This chicken will wing its way into your heart

The Sun
AUGUST 3, 1986
Special to The Sun
This chicken will wing its way into your heart
When it comes to chicken, we have lived
with Kentucky Colonel, Pioneer, Church's,
Pail O' and other fast-food fowl factories.
Then, along came the "spices" ó The Crazy
Chicken (El Pollo Loco) with its Mexican
seasoning, and Popeyes with its Cajun
Well, it's about time to put an end to the
controversy over who's better than whom.
For my money, Juan Pollo wins ó wings
Chicken is one of our most versatile foods,
and none of the medical authorities has
singled it out as a health threat. In fact, it
seems to be a recommended alternative to
everything else.
I have had it boiled, broiled, char-broiled,
baked, barbecued, sauteed, deep fried,
steamed, boned, flattened, rolled, stuffed,
shredded, diced, hot and cold ó every way
but raw. I'll bet just about every national
cuisine has its own chicken specialty.
The history of Juan Pollo, not surprisingly, can be traced to Mexico. Albert Okura,
who worked for Burger King for eight
years and Del Taco for three, visited Mexico
with his friend and partner, Armando Parra.
The rotisserie method of cooking chicken
there fascinated Albert.
Following that trip, Armando developed
a secret seasoning. So, combining the seasoning and the rotisserie method, the men
decided to try their luck in the restaurant
business. They opened their first store in
Ontario in January, 1984.
The partners experimented with various
brands of chickens, which have three layers
of skin. Most suppliers pluck the feathers
and the first layer. Armando and Albert
found a company, George's from Arkansas,
that offers daily delivery of fresh birds with
the top two layers of skin removed. They
are a fairly uniform 3 pounds uncooked,
and are less oily than most brands.
and salsa. Believe me, a large family would
cluck for days over this meal.
A half chicken (five tortillas and salsa) is
$3.19 and two pieces of chicken only $1.60.
They also have a chicken sandwich on a
French roll and a chicken burrito for $2, and
a chicken taco, taquito or tostada for 79 cents.
The menu also features a very tasty pollo
rice. The rice is not instant, but real rice,
steamed and mixed with shredded chicken
and green onions. A nice potato salad and
pinto beans also are available. Other side
orders include nachos, corn on the cob and
French fries.
Soft drinks, lemonade, ice tea, Hawaiian
punch, orange and pina colada bangs come in
small, medium and large at 50 cents, 65 cents and 79 cents.
To cook the birds, they boil water, then add
the special seasonings and the chickens, 50 at
a time, which are marinated for four hours. A
French-style rotisserie made by Old Hickory
in New York is used to cook the birds.
Eighteen spits, each sporting four birds,
flank a central, vertical gas heater. Juices and
fat cascade onto other birds below and end up
in a troth, never sputtering on the flame. The
chickens turn slowly for two hours, until they
are a golden brown.
The result is absolutely the juiciest,
tenderest, most succulent chicken I have ever
eaten. The marinade penetrates the flesh and
spreads its delicious flavor throughout, not
just in the skin.
Haven't you always wished the rest of the
chicken tasted as good as that first bite? Well,
this one does. I was so enamored of this
chicken, I went back four times the first week
and even drove to Ontario to meet the owner.
Now the prices. A whole chicken with 10
corn tortillas and salsa sells for $6.39. Flour
tortillas may be chosen instead, but you must
specify. If you buy two whole chickens
($12.78), you get one free, plus 30 tortillas
The decor is standard fast-food: an order
and pick-up counter with booths and table
in bright, cheery colors. A pleasant, young
staff seems as excited about the product as
I am. Mario Manzo is the manager of the
San Bernardino branch, which opened on
5th Street near Mount Vernon in January.
The original is at 1702 South Euclid Avenue
in Ontario.
Owner Al Okura tells me he sells more
than three tons of chicken a week in Ontario,
and I don't doubt it. San Bernardino ought
to be good for five tons, once the public
catches on. All the employees are bilingual,
so you may order in English or Spanish.
I predict that Juan Pollo ("Johnny
Chicken") will become the most popular
bird in the area. I can't crow loud enough!
Norman W. Baffrey is Cultural Director of the City of San Bernardino, is
author of the "City Cookbook" and
has taught gourmet cooking classes
for many years. He is also a member
of the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association.