You can smell the scent of burning mesquite at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Harbor Boulevard even before you see the newest location of El Pollo Norteño, OC’s original Mexican-style charbroiled chicken chain. They don’t mess around: mountains of logs sit at the storefront window, ready to get burnt down into plumes of white smoke as holy as anything coming out of St. Boniface Church across the street. For here is the gospel of chicken done right: succulent, smoky, slightly spicy, and cheap.
I’ve been eating at El Pollo Norteño nearly my entire life; my family used to go to the original location off of Grand Avenue in SanTana (knocked down long ago by stupid city redevelopment). But this Anaheim spot makes me excited for many reasons. First off, they occupy the building that use to house Angela’s Boutique, the store run by my Tia Licha for nearly 15 years. The very back of El Pollo Norteño’s parking lot used to be a gravel lot where my dad parked his big rig. And this branch is the best of all, modernized for the mainstream yet keeping its paisa essence, meaning they’re finally ready for the big time. Two flatscreen televisions entertain eaters, along with one of those newfangled digital menus Mexican restaurants seem to love. The menu goes beyond chicken to include great chilaquiles, a hefty breakfast burrito, and even tortas.
But really, get the chicken combos—two piece, or three, or half a chicken or the whole pinche thing, joined by two sides, your choice of flour or corn tortillas and a grilled jalapeño that’ll burn ya. The mesquite treatment leaves the skin golden, the edges transformed into chicharrones, the flesh as juicy as watermelon. Douse it in El Pollo Norteño’s famous red salsa, an onion-forward concoction that doesn’t burn so much as sear. Finally, wash it down with Orange Bang! the best drink in the world to go with charbroiled chicken±—really, the best drink in the world ever. This is what I’ve eaten at least once a month for 35 years—35 wonderful, blessed years. Catch up to me, gentle cabrones.
El Pollo Norteño, 528 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 541-6700. Find other locations at www.polloblog.com