We've done Middle Eastern chicken, we've done cold, leftover chicken, but we've never done Mexican-type rotisserie chicken cooked by Asians, until now.
Big deal, you say. What's the difference? Chicken is chicken.
Not at all; the marinades are different, the sides are different, the clientele is different. And so this week's edition of Dueling Dishes is Anaheim's King Pollo (which is actually owned by Koreans) and the Santa Ana outpost of the local Mexican chicken chain, Juan Pollo (started by a Japanese guy). Half a chicken from each, which provided both light and dark meat, with the same three sides offered at both: rice, beans and potato salad.
King Pollo's chicken was golden on the plate, but a bit oddly cut. Once I dug in, though, the payload was evident: moist, juicy chicken with crispy, but not burnt, skin. The white meat especially was cooked just barely to the point of doneness; the dark meat was quite good but a little bit drier.
The sides at King Pollo, however, were mostly disappointing. The beans were the best bet, with a little zing to them. Tortillas were Mission-type standard; rice is rice, but it suffered for sitting. The potato salad was a disaster, dry and flavorless--I never thought I'd write this, but it could have used more mayonnaise. Props for the salsa, though, which was citrus-y and had just enough bite without being overwhelmingly spicy.
Juan Pollo's chicken was no great looker on the plate: darker skin with burnt ends and a scrawny leg. While it tasted fine, it was definitely not what one could call "moist." It needed help from the salsa, which would have been fine, except for the earthy, distracting chunks of cooked carrot in it. The tortillas were exactly the same as King Pollo--I'm pretty sure they're Mission brand, because the machine striping seems awfully familiar.
The other sides, though, were great. The potato salad struck a good balance between mayonnaise and potato, the beans were firm enough to retain their shape upon being spooned out and had a nice herbal taste (epazote?), and the rice was much better, with herbs strewn throughout the cup.
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So which is better? King Pollo sprang, as it were, from the loins of Juan Pollo (the original owner was a cook at Juan Pollo), but has it passed its master?
The sides are indubitably better at Juan Pollo; the chicken and salsa are much better at King Pollo. Since the point of a chicken battle is the chicken, the winner has to be King Pollo. That's not to say Juan Pollo is a bad choice; I eat there a lot, since it's quick and near my office.
King Pollo is located at 530 N. State College Blvd. in Anaheim; (714) 758-1191.
Juan Pollo is located at 1231 W. Memory Ln. in Santa Ana; (714) 550-0507. Other OC locations are at 1200 W. Ball Rd, Anaheim; (714) 821-3333, and 1100 E. La Habra Blvd., La Habra; (562) 690-5333.