El Pollo Picante – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

El Pollo Picante in the Journal Center area

Pollo asado, marinated grilled chicken, has been a staple in Mexico for years, but save for those pockets within metropolitan areas heavily populated by scions of Mexico, it hasn’t made significant inroads throughout the fruited plain. Mexican grilled chicken restaurants seem to fly under the radar, unbeknownst to much of the local populace outside the Mexican neighborhoods in which they’re clustered. Many grilled chicken sahops–even in Albuquerque– operate in ramshackle, lilliputian buildings not much larger than roadside stands.

In the 1980s, El Pollo Loco, a Mexican grilled chicken chain expanded into the United States, launching in about a dozen states including New Mexico. Today, the chain operates in five western states (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas and California) as well as in Illinois (and in episodes of Breaking Bad), but despite expanding beyond its grilled chicken niche to include burritos, quesadillas, salads and more, it hasn’t been able to compete significantly with the popular pseudo Mexican concept restaurants.

Empty tables at 11:30AM. It’s almost criminal for a restaurant which services such good chicken!

After Albuquerque’s erstwhile El Pollo Loco restaurant–which operated on San Mateo (in the location which currently houses Siam Cafe)–closed, it would be more than a decade before another Mexican grilled chicken restaurant would open in a heavily-trafficked commercial area.   In May, 2012, El Pollo Picante launched in the Market Place at Journal Center just a few doors down from Torinos @ Home. My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, a discerning diner, was one of the restaurant’s first guests, enjoying it so much, he’s returned several times…and he brought me with him.

El Pollo Picante is owned and operated by Steve and Cindy Lee, a genial Korean brother and sister who know what they’re doing behind a grill.  Whether you’re visiting for the first time or have become a regular, you’ll receive the type of personalized attention you can’t help but appreciate.  Cindy will take your order while Steve mans the gas-fired grill visible from the counter where you order, evoking the captivating aroma of marinated chicken being expertly grilled.  To anyone who’s ever enjoyed Mexican grilled chicken, that aroma is an aphrodisiac, a siren’s call.  It’s an irresistible lure.

A half chicken, beans, rice, pico de gallo and salsa

The aroma is a preview of poultry perfection.  It’s mouth-watering truth in advertising.    The marinade penetrates deeply into the meat, turning the skin an ochre hue and imbuing it with a seasoned flavor.  If you’re of the habit of discarding grilled chicken skin, this skin will break you of that habit.  It’s crispy without being dry and it’s thoroughly delicious.   The hot flames of the grill sear in all the spices and tangy goodness of the marinade. A half-chicken order (dark meat) gets you two wings, two legs, two thighs and two thighs.  As with all chicken–grilled, roasted, rotisseried, baked or fried–the most moist and juicy pieces are the thighs.  You can also request all white meat if you prefer.  The breasts are snowy white, tender and surprisingly moist.

At the risk of committing sacrilege, El Pollo Picante’s Mexican grilled chicken blows away the chicken at El Pollo Loco and the Chicken Flameante at Taco Cabana. Similar to those restaurants, Polo Picante chicken is accompanied by Mexican inspired sides: beans, Spanish rice and corn tortillas. These sides are wholly unnecessary. They’re also not especially good…maybe the caliber of airline food (not the peanuts and pretzels). Luckily they’re served with pico de gallo and salsa. These are good and do greatly improve the flavor of the beans and rice.

Teriyaki Beef

When it first opened, El Pollo Picante’s menu was pretty much limited to Mexican grilled chicken, but has since expanded to include teriyaki chicken and beef as well as a curry plate, all Korean style. My friend Señor Plata and I are applying our charm to convince Cindy that the menu should also include KFC. No, not that greasy chain chicken. KFC stands for Korean Fried Chicken and it’s the rage among savvy diners in Los Angeles. The pairing of Mexican grilled chicken and KFC would make El Pollo Picante a formidable poultry presence.

While researching the blogosphere for information about El Pollo Picante, I happened upon a refreshing new food blog called “Once Again We Have Eaten Well.”  Written by Edward Sung (a long time friend of this blog) and his lovely better half Hannah Walraven, Once Again… is a delightful change of pace from the mundanity of most food blogs.  The blog employs a novel conversational approach so entertaining and realistic, you’ll  find yourself transported to the table with Edward and Hannah. It’s almost as good as being there with them.

El Pollo Picante
7600 Jefferson Street N.E., Suite 5
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 1 August 2012
1st VISIT: 30 July 2012
BEST BET: Half Chicken

El Pollo Picante on Urbanspoon

6 thoughts on “El Pollo Picante – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Just saw that El Pollo Picante is closed! 🙁 I’m so bummed about this – I guess my comments didn’t drum up enough business. I absolutely LOVED their chicken and the owners were so nice and welcoming…

    My taste buds are weeping a little bit…:-(

  2. I figured I would add another comment to try and drum up business because I don’t want this place going away.

    Had “lunch” here on Tuesday. I say “lunch” because is was about 2:30 in the afternoon. I had a busy day and didn’t have time for lunch at the regular time. When I finally had a break, I found myself in that part of town.

    So happy I was there. I always forget how good this chicken is and how great the owners are. Like I said before, add the pico de gallo to the beans and add some hot sauce to the rice and you are good to go.

    The chicken is the star here, and what a star it is. The 1/2 chicken is enough for me (and I have a “healthy” appetite). I have been known to take home 1.5 chickens for the family, and fully expect to have some leftovers for lunch the following day.

    To put it simply…I love the chicken here!

  3. Agree whole-heartedly about the chicken. Great grill flavoring.

    Now I actually ended up enjoying the sides, and here is how:

    The chicken is good and needs no more salsa whatsoever. I put the green tomatillo salsa in the beans and the red salsa with the rice. The pico de gallo was used mostly in the rice, but some of it was used in the corn tortilla and chicken skin and chicken meat. MMMMM.

    Great owners too, very welcoming. Hope they make it as I went last Friday at about 11:45 (what one would think would be the lunch rush), and there were two other people there and two more walking in as I was leaving.

    Spread the word so this place makes a go of it. Haven’t had good grilled chicken like this since Marco Pollo (used to be up near Eubank and Montgomery – where the Whole Hog Cafe is now).

  4. Joined Sensei for a treat, some delicious char broiled chicken that had great flavor and was worth returning for. Not sure about the beans and rice, they needed to be made special, maybe having black beans or adding other herbs like cilentro to the rice. What made this trek fascinating is the owners are a brother-sister team from Korea running a Mexican Chicken place with Teriyaki Bowls. They have a great idea. Now imagine having that awesome chicken with Kimchee or what if, just what if they served Korean Fried Chicken with other tasty delicacies?? I love Korean food, I like Mexican food, what specialties can these 2 owners concoct that will bring people out. I ask my fellow foodie bloggee’s to come here and help these 2 owners be wildly successful and find a niche that can go beyond the imagination. Is there such thing as Korean Dim Sum, just think out of the box (but not forgetting its all about the box). Glad to see Ryan is fond of it, lets bring it on!

  5. Moist, juicy chicken? Check.
    Nice people running the place? Check.
    Conveniently located? Two minutes from my office. Check.
    Best Chicken place in Albuquerque along with Pollito Con Papas? Check.
    Side dishes? Nope. Just eat the chicken. Trust me.
    Break The Chain, brothers and sisters!

  6. Thanks for the shout out, Gil! And thanks also for reviewing El Pollo Picante — I’m a fan of their chicken (absolutely better than El Pollo Loco) and they deserve all the positive word of mouth they can get!

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