500 Tacos: El Pollo Regio
An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Pollo Regio
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 10.19.15
Competing in my pollo asado Rotisserie League, El Pollo Regio came out on top in the cheap charcoal chicken game, beaten only by the decidedly not cheap Fresa’s. Regio at William Cannon succeeds with good counter service, low prices and a remarkably well-stocked salsa bar.
The taco: Pollo asado al carbon
You can order beef, pastor and barbacoa tacos at El Pollo Regio, but that would be like getting a turkey club at Geno’s Steaks in Philly. At Geno’s, you order cheesesteak; at El Pollo Regio, you order chicken. A charcoaled, bone-in half-bird will run you $9.20 with rice, grilled onion, stewed bacon pinto beans and five grilled corn tortillas. From there, the taco assembly line is in your hands. The bird walks the slippery line between juicy and greasy, like good street food. I throw in breast, back, thigh and leg meat, with skin and salty bits of blackened char for color and big backyard charcoal flavor. The rest is between you and the salsa bar, but my ideal Pollo Regio taco starts with rice, sweet grilled onion, hot pickled pink onion and spicy cabbage escabeche.
► Tortillas: White corn tortillas from a bag, lightly grilled and wrapped in foil for steam-pressed flexibility.
► Salsa: This William Cannon location of El Pollo Regio is built on a fast-food model, but its salsa bar is better than all but a few of the Mexican restaurants up and down the Austin food chain. Six salsas, pickled onions, fresh limes, pickled jalapeños, cabbage escabeche, all of it kept in cool stainless steel pans on a carefully labeled and meticulously clean salsa bar by the drink machine. On the cool, chopped side, there’s a mild tomatillo, a basic tomato red and a roasty ground molcajete with herbs and lime. The creamy, dressing-style salsas include a slow-building jalapeño, a chile de arbol like spiked espresso and a sweet orange habanero that catches fire like sparks in dry grass. They turn the blank canvas of that roasted chicken into a pop-art taco buffet.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)