El Rey Del Pollo – Albuquerque, New Mexico
My environmentally-conscious, Prius-driving friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” Silver has a much smaller carbon footprint than that carbon credit-trading hypocrite Al Gore. No environmental activist would ever condemn Sr. Plata for fouling the air and water with a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, he leaves large “al carbon fingerprints,” the finger-licking kind you get from frequenting restaurants which specialize in pollo al carbon, chicken prepared over charcoal.
Pollo al carbon has spoiled Sr. Plata. He craves those juicy, spatchcocked, golden-skinned birds speckled with black char, chicken so meaty and delicious it makes store-bought rotisserie chickens look positively anorexic in comparison. Who can blame Sr. Plata? Made well, pollo al carbon is absolutely addictive. “Finger-licking good” might be a cliche, but there’s truth to this one particular cliche as it applies to al carbon.
Over the years, Albuquerque’s Mexican restaurants haven’t exactly been beacons of light pointing the way for seekers of pollo al carbon to sate their maws with full repast. Certainly not like Sr. Plata’s birthplace of Los Angeles where you can’t toss the leg bone of a chicken without hitting another poultry place. During our culinary excursions, Sr. Plata and I thought we had discovered the motherlode in El Pollo Real Colombiano, but our dalliance was short-lived. Pollo Real closed its doors in 2014. Then there was El Chicken 100% Carbon, a mobile kitchen (that’s food truck to you, Bob), but that love affair didn’t last either. El Chicken closed down in 2015.
By any math, fuzzy or otherwise, that’s four years without pollo al carbon. It’s been perhaps my biggest failing as a fowl-following friend that I haven’t been able to find a purveyor of Sr. Plata’s favorite poultry. You can imagine our shared delight when mi amigo Mexicano Carlos told me about El Rey Del Pollo #2 on the southwest intersection of Bridge Boulevard and Goff. El Rey Del Pollo translates from Spanish to “King of the Chickens,” a sobriquet Carlos told me is very well-earned. El Rey Del Pollo #1 is in Santa Fe, the number designating it launched before the Albuquerque restaurant. The El Rey Del Pollo restaurants are owned by brothers.
The name on the marquee bears the subtitle “Asado Al Carbon Estilo Sinaloa,” charcoal-grilled chicken as its made in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discover there’s more on the menu than charcoal-grilled chicken. Much more…but first: The charcoal grilled chicken is available in three sizes–entero (whole) medio (half) and quarto (fourth) and two styles: jugoso (juicy) or dorado (golden). If you like your pollo al carbon with a little more char, you’ll want it prepared dorado-style. A whole or half chicken includes a basket of warm corn tortillas (not made on the premises), picked red onions, salsa and chips, a baked potato, a quesadilla, a chile toreado and refried beans. It’s a treasure trove of deliciousness.
The menu showcases pollo in other ways. There is, for example, flautas de pollo desebrada (shredded chicken with cream, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, avocado and salsa). You can also have tacos, quesadillas, loaded baked potatoes and burritos constructed from the charcoal-grilled chicken. Three burger options (and you know how creative Mexican chefs can be with burgers) are sure to please as is the carne asada (grilled beef). It’s a menu sure to appease most of us with a carnivorous bent. There are no fountain drinks, but a nice array of bottled soft drinks are available from the fridge.
30 October 2019: During our inaugural visit on a frigolorific November day, we had the place to ourselves, giving me the opportunity to practice my Spanish with a very amicable server. Both Sr. Plata and I ordered the medio pollo asado, half a grilled chicken cooked over charcoal coals. For just a little more than a sawbuck, we enjoyed a virtual feast. First to our table were the chips and salsa with the pickled red onions. Every meal should start this way. Pickled red onions were new to Sr. Plata who enjoyed them on top of the chips as well as nestled in the warm corn tortillas. The salsa was pleasantly piquant with sweet notes punctuating the savory-acidic bowl while the chips were crisp vehicles for scooping up large amounts of salsa.
30 October 2019: Ferried over to our table next were refried beans with melted shredded cheese and a baked potato nestled in a foil jacket and sprinkled with a generous bounty of queso blanco. I’ve long contended that no one, not even the English pubs I frequented for years, make better baked potatoes than Mexicans. Though these were a bit on the smallish side, they were perfectly prepared–soft without being mushy, moist, lightly buttered with mild cheese. Though both Sr. Plata and I prefer baked potatoes the size of basketballs, we put more of a premium on flavor than we do on size. These were quite good. So were the refried beans even though they weren’t prepared in lard.
30 October 2019: The medio pollo asado consisted of four pieces: leg, thigh, breast and wing. Roasting chickens slowly over a bed of charcoal imparts an inimitable smoky flavor that permeates the blackened chicken skin well into the tender, moist and juicy chicken. Mexican cooks have no qualms about blackening the chicken skin, obviously cognizant that the results are flavorful and satisfying. Only a novitiate would even think of discarding the chicken skin as they might be inclined to do with rotisserie chicken. The chicken breast is a bit on the dry side, but that’s often the case with chicken no matter how it’s prepared. We both had our pollo asado prepared “jugoso” style for optimum juiciness, but will opt for dorado next time. The more charcoal flavor, the better.
30 October 2019: Atop the small mountain of steamed corn tortillas were two quesadillas, basically corn tortillas sandwiching a layer of soft, gooey melted cheese. The cheese is likely queso Oaxaca which has the perfect gooey consistency all quesadillas should have. It goes without saying that the quesadillas would be even better with chorizo or, even better, more of the pollo al carbon. Heck, you could put some of that chicken on a flip flop and it would be made edible.
15 November 2019: During our second visit, both Sr. Plata and I opted for a medio pollo asado as we had during our inaugural visit. There was one difference, however. This time we asked for it to be prepared “dorado,” a term which translates from Spanish to “golden.” What was delivered to our table wasn’t a golden-hued chicken, but one that had been charred very well. It was a trade-off. Order your pollo “jugoso” and you get a very moist chicken. Order it “dorado” and you don’t get quite as much moistness, but you do get a beautifully charred bird with the addictive flavor of charcoal-grilled poultry perfection.
26 February 2020: An argument could be made that when it comes to imaginative hamburgers, no one does it better than Mexican restaurants. It could also be argued that burgers at many Mexican restaurants wouldn’t make Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay very happy. Flay declared “when people pile seven things onto one burger, it drives me nuts.” Here’s the list of ingredients on the hamborguesa al carbon at El Rey Del Pollo: ham, cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, jalapeño and of course, the charcoal-grilled beef patty. That’s nine ingredients between sesame seed buns. The amazing, but not surprising if you’re an aficionado of Mexican burgers, is that they all work together. Now, they would work together even better if the beef patty was thicker. A burger with nine ingredients warrants eight-ounces of beef at least. With the characteristic al carbon flavor, it would be one of the best burgers around.
After finishing our second medio pollo asado, I asked Sr. Plata how he would rate El Rey Del Pollo using the Gil’s Thrilling scale of 1 to 30. He pondered the question with the air of deep profundity akin to a philosopher contemplating the meaning of life. He considered portion size, flavor, ambiance and service before initially delivering a rating verdict you can’t argue with. El Rey Del Pollo warrants a 24 he declared. He is the poultry paramour, the chicken connoisseur, the ambassador of asado, after all.
If you aren’t already acquainted with the incomparable aromas and flavors of chicken prepared over charcoal, let the “king chicken” introduce you to what may be a lifelong addiction as it has been for Sr. Pollo…er, Sr. Plata.
El Rey Del Pollo
1720 Bridge Avenue, Suite H2
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 26 February 2020
1st VISIT: 30 October 2019
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Half Chicken Meal (Refried Beans, Corn Tortillas, Quesadilla, Papa Asada), Hamborguesa Al Carbon