Friday, September 07, 2007

Most Underrated - El Pollo Loco

On foodie boards around town, there is a constant debate about what establishment most typifies Los Angeles. An out-of-towner will post "In LA for One Meal... Where?" They usually want something near their hotel, on a budget, not too adventurous, and a million other restrictions.

The most common replies are things like Spago, Pizzeria Mozza, and Saddle Peak Lodge on the high end; El Cholo in the middle; and Pink's, Tommy's, and In N' Out Burger on the low end. Now these are all fine places. But I'd like to propose that the quintessential, and perhaps most underrated Southern California classic for a quick, tasty, low-end meal is El Pollo Loco.

It doesn't get written up much. It's just there, plugging along as it has done since the mid-eighties. The menu continues to evolve, with burritos and tacos al carbon and, most recently, crispy-shell chicken tacos. But the staple is still the 2-piece chicken combo. Flame-grilled chicken in a unique, tangy marinade, taken fresh from the grill and hacked to the cuts you've requested before your eyes, and served with your choice of two sides, two tortillas (corn or flour), and a stack of goodies from the salsa bar. I strip off some of that hot, juicy chicken, lay it in a tortilla, add some of my whole beans and side salad (no dressing), some pico de gallo, a slather of the guacamole salsa, and some of my own Cholula... it really doesn't get much better than that at even the best taco joints.

I eat takeout from our local once a week or so; I wonder why have I never taken a visiting guest there? It's a uniquely SoCal chain serving uniquely SoCal food at great prices on every other street corner. You won't find anything quite like it west of the Mississippi. I think it's time someone gave Pollo Loco its due, and started talking it up. The time is now, and the one is me. What do you think?


  1. silverlake bodhisattva2:24 PM

    Alas, at the risk of sounding like an old coot, El Pollo Loco quite isn't what it once was, before they corporatized it, took TV ads, and added a bunch of stuff that they don't do very well to the menu.

    Back in the day, when they opened the Alvarado Street location, jut north of 6th, the menu consisted of:
    A. half a chicken
    B. A whole chicken


    1. corn tortillas or
    2. flour tortillas

    That and the drinks were, if I recall correctly, originally the WHOLE menu. Compared with much of the rest of "take out chicken" (i.e, KFC) it was a revelation.

    That they had hit on something was evidenced by the flurry of competitors, now mostly gone: Pollo Gordo, Pollo Borracho, and Dino's Pollo Maniaco.

    Great days in the chicken biz....

    r gould-saltman

  2. Anonymous3:58 PM

    Along the same vein, but totally different I would recommend Zankou Chicken instead. I agree that El Pollo Loco is great and under rated, but given the choice I'd go to Zankou more often than El Pollo Loco.

    My 2 cents.


  3. Nicely done. I concur.

  4. Anonymous2:11 PM

    Okay, and if Zankou is on the list, then you should do Al Wazir, too.

  5. Anonymous9:12 AM

    Love it and checking to see if they are public (stock market).