If you’ve ever paid a visit to El Pollo Loco, which has more than 400 locations all across the country but primarily in California and the Southwest, then you’ll know that there’s something special about it. When you base your company on chicken, it had better be good, and these guys are doing it right. But even if you’re a regular customer, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about “The Crazy Chicken.”
The first American location of El Pollo Loco opened in 1980 at 503 Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, and today it’s headquartered in nearby Costa Mesa. By 1991 there were 200 locations, and three years later the company introduced what would become one of their hallmarks: the self-serve salsa bar. The chain has changed owners several times over the years; before becoming a publicly traded company in July of 2014, its owners included American Securities Trimaran and one other company that may surprise you.
The chicken, obviously, is the star attraction. Many people have attempted to duplicate the recipe — which the El Pollo Loco website says involves marinating in “a unique blend of garlic, citrus and spices” — with varying degrees of success. The most popular copycat recipe seems to be this one from food.com, which involves an overnight marinade in a pineapple-lime-based mixture and a long, slow grill over indirect heat. But even if you can make a somewhat close facsimile at home, there’s really nothing like the real thing.
So read on to learn nine things that you most likely didn’t know about this popular chicken chain. If you live in a part of the country where there aren’t any (there are currently U.S. outposts only in California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Arizona), then make sure you drop by one the next time you’re near a location. There’s a reason it’s a cult favorite!
It Originated in Mexico
While El Pollo Loco is technically an American chain, it has its roots in Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico. That’s where founder Juan Francisco Ochoa opened the first location in 1975. Within four years it had expanded throughout northern Mexico, and the first American restaurant opened the following year.
It Was Once Owned by Denny’s
All of the American locations were acquired in 1983 by none other than Denny’s, who allowed the Ochoa family to retain ownership of all of the Mexican locations. Denny’s sold the company in 1999.