Carlos Mortera has restaurants in his blood. He was born in Queretaro, Mexico, where his father, Carlos Mortera Sr., owned several rotisserie chicken joints. Watching his father work inspired Mortera to become a chef himself, and in 2014, he opened up The Bite in City Market, a small sandwich shop boasting inventive flavor combinations that combine Mexican and Korean influences.
Now, Mortera is returning to his roots with Poi-õ, a fast-casual restaurant located in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood that specializes in wood-fired chicken and ribs. At Poi-õ, Mortera is again working side-by-side with his dad, and the relationship is yielding some incredible food. Here’s everything you need to know.
Poi-ō is housed in the former Speak sandwich shop, located just off Southwest Boulevard. The space is industrial and open, with two separate areas. In one, you order deli-style from a small menu posted behind the counter. You’ll get a glimpse of Mortera or his dad through the kitchen window, and you will smell the tantalizing fragrances of smoking cherry wood and chicken sizzling on the grill. Once you order and pay, you’ll move to the dining room, which features communal seating on industrial stainless steel tables and a wooden bar looking out through Poi-ō’s floor-to-ceiling windows. The vibe is modern and vibrant, decorated with two colorful floor-to-ceiling chicken-themed murals painted by local artists Rodrigo Alvarez and Isaac Tapia.
PARTY ON THE SIDE
Make sure you save room for the other items on Poi-ō’s menu. Protein options include Filipino-style, tangy baby back ribs seasoned with vinegar and soy sauce (a half-rack is $9.95). Mortera’s sides make the meal, so order several. Elote is a crowd favorite: traditional Mexican corn that’s grilled and tossed with lime, mayo, chili powder and cotija cheese. The kimchi fried rice is worth a try, too, as are the black beans with sofrito (a tomato-pepper mixture). There’s also charred broccoli and roasted carrots with lime. Bring a group of friends — you’ll want to try everything here.
ALL ABOUT THE BIRD
The juicy, smoky flavor of the chicken at Poi-ō takes time. First, Mortera brines his birds for 24 hours in vinegar, garlic, chili powder, salt and pepper. The chicken is pre-baked so the flavors are saturated, and then it’s grilled to order over cherry wood. The result? Tender, moist chicken encased in crispy, charred skin. This is flavor so rich you’ll feel like royalty.
Order a half portion of chicken ($8.50) or a whole bird ($16). Your order comes with warm corn tortillas, pickled carrots and radishes. Guests grab their own silverware and napkins from a shelf in the dining room, which is also stocked with an array of excellent house-made sauces: cilantro chimichurri, salsa rojo and habanero sauce.