Best Food in Boise

Pollo Rey Mexican Rotisserie - The King of Simple Pleasures

I'll admit that I've never been to Mexico, so I could be way off base in any reviews I might have for so-called Mexican food in the United States. But, to be fair, I have been to my share of Mexican restaurants all across this country, from Texas to New Mexico to Colorado to Idaho, so I think I'm at least somewhat qualified to pass judgement on whatever it is that we call Mexican food in the Anglo world. So with that in mind, let me tell you that I've been going to Pollo Rey for over ten years now, and I think it has some of the best -- if not the best -- quesadillas and fish tacos in town. In fact, I absolutely love the place, and if my ugly wife and I are touring the Downtown Boise area with our two monstrous children, Pollo Rey is always at the top of our dining list for lunch or dinner. The casual atmosphere and great food demand it.

To some degree, I can't figure out why Pollo Rey doesn't get more press. Maybe it's the pastel-infused neon sign on the wall. After all, you can't really have good food of any type if you have a neon sign, can you? And yes, the ceiling is painted an electric blue color that might cause you to avert your eyes. But there's nary a sombrero to be seen, nor are there maracas, nylon-string guitars, serapes, faux stucco, paintings of quaint Mexican villages, and a lot of the other kitsch you might expect at a self-proclaimed Mexican rotisserie. Heck, they play oldies music over the sound system instead of trumpet-heavy mariachi. So maybe people don't know quite what to make of the place.

Or maybe it's because the menu is simple and unpretentious, just like the restaurant as a whole. In direct contrast to most Mexican restaurants, which have a list of menu choices that stretches from here to Guadalajara, the menu at Pollo Rey is refreshingly short. You can get the basics: burritos, quesadillas, and tacos, all available with pulled chicken that spent an hour and a half rotating to perfection on the nearby rotisserie. Some people might make the mistake of thinking that such a simple menu equals pedestrian food, but years of experience allow me to tell you that's definitely not the case here. Pollo Rey might only offer a few things, but everything they do, they do well.

Although you can't go wrong whatever choice you make, I've got a couple favorites. First is the good ol' chicken quesadilla. If I'm craving one and I'm anywhere near Downtown Boise, this is where I go. It's true that a quesadilla is a simple food to make, so separating the passable from the outstanding is a difficult chore. Heck, I've got a quesadilla maker at home that makes a pretty darn good one. But Pollo Rey's is worth seeking out because of the rotisserie chicken that's lurking inside. They get whole birds and roast groups of them three times a day in a rack behind the counter, and short of genuine Southern-fried chicken in a Georgia diner, this is the best way to eat your favorite bird.

If you're still dubious about the purported greatness of this combination of tortillas, cheese, and chicken -- even if it's fancy rotisserie chicken -- then you need to meet the Pollo Rey salsa. Whether you lean red or green, Pollo Rey's got 'em, and they're both made fresh and popping with flavor. Personally I lean toward the green, which is packed so full of goodness that you'll be tasting it for hours after it goes down. I've looked high and low for good green salsa around these parts, and Pollo Rey's is the best I've found. If you're a red salsa person, don't fret; it's also tasty and well-made. According to the staff, they go through five to ten gallons of the stuff a day, so I'm not the only one who likes it. Put red, green, or both on your quesadilla, add a little sour cream, and you're eating the king of Boise quesadillas for under seven bucks.

Although it was originally the quesadilla that kept me coming back to Pollo Rey, it was only a matter of time before I discovered something just as lovely: their fish tacos. Again, it's a simple dish, but they somehow manage to get more out of chunks of fish, shredded cabbage, cilantro, green onions, and a zesty sauce than other restaurants. I don't know how far their version is from the famous baja fish tacos of the San Diego area, but when I'm thinking fish tacos in Boise, Pollo Rey's immediately comes to mind.

The menu has other goodies as well, most of which I've never bothered to try because I can never drag my tongue away from my two favorites. My ugly wife swears by the burritos, as do a lot of other folks. Some people says that if you love the fish tacos, then you'll think the fish burritos are pure food porn. Maybe some day I'll verify that, but I'm not really a burrito person, and smothering all that goodness into an indecipherable mixture just seems wrong. If you're feeling crazy, you can try one of their stuffed potatoes. This is Idaho, after all, and a topping of rotisserie chicken, pico de gallo, black beans and sour cream makes any potato irresistible.

It's easy to see why Pollo Rey has been going strong for over sixteen years now. The food is great, despite being underhyped. And call them lucky or shrewd (probably the latter), but the restaurant's location at the corner of 8th and Idaho has got to be the best spot in all of Downtown Boise. You can't help but walk by it when exploring the downtown bars and shops. And with their outdoor patio and generous seating, they're also a convenient lunch spot every Saturday during the Capital City Public Market.

It's also enjoyable to sit in one of their window booths along Idaho Street and watch Boise walk by. You get your normal mix of young hipsters, business professionals, and parents with kids, but with a bus stop right out front you also get a whole lot of the unexpected. In fact, the word 'unexpected' come to mind often when I think about Pollo Rey. Their food, and the dining experience in general, is a simple pleasure that is unexpectedly good.

Local Food Joint: Pollo Rey Mexican Rotisserie (Downtown location)

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Specialty: The best fish tacos and rotisserie chicken quesadillas you can get in Idaho without risking gunfire
Prices: Darn near cheap
Family Friendly? Yes
Website: Pollo Rey
Fun Fact: Pollo Rey shares a restroom with the Bittercreek Alehouse and Pho Nouveau, so you can urinate with people who have a variety of culinary tastes.
My rating: 4 pink tacos out of 5