Latin Bites Chef Steps Into Fast-Casual With Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken Restaurant
Chef Roberto Castre made his mark in Houston with South American and Peruvian restaurant Latin Bites. These days, he’s still cooking up Peruvian fare—but this time focusing on rotisserie chicken and sides in a much more casual environment. His new restaurant, Chicken Station, debuted in spring 2018 east of downtown Houston at 7001 Harrisburg.
It’s Castre’s own restaurant and it has no relationship to Latin Bites, although his parents, sister and brother-in-law and parents still run that place. So, it’s all a family affair. In fact, Castre says his sister comes to the Chicken Station once a week to make alfajores (delicate sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche), tres leches and chocolate cake.
After Latin Bites, Castre worked in Washington D.C. for two years but wanted to come back to Houston and start a restaurant of his own. “I wanted something—but I didn’t want to start another Latin Bites,” he said. He saw the potential in a fast-casual, Peruvian rotisserie chicken place—and that’s how the Chicken Station came to be.
It’s in a former Pollo Bravo spot that’s much like a typical fast food restaurant, with bench seating and an order counter up front. A peek behind the glass, though, often reveals Castre or one of his staff members at the cutting board, carving up juicy whole chickens to-order.
Castre says the distinguishing factor between Peruvian-style rotisserie chickens and, say, grocery store rotisserie chicken, is the seasoning and cooking method “We use about 22 ingredients in the chicken and it’s grilled over charcoal,” he said. The ingredients include dark beer, aji panca (Peruvian red pepper), salt, cumin and rosemary powder. In addition, the chickens brine for 24 hours for flavor and tenderness that goes down to the bone.
There’s a generous selection of side dishes to go with the chicken. One that Castre recommends is arroz chaufa—a fried rice dish demonstrative of the Asian influences on Peruvian cuisine. Castre mixes some chicken into his for a little charcoal-grilled flavor. “Of course, I have to get sweet plantains, too” said Castre with a chuckle. “I also like our California Veggies with zucchini, squash, onions, red bell pepper, olive oil and anticucho sauce (which includes cumin, aji pepper and garlic).
We tried the chicken and some sides as Castre’s guests. Even just watching the chef cut up the birds is mouthwatering. The meat is moist—but not drippy—and those 22 ingredients he mentioned blend beautifully. Diners will catch a spice here, an herbal note there, but the most striking quality of Castre’s seasoning blend is harmony.
In addition to the rotisserie chicken and sides, Castre also offers some classic Peruvian street food dishes, including salchipapas, or French fries topped with sliced hot dogs and mayonnaise sauce. “Anywhere you go in Peru, you’re going to find salchipapas,” said Castre. “We do ours a little differently. In Peru, it’s topped with mayonnaise and mustard. We use an aji Amarillo sauce. It’s made with [mild yellow] peppers, mustard and rosada sauce made with ketchup, mayo and honey. It also has Peruvian olive sauce with olives, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.”
Other dishes include quesadillas with beans, roasted onions, cheese and rotisserie chicken meat. Burritos also make use of the chicken, as well as chaufa rice, pico de gallo, avocado, salsa criolla (a onion-based salsa), cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.
Castre says since opening, business at the Chicken Station is growing. “When we started, we made 60 chickens a day. Now, we are around 120 a day.”
While the Chicken Station has more to offer than just chicken, Castre says first-timers should start with the namesake specialty. “When people ask me what to try, I say, ‘Well, you have to start with the chicken—then you can try everything else!”
Of course, rotisserie chicken and sides is a meal that lends itself to family and group dining to-go. Wait times shouldn’t be long at all, either—and whatever short wait there is will be well worth it.
“It’s a fast restaurant but everything is made from scratch,” said Castre. “The flavors are like fine dining. Over time, we’re just going to get better and better.”
Honestly, our initial meal was so good it’s hard to imagine where he’s going to go from there.
Chicken Station is open Sundays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays. Order ahead by calling (832) 986-5508.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.