Bow to the bowl

A bowl fit for a bachelor at El Pollo Loco.

A bowl fit for a bachelor at El Pollo Loco.

El Pollo Loco

It all started in 1980. Disco was out, and Cyndi Lauper was in, along with a recession. But as this decade progressively gave birth to New Wave—and me—it also brought forth the savior of the fast-food industry: El Pollo Loco. Yes, the crazy chicken. This wasn’t the Americanized Mexican slop that Taco Bell was serving; it was the real deal. Well, almost.

In its humble beginnings across the border in Mexico, El Pollo Loco began with a man stealing all of his mom’s recipes and opening up shop. Slowly, as it grew in fame, restaurants spread north to California. But while most things fake get their start in Southern California, El Pollo Loco was different. It was authentic.

Today, like most anything else more than 30 people like, El Pollo Loco is a thriving chain. With locations popping up every three days or so, it happened most recently in my neck of the woods, northwest Reno.

On various trips to the house of the crazy chicken, I found a plethora of menu options. There’s marinated chicken slow-roasted over an open flame, with all the juiciness of a piece of KFC but without the unhealthy fried fat. There’s the authentic-tasting taco al carbon. There are tostadas and hefty taco salads and chicken tamales. But most importantly, there are bowls.

At first glance, these nondescript black bowls of food don’t seem like much—at least, not enough to make an entire meal. But as soon as you behold the bowl’s power, you see that it is a healthy, tasty and filling meal.

Working from top to bottom, the Nacho Pollo Bowl begins with a dollops of sour cream and guacamole, which are, of course, optional. Then come bite-size chunks of that famous marinated chicken enveloped in Spanish rice and beans. Then, as a dénouement to the meal, an outer layer of tortilla chips surrounds the rest of the food. Accompanying the bowl are three warm tortillas—a nice gesture, if you ask me. They don’t have to do that, but they do.

When you purchase a bowl, you’re not just getting a bowl with the ingredients above; you’re getting three meals in one. If nothing else, it’s like the best pile of nachos I’ve ever had. But it doesn’t stop there. With its partner, the tortilla, a bowl can instantly morph into a burrito. Alternatively, it can be eaten in its unadulterated form with a fork. Or any combination of the above. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

The enormity of this invention is marked by its march into the freezer section of every grocery store and Costco in America. For bachelors, the bowl’s efficiency is nothing short of a marvel. It is my hypothesis that the bowl is an early stage in the evolution of the pill-sized meals they ate on The Jetsons—it’s small, but it packs a mighty punch.

Now, while El Pollo Loco may not be the originator of the bowl, the restaurant does make a healthy representation of it. And with many other menu options, the bowl makes for one of the healthiest yet tasty fast-food options out there.

I’m loco for the pollo, man. Loco.