The Sun SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY SUNDAY / $1 AUGUST 3, 1986 METRO EDITION By NORMAN BAFFREY Special to The Sun This chicken will wing its way into your heart DINING OUT 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 touch. 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 down. 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.