There’s something magical about El Pollo Loco. Unless you live on the West Coast, you may not have heard of this regional fast food chicken chain, but it’s truly something special (and delicious). Their chicken is marinated in a unique blend of garlic, citrus, and spices that’s virtually impossible to replicate at home, but fans of this restaurant already know that. But there’s a lot that even they don’t know about “the crazy chicken.”
While El Pollo Loco is now technically a U.S. 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 U.S. location opened the following year.
All of the American locations were acquired in 1983 by none other than Denny’s, which allowed the Ochoa family to retain ownership of all of the Mexican locations. Denny’s sold the company in 1999. It is now a publicly-traded company under the name El Pollo Loco, Inc.
When Juan Francisco Ochoa sold his company to Denny’s in the ‘80s, it came with the agreement that his family could still own the franchise in Mexico. To this day, the Ochoa family still runs the locations across Mexico privately. They still specialize in selling marinated grilled chicken, just south of the border.
In 1995, the company made it into the record books by rolling up the world’s largest burrito; it was 3,112 feet long and weighed two tons. Unfortunately, the record didn’t stand. The current record holder is Canirac La Paz in Baja California, which built a 12,786-pound, mile-and-a-half-long burrito in November 2010 — all with a single flour tortilla.
The company has created two charitable organizations: Fire-Grilled Fundraisers, an initiative for nonprofits to hold fundraisers at El Pollo Loco locations and El Pollo Loco Charities, which provides more than 10,000 meals every year to underprivileged families. They also support causes such as literacy, bilingual education, and shelters for women and children.
El Pollo Loco is insistent upon using only fresh ingredients, and that includes their signature chicken. Each day, the average El Pollo Loco restaurant goes through 147 full chickens every day, and they’re never frozen. Other items on their menu, including the cilantro, avocados, tomatoes, and hot peppers, are also 100 percent fresh.
What would a chain restaurant be without a few hacks and secret menu items? If you’re low-carb or just not a huge fan of tortillas, you can easily order El Pollo Loco’s burritos, chicken tortilla soup, and bowls without the carbs. Just say you want it “carb-free.” If you also want to hack your way to a healthier fast food meal, you can order your chicken without the skin.
Perhaps because it originated in Mexico, El Pollo Loco has succeeded where other Mexican food chains have failed. The Ochoa -owned El Pollo Loco chain in Mexico has over 50 locations across the country. Meanwhile, in America, attempts to bring El Pollo Loco to Atlanta, Boston, and Portland have failed. But that just makes it one of the many regional chains we wish were national…
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