Rotisserie League: El Pollo Rico

 
 
Whether it’s grilled, roasted or rotisseried, Austin’s had cheap Mexican-style chicken for years. Now a new place called Fresa’s sells a $24 version. This calls for a six-round showdown. Let the feathers fall where they may.
 
Round 2: El Pollo Rico
1945 E. Oltorf St. 512-444-7426, www.pollosricos.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
 
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 06.26.12
 
This is the shop that sparked my curiosity over $24 carryout chicken from Fresa’s, because $24 is almost twice the going rate for a similar chicken dinner at any one of this chain’s six locations in the greater Austin area. I’ll save the comparisons and ratings for the end of this six-part series, but here’s a report from the cheap seats.
 
What you get: The No. 1 combo ($13.39) includes a whole chicken, small sides of rice and beans, six corn tortillas, a whole grilled onion, red and green salsas and, if you order inside rather than driving through, access to a salsa bar with pico de gallo, limes, sliced cucumbers and fresh onion with jalapeño strips. A half-chicken combo is $7.69. A whole bird with tortillas only is $11.69.
 
The takeaway: How can a chicken be chopped into eight pieces and have no thighs? Breasts, wings, legs, backs, yes. But no sign of my favorite piece of dark meat, unless they got lost in the irregular strikes of the cleaver. This is sloppy chicken, chopped along random lines with chalky bone fragments at the edges. I’m sure it was charcoaled, judging by the bitter black splotches scattered over the bird like fireborne lesions. This is chicken under duress, rangy, thin and dry, like it had lived a desperate life.
 
It tasted like it’d been dropped in the backyard after it came off the grill, an idea planted when I saw how dirty the store was. Dirty from the outside in. Parking lot, exterior walls, windows, floors and almost every empty table cluttered with trash and food-speck. One employee stood eating by the drive-through register while another chatted with a friend over the counter, unaware or unconcerned. Meanwhile, somebody could have fixed the chicken problem with a few hard passes over the grill with a wire brush. Or a sandblaster.
 
At the salsa bar, the creamy green sauce had started going bad in the room-temp bin. I know, because a single-serving of the same sauce pulled from refrigeration behind the counter was fine. Charro beans are sometimes a saving grace at these al carbon shops, but after this chicken dissection gone wrong, I had no heart left for the hard wads of mystery meat flotsam in the turbid stew.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
ROTISSERIE LEAGUE
 Coming next: H-E-B Mi Tenda