Sep 152008

UPDATE: Pollo Loco has closed and reopened as La Cabana Del Pollo.

Once again, thanks to Faith for keeping me honest (or at least marginally competent) about the difference between a sketchy local Mexican joint and a national restaurant chain.

Pollo Loco has been open less than two weeks. I drove by on Monday and noticed that there were a couple cars in the lot so I figured what the hell. I walked into the dining room to find a clean but completely undecorated space. Essentially the room held four formica booths, two of which were occupied by Latino gentlemen who, judging from their clothing were definitely in the painting business.

Though this was obviously a Mexican establishment, the smell of the place was unmistakably that of BBQ. They were obviously using a healthy dose of smoke in their cooking. I’d wager hickory if my taste buds are to be trusted (they’re not). Before I sat down, a woman noticed my entrance and somewhat apologetically indicated that they were operating with a very limited menu. While I stood there she explained the primary offering: a half a smoked chicken with tortillas, salsa, rice and other stuff. That sounded damn good to me, having read Meesha’s post about Super Pollo on Independence Ave a couple weeks ago. It sounded similar and in the end, it was.

She delivered a can of coke from a cooler full of Jarritos fruit sodas and cans of domestic pop. My food arrived before I could even get out my phone to check twitter. Seriously, like 1 minute. Crazy Fast chicken is right people!

The chicken arrived on a styrofoam plate and looked like a right mess.

But damn it tasted good. Yep this is simply half a chicken cooked on a smoky grill, roughly hacked into pieces and thrown on a disposable plate with no garnish.

So what.

Grilled chicken is no great mystery, but it’s definitely one of the most satisfying meals of all time. They managed to smoke it without giving the skin that rubbery texture of the “low & slow” method. So I’m guessing that they smoke it at a high temperature. It was juicy, flavorful, not overly smoky, had crunchy skin and was cooked well.

The rice was very typical of Mexican restaurants: small exploded grains with a mild stock-ish flavor and pale red hue. The corn tortillas were not homemade but tasted fresh and good enough. And holy cow, marinated red onions, just like Meesha had at Super Pollo. Those things are perfect accompaniment to the chicken.

So obviously this is a distinctive variety of Mexican or Mexican American cuisine. Grill-smoked chicken on a tortilla with salsa and pickled onions. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this trend before.

But I got something else with my meal: macaroni salad! WTF? Seriously the plate came with a mayonnaise-dressed macaroni salad with chucks of ham in it. I’m sorry, did my aunt Rita sneak in the Pollo Loco kitchen when I wasn’t looking?

Okay, so the pasta salad was not the best thing ever, but it wasn’t horribly executed and overall the meal was very good. Did I mention that this was a shit-ton of food? Easily enough for two people. And it cost me six bucks.

However the best part was the service. The waitress only had a few tables to deal with, and the place is new so she was overly attentive if anything. But it was cool and I did ask her a few questions about the place; she was very accommodating and friendly. She said that last week was kind of a soft launch but they had no register and no change which was kind of a mess. Most of the customers were friends and family so it turned out alright. They will add things to the menu–but not too much, she said, because they want to keep it simple. I was very heartened to hear that. These days they have a cash register but no credit card machine yet (it’s coming). You know what that means? Tax included baby!

She also said Monday was their first day selling tamales. Excellent! The previous business in this location specialized in those little masa nuggets of heaven, and made pretty good ones to boot. I’ll have to try Pollo Loco’s version.

So this place is still ironing out their menu, their workflow and their infrastructure. Judging from what I saw the other day, they have a bright future ahead. If I managed to have a good meal during their first real week of business,I can only imagine that things will get better. And seriously, just being able to chat with the waitress and thank the cook made all the difference. This is so obviously a labor of love for the owners, and honestly one that may not work out. But hopefully if they keep it simple, stay friendly, and maintain the good quality and value they will get along just fine.

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  17 Responses to “Pollo Loco: Crazy Fast Chicken (5816 Merriam Dr) – CLOSED”

  1. I actually go for Jarritos or Mexican (not in the can) Coke. I am glad good Mexican food is moving out of scary places where you don’t have to live dangerously to have some chicken.

  2. Where is this joint? I want some crazy-fast chicken too!

  3. Crap, forgot the address! 5816 Merriam Drive

  4. Ok, I so want that chicken…it looks yummy!

    Yay! Thanks DLC!

  5. The chicken looks delicious. That pic perfectly captures what ethnic, off-the-map chicken is supposed to look that. Props on the pic.

  6. we bought the dinner for 4 when we had company. tasty, tasty!! no macaroni salad. we did get a couple of tamales – pretty good but they’re using chunks of pork instead of shredded meat. i guess the current owner is a good friend of the former owner, said she had to go back to mexico but she’s going to teach them how to make tamales like she did. they said they had to have the gas shut off so they just piled some wood in one of the stoves to cook that chicken. heh. nice. it’s delicious.

  7. I’m part owner in Pollo Loco. We kept having people say they wanted to stop by because of a food blog– thats thanks to you, so I wanted to send great appreciation your way. It’s crazy reading about your own restaurant, but you’ve giving me some great ideas to focus on. And I completely agree with you on the pasta salad– I don’t know where my Mexican co-owner got that crazy idea, but we have successfully tossed it out in favor of some kick ass frijoles (yeah, thats just fancy talk for plain refried beans but they are good!) I can’t wait to to check back and see what other people are saying. Thanks again.

  8. Thanks for the kind words, bleau. Indeed it must be crazy reading about your own restaurant. It’s also crazy when a restaurant owner comments on your blog post! I hope things are going well for Pollo Loco so far. You have good food and a great staff. I look forward to coming back and trying the frijoles.

  9. I’ve had this almost every saturday the past 6 weeks. A friend of mine is an owner. They now have beef barbacoa on the menu. Now that is some tender, tasty beef! Also, pico de gallo. I have to say, that is the best I have ever had in KC, anywhere for that matter. You really owe it to yourself to pay this place a visit for really good food, at an excellent price!

  10. Love those onions, and the green sauce makes for some kickin’ chicken. Keep up the good work.

  11. I have to amend my last comment somewhat. I visit this place, usually weekly, every other at most. I have noticed the portions getting smaller, the quality slipping but the prices going higher. Just came from there less than an hour ago. Ordered the barbacoa and tacos (new to the menu). For $6.95 I got about exactly 8 small pieces of meat, less than 1″ each, a half full container of ice cold, dry, refried beans, a container of dried out rice. The rice and bean containers are the small 4oz styrofoam cups.

    The tacos are open faced on small tortillas, unseasoned but tender meat, onion, celantro and some shredded jack cheese. Comes with a small container of red and green sauce. The red sauce was watery and tasteless. It was okay for $4.00, you get 3 tacos. All in all though, for my $4.00, I’d rather have had 4 taco bell tacos.

    I have noticed this place slipping the past several weeks. Completely screwed up orders, smaller portions, quality and taste inconsistent. Like I said, I know one of the owners, he’s a great guy but he needs to spend some time training his staff on quality control. I would hate to see this place go down hill and close. Hope they can bring it up to where it was when it started.

  12. UPDATE
    My husband Rick and myself Rhonda took over the ownership of Pollo Loco in Merriam, KS the last week of June, 2009. We see Pollo Loco with an extreme amount of potential with great food, we did notice the low quality that the last comment spoke and we would like to ask all of you to come back into Pollo Loco and see us. We want all of you to know this is a family operated business now and we strive to keep the quality of food, portions, cost and to serve Authenic Mexican food along with some Fast Crazy Chicken. We are making changes daily and would like you to stop by and let us know what you think. Our hours now are M-Friday 6:00am-5:00pm and Saturday from 7:00am-4:00pm. Come by for a Breakfast Burrito in the morning
    Rick and Rhonda

  13. We drove by last night and were not sure if it was Pollo Loco. I was told it was north of Johnson Drive but had no specific directions.

    We wanted to eat dinner but the last post in this blog says they're only open until 5 pm. Is this true? We were there about 6:30.

  14. this place has a different name now.
    It's abot 2 blocks North of Johnson Drive on the West side of Merriam

  15. Sorry for the mix-up JohnE, didn't mean to steer you wrong. I have updated this post with the new info and listed Pollo Loco under closed restaurants.

  16. DLC

    You didn't steer me wrong, I was told about Pollo Loco by someone who had been there a while back. He said it was north of Johnson Drive on Merriam, that was all. We were confused when we drove up to the restaurant and it had a different name. We weren't sure we were even at the right place and ate elsewhere.

    I found your blog today in a search for Pollo Loco and it was clear we were at the right place. Any word on the new place? I may go over there this weekend to see what's up.

  17. […] a year or two ago. Later Coyoacan/Tamales to Go moved into 5816 Merriam Drive, giving way to Pollo Loco, then La Cabana del Pollo, and now, Carmen’s Cocina. I have been a somewhat muted fan of all […]