Medio pollo, Piko Riko

Each morning, at around nine or ten, the atmosphere on the blocks surrounding the intersection of Montrose and Troy in Albany Park is saturated with the narcotic aroma of roasting chicken. If you happen to pass by the esteemed Colombian restaurant Brasa Roja, you can see for yourself the formations of bronzed chickens spinning over the smoldering coals in the front window. It’s a Pavlovian stimulus nearly as compelling as the invisible cocoa clouds that spew from the Blommer Chocolate factory, but it’s not even the best pollo a la brasa in the neighborhood (see: D’Candela). At least if you show up at lunchtime you’re assured of securing a chicken that hasn’t spent too much time under the heat lamp. And, perhaps due to this simple but effective piece of olfactory marketing, turnover at Brasa Roja is brisk enough that you can be reasonably assured of getting a fresh one at dinnertime too.

So it’s discouraging that the ether around North and Monticello in Humboldt Park doesn’t trigger the same longing for roasted bird, not at midday anyway. Those are the coordinates for Piko Riko, a newish Colombian chicken joint that I was keenly interested in for the associative allure of its name, which is very close to Pico Rico, a now-defunct but much beloved bird spinner that operated just a half a mile west of there back in the early part of this century. “Pico rico” or “piko riko” means “nice kiss” or “rich peak” (depending on how you interpret Shakira’s “Gordita”), but despite their similar locations and names, the two restaurants aren’t related. And neither are the chickens, which at noon on any given day are lined up under a heat lamp, next to the cold rotisserie, like sickly puppies waiting for adoption (and I don’t mean perros caliente).

But a half of a hacked, rewarmed, day-old chicken with potatoes, plantains, and beans and rice is a mere $6.75, which is still a small price to pay even if it’s for wrinkly skin and mealy muscle. With liberal doses of the bright green jalapeno and cilantro-spiked aji, you can pretend they’re just leftovers from a much more satisfying dinner the previous night. Which they probably are. Otherwise there are plenty of Colombian standards to be had: grilled steak, sauteed tongue, fried fish, big meaty platters or bandejas paisa—including steak, sausage, pork rinds, fried eggs, and all the associated starches—and soups of the day. Check in on Thursdays and Saturdays to see how the leftover chickens perform in those.

Piko Riko, 3625 W. North, 773-666-5059