First Look: Tio Pepe Chicken

There’s a lucky rooster, and more flavor combinations than days in the year


Photo by David Brendan Hall

In a town where construction cranes are giving grackles a run for their money as Austin's most common feathered vertebrate, it's downright refreshing to have a new bird to talk about. Tio Pepe Chicken opened this month at the Linc, and we're obsessed with their Portuguese-style chicken.

As a related aside, it's worth noting that the shopping center formerly known as the Lincoln Village is enjoying quite a renaissance. In addition to the beloved, winning combination of AFS Cinema and Vivo, Peruvian restaurant Lima Criolla has been churning out delightfully fresh ceviche for a while now. They've also got some tasty poultry, like the arroz con pollo – chicken with rice and a cilantro, onion, red pepper, and green pea sauce cooked in Inca corn beer – as well as soups, and beef, pork, potato, and pasta dishes brimming with vegetables and classic Peruvian spices that teeter somewhere between heaven and earth. Yes, there's also a new Pluckers Wing Bar location, but Easy Tiger's very anticipated imminent opening brings a huge biergarten and almost unlimited access to pretzels and beer cheese.

All that to say: Tio Pepe Chicken's super location gives it a leg up toward success, but it's their incredibly tender, flavorful chicken and focused menu that will make this little spot a contender for most craveworthy new dish in town. The owner, Pepe Garcia, has a family history of restaurant success, and after traveling the world, he fell in love with Portuguese flavors. Their website explains Pepe's motivation for starting this cozy, fast-casual counter-service space: "One thing he took with him on his adventures was a sense of community and family fueled by good food. Everywhere he went, he invited new friends to come together around his table to tell stories, enjoy comradery and the simple pleasures of life. He is now bringing this sense of community, driven by food, to Austin, with his flagship restaurant, Tio Pepe Chicken. Inspired by the depth of Portuguese spices and [the process of] cooking over an open flame, Pepe hopes to bring the simplicity of good food back to the table and offer a unique and relaxed space where people can come together."

So what the heck is Portuguese-style chicken anyway? It's all about the spices and that magical classic sauce, Peri-Peri, which is made from South African peppers that were imported to Portugal from two colonies, Angola and Mozambique, on spice ships. Though we're not privy to Tio Pepe's recipe, most versions include roasted chiles, smoked paprika, garlic, salt and pepper, coriander, and vinegar and oil. The rooster emblazoned on the Tio Pepe logo, by the way, is considered a symbol of Portuguese culture and reminder of their love of life. As the story goes, a traveling pilgrim was accused of theft and condemned to hang. As affirmation of his proclaimed innocence, the pilgrim declared that a nearby – already roasted – rooster would spring to his aid and crow at his hanging. Sure enough, just as he was being noosed, the already cooked rooster stood up in front of the crowd and said something to the effect of "Cock-a-doodle-do not hang this guy," prompting a reversal of the death sentence and a deep reverence of the justice champion-turned-eternal symbol of good fortune, the Roasted Rooster.

At Tio Pepe (it's just such a catchy name), chickens come whole or by the quarter or half, and they've got six sauce flavors to choose from – mild, garlic, lemon herb, medium, hot, and extra hot. Even better, all of the sauces are available right next to the fancy soda station, which means there are about 720 different flavor combinations to try. That's right: We did math to explain how delicious the possibilities are at this place. Each order is flame-grilled to order right there behind the counter and basted in the sauce selection. Pick your chicken details, choose the sides – French fries, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, cilantro rice, Caesar salad with a delightfully bright dressing, or grilled corn on the cob – and then get to work on that Peri-Peri. So far, my favorite is a lemon-herb base with medium and garlic sauces swirled together for dipping.

For the more carcass-averse among us, there's also a boneless version, a spicy chicken burger, and several big salads. The appetizer list is impressive: grilled wings with carrots and celery, chicken croquettes, olives marinated in spicy garlic sauce, and Mediterranean hummus with pita chips. In another ode to the owner's travels, they also offer jocoque, a Mexican fermented milk dish similar to buttermilk. It's a spreadable yogurt cheese topped with chopped scallions and olive oil and served with grilled pita chips. If you've still got room (and let's be honest, 'tis the season for indulgence), they've got tres leches, vanilla caramel flan, Key lime cheesecake, red velvet cake, and chocolate mousse cake. It might not be the year of the rooster, but we're pretty sure Tio Pepe Chicken will mark 2018 as the year they made Austinites into big fans of Peri-Peri chicken.


Tio Pepe Chicken

The Linc, 6406 N. I-35 #2510
www.tiopepechicken.com

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