Saturday night the Herndon policeman told me that the line was shortest when they first opened in the morning. Thinking that meant 5 or 10 minutes I was there at 10:10AM today (Sunday) for what I thought would be a very late breakfast (of sorts!).
Approximately 54 people seemed to have the same idea because that's how many were in front me in the queue. At 11:17 I finally made it to one of their two registers to order. During the wait there was not one single person in this line that I heard speaking English; many seemed to know each other for what appeared to be a kind of social event where friends and neighbors joined in local conversations in the line. Virtually no one ate in the restaurant-I don't think that more than five or six of the 54 sat down. Almost everything was carried out. And virtually everyone was carrying out a lot. Most had larger bags and seemed to be shopping for a group at home. Which is kind of what I was doing. The line itself moved very slowly at times because they literally ran out of chicken every ten minutes or so and had to wait for more to finish cooking.
I bought chicken breasts, nuggets, cole slaw, french fries, spicy rice and beans, passing on prepackaged pie and their chicken wings.
The cole slaw was prepared deli style slaw similar to what you would find in any grocery store, the french fries were frozen shoe string potatoes, the spicy rice not very spicy rather fairly plain and very dry yet the beans were excellent similar to what you might find at Rio Grande. The nuggets were large, dry and basically flavorless. After eating one each my wife and I threw the rest away with the rice and most of the slaw.
The chicken was delicious, very moist and juicy-succulent actually-in the center meat. These were large breasts with a kind of batter on them. I believe the reason the meat is so juicy is because of either brining or an injection of liquid during marination. Overall, excellent fast food chicken. But for both of us not nearly the best. For comparison I honestly believe that Popeye's spicy chicken WHEN THE GREASE THAT IT IS FRIED IN IS CHANGED THE NIGHT BEFORE is the best fast food chicken I've had. The words in capitol letters are extremely important since I believe they only change this grease twice a week. Filtered every night of course but not physically changed every night. Years ago I used to time visits to Popeye's for mornings after the grease was changed. Forty years ago I briefly had a part time job working for Chicken Delight (!) where we would change the grease twice a week and filter it every night. I also remember when the first Popeye's opened here at 12th and H Sts., N. E. in the mid '70's. I was back there the next day I liked it so much. I have to say though that the fried chicken at Pollo Campero is the first fried chicken that I have had in over two years-I have tried to stay away from it because it is so fattening. Still, both my wife and I believe that Popeye's at its best is better.
But the best fried chicken I've ever had is not Popeye's. In a restaurant it's Stroud's in Kansas City where it is fried in a black cast iron skillet. Locally, Crisfield's original restaurant in Silver Spring used to do this. I believe Stroud's fries their chicken in Fluffo while I've made fried chicken myself in a 100 year old seasoned skillet (Never washed with soap!) with Crisco, Fluffo and other shortenings believing immodestly this to be the best I've ever had.
Pollo Campero in my opinion is a taste from home with decent sides overall (very good beans) but no better than Popeye's or Bojangles at their best. It is excellent fast food chicken and probably the first fried chicken that many of those in line every day ever had in their native countries. Even if there was no line I probably would not go back, but then again, I haven't been to Popeye's in a long time. For those in line I suspect they are going back again and again but not just for the food, perhaps as much for memories of when they were at home.
Overall I much prefer the rotisserie Peruvian chicken at outlets like Crisp 'n Juicy.
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