Got a chance to visit the infamous Pollo Campero at Olympic and Union last night and wanted to share some thoughts. After hearing that this place grossed over a million dollars in sales the first seven weeks of their opening (vs $800,000 yearly sales for average KFC) I figured it was worth a try.
Worth a try? Yes. Will I be back? Maybe if I'm in the area and got the real hunger for fried chicken. Otherwise, I'm off to Phillipe's!
We got there around 7:30PM and the place was packed at the numerous booths. Counter service was busy but only about 5 or 6 customers ahead of me in line (good thing, because I was NOT gonna wait an hour or more like many have talked about). Hmm, only a "B" grade from the health department...well, "B" is still passing I guess. Uh oh, problem #1...there are no menus in English! Yikes. My Spanish is mooey bad (see what I mean?) once I get beyond counting to ten (from Sesame Street 30+ years ago). Luckily the pictures helped, and I did recognize 2 words - "extra crispy" (as opposed to "tradicional"). The chicken I saw was a much darker, reddish brown that fried chicken I am used to. I ordered 10 pcs, bread, 12 nuggets (I forget what they are called) and an order of fries (some kind of frites). They were running low on the nuggets so they tossed in an extra piece of chicken. Little did I know until we got home, but they also gave us some cole slaw, potato salad and mashed potatoes. Did I order these? As we needed to head towards home, we got out of the area (not the safest, especially at night) and munched on the way down south to Orange County.
The chicken certainly has a different flavor to it...one which I liked but did not go gaga for. My wife tolerated it, and our 3+ year old son, who has been on a huge chicken kick lately, took a bite and said "water, please" (or "aqua, por favor"), and left the rest of the nuggets for us to finish. The chicken was not greasy and almost seemd like a cross between roasted and fried... not a thick coating, but a very flavorful one, with some (and I'm guessing here) paprika and chipotle mixed in to the spiced coating. No verdict on the sieds yet, but the fries were decent and the bread very good (even our son liked that!).
I can see how a native Guatemalen or others from Central and South America can embrace such a place (heck, I'm a native Chicagoan who goes on quests throughout SoCal for great pizza and italian beef!), but not having it as a cultural food phenomenon in my life I can't say it was anything special. If I moved to Japan and saw a KFC open up, I'm sure I'd flock to it as well. Pollo Campero is obviously well-loved by the Latin culture, but to make it a success in American culture, especially in attracting a broader customer base, a menu board (or even a hand-out menu) in English would be a good start.