500 Tacos: El Pollo Rico

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
El Pollo Rico
704 W. Stassney Lane, Austin (map), 512-444-7474
Hours: 7am-10pm Mon-Thu; 7am-10:30pm Fri-Sat; 8am-10pm Sun
Also at: For more locations, including 9 in the greater Austin area, see www.pollosricos.com
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 10.31.15
Like its rival chain El Pollo Regio, El Pollo Rico played a part in my Rotisserie League series covering pollo asado al carbon — Mexican-style charcoal chicken. Unlike Regio, Rico was a trainwreck that time, from sloppy cooking to a sloppier restaurant. It’s better this time, and both chains have stepped up their game. Regio still did better in this 500 Tacos series, but this El Pollo Rico location — with drive-throughs on both sides of the building and a tiny, flickering fluorescent dining room — kept its grill, salsa bar and reputation in the game.
The taco: Pollo asado al carbon
 If there’s any doubt about El Pollo Rico’s dedication to charcoal cooking, it disappears behind the railroad column of smoke pouring from the roof vents. It makes the whole neighborhood — from Thriftland and Golden Chick on one side to the Time Warner Cable offices on the other — smell like an Austin barbecue lawsuit. That intense aroma sinks deeper into the chicken than it does on your uncle’s Weber grill, without the drinking and right-wing tirades. Half a chopped, grilled chicken with plain Mexican rice, thin borracho beans, a grilled onion and seven warm corn tortillas costs $8.99, easily enough for four tacos with rice and beans left over. My El Taco Rico gets chicken from the leg and breast along with bronzed skin, rice, escabeche, pico and green salsa. The chicken is hot, tender, smoky and joyfully greasy. For humble drive-through pollo asado, it gets the job done.
 Not chicken: Going against the notion that you don’t order hooves at the feather factory, El Pollo Rico’s carne asada taco piles on cubes of steak with some of the same charcoal character as the chicken. At $2.99, it’s not in the same value class as the chicken DIY tacos, but it’s an option for the beefeater in your group.
 Tortillas: White corn tortillas from a bag, notable for their soft steaminess right out of the foil.
 Salsa: If you use the drive-through here, you miss the in-store salsa bar, with free access to fresh limes, pico de gallo, jalapeño-onion escabeche and three salsas. There’s a tomatillo-jalapeño salsa with medium heat, a hotter dressing-style jalapeño green sauce and a mild chunky red with stems and seeds and lots of cilantro.
 Breakfast: El Pollo Rico offers a limited breakfast menu every day until noon, including breakfast tacos, burritos, tortas and, because why not, croissants.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)