicken. She's right. Even at the end of a dinner rush, the skin was crisp, fried in well-seasoned breading, and it wasn't too salty. The breast and thigh were still juicy on the inside. With eight pieces for $8.99 and a container of lemon kale salad on the side, it's a good way to feed the family and not feel like a bad human. My friend had said QFC uses Draper Valley chicken, but the deli clerk at the NE 33rd location said they use Perdue. Womp womp. Still the best grocery store chicken I've had, factory farmed or not.