Rotisserie League: H-E-B Mi Tienda

Whether it’s grilled, roasted or rotisseried, Austin’s had cheap Mexican-style chicken for years. Now Fresa’s sells a $24 version. This calls for a six-round showdown. Let the feathers fall where they may.
Round 3: H-E-B Mi Tienda
9414 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-835-5400,
Hours: 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 06.28.12
Because H-E-B knows how to stay in step with its market, the grocery chain has branded its store at Lamar and Rundberg as one of its “Mi Tienda” — “My Store” — flagships. The brand gives this H-E-B the look and feel of a Fiesta Mart, with a tortilleria, panaderia, aguas frescas counter and Mexican-style carniceria. In that rainbow-colored bounty you’ll find 36 hot corn tortillas for $1.50, al pastor-style fresh pork at $1.97 a pound and a cucumber-lime agua fresca starting at $1.69.
Relevant to this Rotisserie League series is the “Flaming Bird” counter at the back, where they butterfly whole chickens over a gas-fired grill next to a deli case where you build the same kind of family combos you’d find at a pollo asado shop.
What you get: A whole grilled chicken, grilled jalapeño and onions, small sides of rice and beans and 10 corn tortillas for $9. That combo with two chickens is $14, then $19 for three, each with escalating sides and tortillas. A chicken by itself is $5. There’s no condiment bar with limes and salsa, but 8 ounces of housemade salsa verde is $1.37, and it’s alive with the citrus-tart fleshiness of tomatillo and roasted peppers.
The takeaway: The grill is just for show, because in the absence of charcoal or wood, all the gas-heated grates can do is convey stripes and colors. Even then, the flames aren’t set high enough to create the carbonized flavor of a sear. They create a kind of spread-eagle rotisserie chicken, a soft suburban bird rather than the tougher, crustier chicken of the streets. The counter woman hacked the bird into four rough pieces, shaggy at all the cut ends, with bone shrapnel in every other bite. I tasted citrus and powdered red pepper, and when I looked at the ingredient list on one of the packaged-for-sale chickens, I saw that the taste came from adobo powder, garlic, paprika and citrus punch, complete with high-fructose corn syrup. And salt. Lots of salt. In short, a grocery-store chicken playing street-cart dress-up.
I found a knob of gristle in the pinto beans that had tubes, telling me there’s a mystery-meat magic at work in this murky brown bowl to go with the onions, ham and tomatoes. Like most dishes of indeterminate pedigree, it tastes great with a fresh corn tortilla. On a side note: This store turns its corn tortillas into the best one-pound bag of tortilla chips I’ve ever tasted from a store for $1.99.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 Coming next: Julio's Cafe