Fine Chicken

There’s a reason Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle is so focused on redeveloping the region around Anaheim Stadium rather than the city’s historical downtown—Mexicans overtook the latter area long ago. A drive down Anaheim Boulevard finds storefront churches, markets, used auto lots, dress shops with mannequins sporting the latest in quinceañera fashion and cantinas that blare Vicente Fernández tunes from dawn until the next dawn.

But all racesline up in equal numbers outside EL POLLO FINO, a charbroiled chicken shop decorated with photos and paintings of fighting roosters, a bulletin-board collage of boxing cut man extraordinaire Chuck Bodak, and three portraits of Aztec nobles cradling naked, curvaceous damsels. The best spectacle, however, occurs in the kitchen, where the cooks scamper from freezer to butcher counter to grill to takeout counter in a ballet of hen preparation. The cooks butterfly whole chickens and splay them across a blackened open-fire grill, allowing the flames to engulf the birds. Stout Latinas then continually flip the chicken with the ease of a tortilla until both sides are charred, then stack the pollos on top of each other in the corner of the grill.

This process creates a sublime bird. Skin that shines like a Buick and crunches like a wafer encases moist, steaming meat. Bones transform into flavorful, smoky nibblers. There’s a small sheen of grease between the meat and the skin that imparts a fatty flavor to the two. El Pollo Fino’s chicken is so tender it’s better to eschew knife and fork and just tear it apart with your fingers (remember to occasionally dunk the chunks in the restaurant’s watery but fiery salsa). There are heavily carbonated Mexican sodas such as Jarritos and Sidral available, but charbroiled chicken goes best with intensely sweet fruit punches like strawberry and pineapple, which El Pollo Fino brews daily.

El Pollo Fino also sells tacos, tortas and burritos, but I can’t remember anyone ordering anything but the chicken here. And you have to order the beans and rice separately, which I never do: I always get my food to go, which means my mami’s arroz y frijolesawait me at home. El Pollo Fino’s pinto beans and Spanish rice taste just like my mother’s version—that’s the greatest food compliment I can possibly give.

EL POLLO FINO, 723 N. ANAHEIM BLVD., ANAHEIM, (714) 533-1160.

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