Popularity of ‘Pollo’ Hits North Texas

Grilled or fried, white or dark, chopped or whole, the popularity of "pollo" is growing in North Texas. 

Pollo means chicken in Spanish. Drive around North Texas and you may see new signs for four restaurant chains popping up. Those chains are Pollo Campero, Pollo Regio, Pollo Tropical and El Pollo Loco, the newest entry into the DFW market.

Walk into each brightly-colored restaurant and you're bound to smell chicken cooking and the sound of Latin music. But that's where the similarities end.

El Pollo Loco grills its citrus-marinated chicken directly behind the check-out counter for an hour before serving.

In 1975, the chain started in the state of Sinaloa in Mexico. It spread to California in 1980. El Pollo Loco arrived in North Texas in 2016 after first establishing locations in Houston and San Antonio. There are 450 locations nationwide.

"Texas has been good to us," said Carlos Ortiz, franchise business director at El Pollo Loco. "Since our menu is based on original Mexican recipes, I think people relate a lot to the food."

Ortiz prefers not to call El Pollo Loco "fast food."

"We make it fresh everyday," said Ortiz. "We cook it as you order and we prepare it as you order it."

There's a very different flavor at Pollo Campero. It started in Guatemala in 1971, arriving in California in 2002 followed by Dallas in 2004. It offers two types of chicken.

"We are the only ones in that platform that can give you a fried and grilled chicken option that you can pair with a Latin side," said Rodolfo Bianchi, vice-president of operation services.

Bianchi said the Guatemalan way of making fried chicken is a little different than the southern United States tradition.

"Our technique that we use for cooking is that we use a light coating that doesn't feel greasy at all," said Bianchi.

Dishes of chicken are often served with Yucca fries or sweet plantains. Or customers can go with more "traditional" American sides of salad or rice.

In 2004, Pollo Campero debuted in several Hispanic neighborhoods around Dallas. But it's new Lewisville location is part of a new business strategy.

"[Lewisville has] a lot of diversity in terms of the demographics we're looking for," said Bianchi. "Now we are appealing to a broader customer base." 

Florida-based Pollo Tropical opened 16 stores with Dallas/Fort Worth within the past year, though a recent report by the Star-Telegram reported eight of those locations were slated to close. The chain's grilled chicken recipe is inspired by Caribbean flavors.

Pollo Regio specializes in chicken grilled over charcoal. It started in Austin but Dallas/Fort Worth is its largest market.

These outlets help feed an American appetite for meat that has recently switch a preference from beef to chicken. According to Marketplace.com, Americans eat a yearly average of 89 pounds of chicken versus 54 pounds of beef and 50 pounds of pork.

Although the Latin restaurant theme is growing at the same time as the Hispanic population is also growing, NBC 5 crews observed workers and customers of all ethnic/racial backgrounds eating the food.

Bianchi said the popularity of pollo is part of Americans' wishes to engage diversity with food and experiences.

"We are all coming from different places in the world," said Bianchi. "You can go to a Vietnamese place. You can go to a Japanese place."

"But in our Latin world, being able to bring you flavors, bring you the freshness, bring you the sabor [flavors]... not only from a theoretical perspective but also from the smiles, from the culture... I think it's a great thing."

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