Pollo Feliz, London’s only specialist northern Mexican food business, has closed its small stall in Netil Market, Hackney. Owners Michelle Salazar and Sam Napier have now rebranded, moved to bigger premises, and opened Sonora Taquería, named after the region in Mexico’s north west, from where chef-owner Salazar hails. It focusses not on grilled chicken, but on beef dishes and tacos, based on recipes from the region.
The opening menu includes barbacoa tacos, made with beef rib and shin; a beef chile taco made with chile colorado, in which chuck steak is stewed down with dried chiles and tomatoes, and a pulled beef chile verde taco. There are also quesadillas, the option to add a crunchy, flaking cheesy crust to any taco — why not, indeed — and aguas frescas and micheladas. “Sonoran food is extremely beef-centric, so this is the direction we’re taking with our menu,” Salazar said, also promising rotating weekend specials as Sonora grows into its new space.
The decision to rebrand and change the emphasis of the business came during lockdown — a period in which Pollo Feliz, then in its infancy, rapidly pivoted to bike-delivering thousands of packets of their peerless, fresh (lard, goose fat, or vegetable oil) flour tortillas and jars of housemade salsa macha to households in east London. These will be available for retail at the stall, in packs of 10 tortillas,
“Lockdown completely changed our business and the perspective we had on what we wanted to do with it,” Salazar told Eater London via email. “The success of the tortillas de harina made us realise the potential Sonoran food had in a city with zero to no regional Mexican offering.”
Earlier in the summer, at a point when the duo was delivering 1,200 tortillas per week, Salazar and Napier told Eater they “were kind of operating at capacity...what we’re doing is not sustainable for a commercial operation outside lockdown.” Salazar who makes and hand-presses all the tortillas herself at the Netil Market hut was able to produce 250 in four-to-five hours, per day.
As well as realising during lockdown that a market for flour tortillas — and, by extension, regional Mexican tacos — existed in London, Salazar also wanted to explore Sonoran food more broadly. “Making northern Mexican food became a personal goal for me, as an attempt to reconnect with my home,” she said. “So through that process, we also realised that having Pollo Feliz as a brand was not representative of what we wanted to do anymore. It sent a confusing message of who we are now, so we decided it was best to change things up.”
Pollo Feliz was a franchise of the brand run by Salazar’s own family in Mexico; her great uncles opened the first one, in Sonora’s neighbouring state, Sinaloa, in the 1970s. That explains Pollo Feliz’s trademark dish: seasoned grilled chicken, or pollo asado, which is typical of the region. And though it will be parked for now, Salazar says the chicken, is “gonna be a great special to have at our taqueria once in a while” and that she hopes to bring the standalone back one day, when she’s “more experienced and have the resources to open a proper restaurant.”
“The dream is to copy and paste one of my mom’s restaurants somewhere in London,” she said. “The family brand has given me everything and I’m forever grateful for that. It can never be a 100 percent gone, it’s part of who I am and our identity as a family but right now, it’s time for Sam and I to find our own voice.”