The Northland eatery nails its namesake dish

As a mom-and-pop business that opened back when the world was a wholly different place (November), it goes without saying that The Mix Charcoal Chicken has had to maneuver through some unusual twists and turns. As you probably know, few new restaurants face a smooth path even in the best of times.

Lately, The Mix Charcoal Chicken has had to navigate a transition to limited dine-in service while adhering to the proper protocols for this current phase of the coronavirus pandemic. After a few visits, I can report that the eatery got the big things right, even though it didn't always function like a well-oiled machine.

Customers who enter the restaurant’s revamped fast-food interior from its sizable parking lot in the Northland area (where it continues to provide curbside service) will encounter reassuring sights such as industrial-sized hand sanitizer dispensers, signs insisting on social distancing and simple but shiny wooden tables and booths — some roped-off so diners can remain safely spaced apart.

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Less clinically, customers can expect to be greeted with smiles, Peruvian music and the alluring aroma of charcoal-seared meat. This brings up a crucial point: A restaurant that calls attention to a particular dish in its name should probably nail that dish, and that aspect of The Mix Charcoal Chicken is mission accomplished. 

The eatery’s specialty — Peruvian-style chicken — is both delicious and a bargain. Just $10.99 buys an entire bird with juicy, smoke-scented meat beneath skin darkened by an aromatic spice blend (starring cumin, salt and pepper, but with notes of paprika and thyme) that enhances the poultry’s perfect smokiness. The chicken is loaded with flavor, yet as with most orders here, it comes with condiment containers of a creamy and addictive house cilantro sauce that makes most everything taste better.

The Whole Chicken Combo meal feeds three to five people and is a fine deal as well  ($24.99). Combo orders — there are half-chicken ($13.99) and quarter-chicken ($8.99) combos, too — come with hefty portions of The Mix’s go-to sides of crisp, not-oily steak fries, plus a nice salad of romaine lettuce with wheels of tomato and peeled cucumber that is partnered with a tart, herb-flecked house vinaigrette. 

I’d place the homey beans ($2.50) high on the list of other sides to try. The simple but flavorful pinto beans are hearty, well-seasoned and boosted by a little onion.

Yuca is like the denser and starchier cousin of potatoes. The Mix’s Fried Yuca ($3.50) was solid, but I would’ve enjoyed the fries more had the yuca been sliced thinner and fried crisper.

Plantains are to bananas as yuca is to potatoes. If you’d enjoy the tropical-style sweetness of caramelized, golden-brown “maduros” (the mature fruit) with your meal — I did — order the Fried Plantains ($3.99).

Disappointingly chewy and fatty meat — albeit attractively seared and good-tasting — is the main reason that the relatively pricey Beef Bowl ($13.99) with sauteed peppers, onions and loads of pleasant cilantro rice is the only dish I sampled that I’d hesitate to order again.

Other inconsistencies: Operational hours have been variable and quoted wait times for takeout can be optimistic. And all menu items aren’t aren’t always available, especially those with Somali origins. (Although “The Mix” refers to a blend of Peruvian and Somali food, my experience suggests that this place leans heavily toward the Peruvian side.)  

So I’d strongly recommend consulting The Mix’s Facebook page before visiting or ordering. When doing this, keep an eye out for terrific specials such as Chard Pie ($3.99)— think easy-to-love spinach quiche encased in flaky crust — that’ll instantly make you forget about any of this worthy place’s occasional foibles.