Chief Roberto CastrÃ© made its mark in Houston with the South American and Peruvian restaurant Latin Bites. These days he still cooks Peruvian dishes, but this time focusing on roast chicken and sides in a much more casual environment. His new restaurant, Chicken station, debuted in the spring of 2018 east of downtown Houston at 7001 Harrisburg.
This is Castre’s own restaurant and he has no connection to Latin Bites, although his parents, sister and brother-in-law and parents still run this place. So everything is a family affair. In fact, Castre says his sister comes to Chicken Station once a week to do alfajores (delicate sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche), very lick and chocolate cake.
After Latin Bites, Castre worked in Washington DC for two years but wanted to return to Houston and open his own restaurant. âI wanted something, but I didn’t want to start another Latin Bites,â he said. He saw the potential for a quick and relaxed Peruvian rotisserie, and that’s how the Chicken Station was born.
It’s in an old Pollo Bravo spot that looks a lot like a typical fast food restaurant, with bench seats and an order counter up front. A glance behind the glass, however, often reveals Castre or one of his employees at the cutting board, carving up juicy whole chickens to order.
Castre says the distinguishing factor between Peruvian style roast chickens and, say, grocery store roast chicken, is the seasoning and cooking method. “We use about 22 ingredients in the chicken and it’s charcoal grilled. “, did he declare. The ingredients include dark beer, aji panca (Peruvian red pepper), salt, cumin, and rosemary powder. Plus, the chickens are brined for 24 hours for flavor and tenderness that goes down to the bone.
There is a generous selection of side dishes to accompany the chicken. The one Castre recommends is arroz chaufaâA dish of fried rice demonstrating Asian influences on Peruvian cuisine. Castre mixes chicken with his own for a little charcoal flavor. âOf course, I also have to get some sweet plantains,â Castre said with a chuckle. âI also love our California Veggies with zucchini, squash, onions, red peppers, olive oil and anticucho sauce (which includes cumin, aji pepper and garlic).
We tried the chicken and some side dishes as guests of Castre. Even just watching the chef carve the birds is tantalizing. The meat is chewy, but not dripping, and the 22 ingredients he mentioned pair beautifully. Diners will catch a spice here, a hint of herbs there, but the most striking quality of Castre’s seasoning blend is harmony.
In addition to the roast chicken and sides, Castre also offers classic Peruvian street food including salchipapas, or fries topped with sliced ââhot dogs and mayonnaise sauce. âEverywhere you go in Peru you’re going to find salchipapas,â Castre said. âWe do ours a little differently. In Peru, it is garnished 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 a Peruvian olive sauce with olives, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
Other dishes include quesadillas with beans, roasted onions, cheese, and roast chicken meat. Burritos also use chicken, as well as chaufa rice, pico de gallo, avocado, salsa criolla (an onion-based salsa), cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.
Castre says that since the opening, business at the Chicken Station has been growing. âWhen we started, we were making 60 chickens a day. Now we are around 120 a day.
While the Chicken Station has more to offer than chicken, Castre says beginners should start with the specialty of the same name. âWhen people ask me what to try, I say, ‘Well you’ve got to start with the chicken, then you can try everything else! “
Of course, roast chicken and its sides are a meal that lends itself to family and group meals on the go. Wait times shouldn’t be long either, and whatever the short wait is, it will be worth it.
âIt’s a fast food restaurant but everything is done from scratch,â says Castre. âThe flavors are like fine cuisine. Over time, we get better and better. “
Honestly our initial meal was so good it’s hard to imagine where it’s going to go from there.
Chicken Station is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Order in advance by calling (832) 986-5508.