Just went to Dino's for the first time, after having heard steadily about it on the board for the last year. It is, indeed, a good goddamn grilled chicken. I quite liked.
It is, if you haven't been or haven't read the innumerable posts about it, half a chicken, marinated in vinegar and a ton of spices, grilled up, and served, with vinegary juices, over thin fries. With a medium soda, exactly five bucks.
So: very moist, tender chicken, with very nice sour, tangy, multi-spiced sauce. The all-hands-below-deck-brace-for-impact sort of hit encourages fast gobbling. Fries are particularly good.
It is an essentially flavorless chicken. I mean the chicken meat itself. It's the kind of ultra-juicy, not-really-chicken tasting meat you get out of those big, pumped up, hormoned-to-hell birds. I'm not speaking here as some kind of dyed-in-the-wool hippie organic free-range type. There is a place for free range intensely chicken-tasting chicken, and a place for big-bloated-ultramoist chicken.
Dino's basically understands that it's got basically flavorless chicken, so it uses it as basically a texture base, on which it lays a blast of vinegar and spice.
Compared to the other Great and Notable chickens of Los Angeles:
It and Zankou have a similar level of addictive spicing. Zankou's chicken tastes a little chicken-ier and has, when you're lucky, a more perfectly crisp skin - it also has, frequently, oodles of near-gross grease. Dino's lacks both crisp skin and the risk of ultragrease. A lot of the moisture is just pure juice and sauce.
Lulu's (is that the name? Peruvian chicken joint in Glendale, near Porto's?) is maybe the master of delicate, complicated spicing. Dino's is more of a down-home, blast-through-your-drunkeness, carnal sort of spicing, Lulu's a more elevated, pretty thing.
My favorite roast/grilled chickens in Los Angeles remain, however, the Issan grilled chicken at Sapp Coffee House and the roast chicken at the Western and 8th Pollo a la Brasa. Both have a kind of balanced intensity of spicing pushed up against the intense flavor of actual chicken. Especially Pollo a la Brasa's bird, which is seriously, seriously chicken-y.
It's sort of like the Stevie's vs. Flossie's divide in fried chicken. Stevie's has more fascinating, powerful spicing in the batter, and a more perfectly excecuted, astoundingly crunchy batter. But they start with crappier meat. And, for me at least, half the point of frying chicken is intensifying the flavor of the chicken. Flossie's starts with relatively high quality chicken - what results is this kind of purified, concentrated nectar of chicken that dribbles and drools around inside the crust.
What I guess I'm saying is that, in the end, there is something to Sapp, Flossie's, and, most especially, Pollo a la Brasa, that satisifies some deeper corner of my soul then Dino's. All the multivarious spicings on the Sapp and Pollo bird seem to be complements, little supportive companions that hold hands happily with the flavor of chicken.
I think it's this: as I left Dino's, I kept smelling my fingers and enjoying the smell of vinegar, turmeric, cumin, all that stuff. A nice bouquet. But what I didn't smell at all was chicken. (The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Lulu's).
When I leave Pollo a la Brasa, when I leave Flossie's, I reek of *chicken*. I smell of chicken to my core. It takes me half a day to stop smelling of chicken.
I love that.
(Also: can somebody explain to me why Aunt Kizzie's is supposed to be so good? I got from the technically correct, crunchy, soulless fried chicken, with no savor or intensity or beauty at all. No soul lift, compared to any of the places named here.)