It's A Major Party Fowl If You Sleep On LA's Best Mexican-Indian Rotisserie Chicken
When Rhea Patel Michel and Marcel Rene Michel used to work corporate Disney jobs, they often found it tough to make a decent dinner for their picky 14-year-old son. Aside from exhaustion and conflicting schedules, everyone in this nuclear family had different tastes. Except for one thing. Rotisserie chicken.
"I saw the joy that rotisserie chicken brought to people," Rhea says. "It's a heart-warming meal. Versatile, convenient, plentiful and multipurpose."
They spent a good chunk of the pandemic developing recipes and launched Saucy Chick Rotisserie, a virtual restaurant and pop-up, in December 2020. Like most rotisserie chicken spots, their food is designed to be shared. Except here, you'll find flavor choices you won't see anywhere else. The marriage of their cultures — Indian on Rhea's side, Mexican on Marcel's — means that the mix-and-match potential of each meal is unlocked through experimentation. Creating tacos or burritos filled with Mexican and Indian proteins, sauces, and sides.
A whole chicken meal features your choice of a pibil or jeera bird, five sides, five sauces, pickled onions and Mejorado Tortillas, the tortilla company started by the owners of the fabulous Burritos La Palma. You might rip off a piece of a tortilla, smear it with Saucy Chick's whipped beans, grab a chunk of juicy thigh meat, throw on some jeera rice, drizzle it with oily salsa macha and dish out your personal combo of sauces for a full-spectrum flavor burst — salty, sweet, spicy, fatty.
Or you might order a nacho kit and use everything in it — tortilla chips, nacho cheese, pollo pibil, crema, G.G. sauce, sweet tamarind Ambli molasses, whipped beans, pickled onions, salsa macha, cilantro — to build the maximalist, game-day meal of your dreams.
How Saucy Chick Began
The Michels began toying with the idea for Saucy Chick in 2018. The following year, the couple rented a commercial kitchen and prepared a showcase dinner for 50 friends. The trial run provided them with valuable feedback.
Some of their original ideas had to be scrapped or reworked. A salsa that relied on oranges was too laborious and the Ambli molasses changed from a watery sauce to a syrup. "We wanted to play around with coleslaw but we felt that it just didn't fit," Rhea says.
Both styles of pollo, however, were a hit. So was GG's sauce, a creamy, spicy green dressing of lime, cilantro, garlic and queso fresco, which is now featured in their nachos.
Although the Michels thought they were on to something, the concept lay dormant until April 2020, when both of them were furloughed from their corporate jobs (Rhea in account management and Marcel in recruiting). Suddenly, Saucy Chick wasn't a distant dream, it was a crucial way to supplement their incomes.
"So there's two things happening. We're hearing that we are not going to have jobs to go back to. But we got such incredible feedback about how much people loved it, it gave us the confidence to even sign a lease," Rhea says.
They signed the lease on a kitchen space at a North Hollywood complex that was still being built out. But construction was delayed and it was six months before they could use it. They spent that time researching equipment, refining their recipes and selling pollo through Instagram. In October 2020, Rhea and Marcel returned to their office jobs. After working full-time during the day, they spent their evenings and weekends doing food prep. They brined and marinated chickens, roasted veggies, chopped herb and made sauces in preparation for their opening.
On Christmas Eve 2020, they launched their virtual restaurant by selling pre-orders of Indi-Mex rotisserie chicken from their ghost kitchen in NoHo. The launch was modest and they struggled to gain visibility. "What are we gonna do? We have rent to pay. Are we gonna have any orders this weekend?" Rhea recalls asking herself.
In March of this year, they got a big break Food & Wine writer Andy Wang who mentioned them in a feature about new pop-ups. Ever since, they've been expanding their niche in a crowded market.
Why Rotisserie Chicken?
Los Angeles offers countless iterations of rotisserie chicken. Zankou Chicken is probably the most famous, with its pungent whipped garlic sauce, hummus and pickled veggies. SoCal also boasts a bunch of tasty rotisseries including Los Pollos in Downey and Peruvian-style spots like El Pollo Inka and Pollo A La Brasa, which both have several locations around L.A. These days, almost every supermarket, from Costco to Ralph's, makes a credible rotisserie chicken.
The reasons are obvious. Chicken is probably the most affordable animal protein. You don't have to do much to make it taste good when you roast it. It's satisfying, comforting and easy to share. On days when my mom couldn't cook, she would buy a rotisserie chicken, pull the meat off the bone and stuff it into a bolio smeared with mustardy mayo. I liked to add Louisiana hot sauce because I'm pocho.
Saucy Chick's menu doesn't adhere to a specific cuisine or regional cooking style. Instead, the team draws from their personal experiences. The pibil chicken, tinged with achiote, citrus, oregano, garlic and cloves, was Marcel's favorite childhood meal with his parents. The jeera chicken, marinated in cumin, black pepper, cilantro ginger, garlic and caramelized onions, comes from Rhea's family, although she reworked the recipe from a dry spice blend to a marinade.
Their goal isn't simply to make fantastic rotisserie chicken, which they accomplish, they want to change perceptions of Indian food.
"There is more to Indian food than tikka masala. We wanted to reclaim and reframe our food. It is super important to me to demystify that Indian food is exotic or spicy. While it can be very intricate and like any other culture, can be made spicy, at its core, it's super approachable," Rhea says.
Saucy Chick's birds (which come from Mary's Free Range chicken) are brined and marinated for 24 hours before they're spit-roasted. The long brining and marinating process allows the flavors to infuse the meat while keeping it juicy while it's cooked. Distinguished by its red color, the pibil is garlicky and slightly acidic while the jeera is bolder thanks to its toasted spice blend and a robust onion sweetness.
"These are ingredients that are common in our cultures. Establishing that throughline is how our menu came together. In Mexican culture, they have salsas and Indian culture has chutneys," Rhea says.
That cultural overlap can also be seen in the assortment of sides and ingredients.
Their jeera rice — basmati rice is freckled with cumin pods and cooked in "Ba's ghee" ("We call it that because my mom never bought it, she always made it herself," Rhea says with a laugh) — is a buttery, spiced delight. The kachumber salad features chopped cucumbers, mint, cilantro and roasted peanuts swimming in a coconut lime dressing. The charred cauliflower, made yellow by turmeric and spiked with chili flakes, is a smokey and nutty phenomenon. The show-stopper is Mom's Beans, aka frijoles puercos.
"It's something that we grew up having every Thanksgiving and Christmas," Marcel says. The recipe comes from his mother. Pinto beans are refried with cheese, jalapenos, spicy chorizo and olives (his mom's touch) then blended until velvety smooth. They burst with porky richness, jalapeño heat and acidity from the olives. Whether you smear them on a tortilla or eat them on the side, Saucy Chick is all about stacking flavors.
You also have your choice of five sauces, including the sticky-sweet tamarind and ginger Ambli molasses, the cooling raita yogurt sauce and the vibrant GG sauce.
Rhea and Marcel worked hard to find the points where Mexican and Indian flavors intersect — tamarind, for example — and used them to create something new. Dishes such as the refried beans and jeera chicken are thousands of miles apart in their geographical and cultural origins but on Saucy Chick's menu, they're BFFs.
"People say 'fusion' but we're actually more layerable. It just goes together," Marcel says.
Their food is one more example of the way Los Angeles and the people who live here mix cultures with an instinctive creativity. Because when you put two cuisines side by side, you'll often find unexpected similarities, and Saucy Chick turns these into a delicious synthesis.
Saucy Chick currently offers delivery and pick-up from their kitchen space near CSULA, as well as delivery on Fridays and Saturdays. In July, they joined Smorgasburg L.A., where they serve a limited menu of nachos and tortas every Sunday. Follow them on IG.