This post is sponsored by El Pollo Loco, but all opinions are mine alone.
When I first moved to Houston in the summer of 1997, one of the first things I noticed was the sheer number of restaurants. People ate out constantly. I gained ten pounds that summer, a lovely cushion comprised mostly of Tex Mex. Houston is a city of FOOD. So when a restaurant like El Pollo Loco arrives, what is to separate it from all the other eateries serving burritos and tacos? Turns out, PLENTY.
I had a chance to experience El Pollo Loco at a special blogger menu tasting last week and I absolutely can’t wait until the restaurant arrives this fall in Houston. The best way I can tell you what separates El Pollo Loco from the others is to take you through the way it hits your five senses.
One of the unique things about El Pollo Loco (and there are several) is the way they prepare their marinated, fire-roasted chicken. To keep the skin on the chicken, their chefs developed a special method of chopping the birds after they come off the grill. When you enter El Pollo Loco, it will be to the sound of cleavers on cutting boards. Thwack! Thwack! is the sound of your lunch or dinner being separated expertly at its joints. It is a glorious sound. The sound of confidence— people who know their way around meat.
I did not get to set foot inside an El Pollo Loco because they are on their way to Houston, but not here yet. But one of the signature things about each restaurant is the giant grill. You will watch whole chickens as they roast on the flaming grill and then get to see them being cleaved. Can I say exciting? Especially if you are with your kids. Two things my kids love: fire and things getting chopped up. Not that we let them get much exposure to either, but I know. (Because I kind of love both as well.)
All food involves touch, but what makes El Pollo Loco stand out here is the attention to texture. Take the tacos from the Under 500 Calorie section of the menu. They are served on an artisan tortilla, a DELICIOUS blend of corn and flour. Inside, you will be hit with the crunch of fresh cabbage (if you haven’t had cabbage on a taco, don’t question, just go with it) and the juice of the citrus-lime marinated chicken. One of the chefs made the point that especially when you’re trying to eat healthy, texture is vitally important. You might find a low-calorie soup that tastes great the first bite. Or two. Then your mouth gets bored because everything is the same texture. Your mouth will feel alive eating off even the Under 500 calorie menu at El Pollo Loco. Not just because of taste, but the variety of texture in each bite. And in the far from Under 500 category, the Cheesecake Chimichanga with its cool and creamy cheesecake inside of a warm tortilla will rock your world.
If the scent that I experienced for my tasting was any indication, stepping inside El Pollo Loco might result in olfactory intoxication. When you walk into a restaurant, you want your stomach to react to the smell in the air. Fresh ingredients, freshly cooked, invoke an immediate and intense response to your physiology. Citrus-lime marinade; fresh cilantro, onions, garlic; fire from the grill—these are the scents that will greet you as you walk into the restaurant. From the preview I got last week, El Pollo Loco is going to overwhelm your sense of smell—in a very good way.
I left the obvious sense for last. I have eaten my way through a lot of Houston. That being said, I can assure you that El Pollo Loco stands out. Even the steamed broccoli—not something that you would normally think of as memorable in a good way—was perhaps the best broccoli I’ve ever had. This tells you that El Pollo Loco takes great care with every item on the menu. The creamy, rich cilantro dressing and the pillowy rice were both amazing. The warm cinnamon Churros and the Cheesecake Chimichangas were incredible. But my favorite thing was the signature of El Pollo Loco: the citrus-lime marinated, fire-grilled chicken. It is a beautiful thing. And available as a family-style meal for four, which I plan to utilize for my family as soon as they roll into Houston.
If I haven’t convinced you that something amazing is coming to Houston that will dazzle more than just your taste buds, then you’ll have to come see for yourself. Very, very soon. I’ll be sure to let you know when El Pollo Loco arrives!