Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken - Delicious Pollution from Oil-Barrel BBQ Grills

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

I never knew just how much pollution there was in Los Angeles until I flew back from Portland a few months back. I've lived here all my life and have been immersed in this gray cake of smog for so long that we've all become so used to it.  It IS the norm.  Proof: there are millions of stars when you look up in a place like Santa Barbara.  But in LA, you'll see 17.  So much for making wishes.  

In addition to thousands of commuters, people that evade smog checks and freight trucks that paint our skies gray, I've recently noticed there's a new contributor to our lovely pollution, that in my opinion, isn't so bad.  But you'll have to part the nose hairs like Moses on the Red Sea to deconstruct the smog.  If you're lucky and in the right part of town, you may hit the goldmine: roadside grilled chicken.  If you read this site, you know that I love street food and wouldn't back down on this.  And I'm glad to share my food findings with you guys.

Besides the obvious preparation of the chicken, there are a few other things essential to this equation.  There's a commonality in the equipment used to produce such a succulent piece of work, that I am most interested in.  Let's cut to a random island out in the middle of nowhere.  You're in your loin cloth with one oil barrel, a soldering iron, a grill plate, matches, charcoal and a few stupid chickens clucking away.  What would YOU do to survive?  Not much probably.  But if your name was MacGuyver, things might change for the better.  How about cutting the barrel in half and soldering them on top of each other lengthwise, adding some legs and a grill plate? Voila, you've got yourself a mean-ass looking BBQ grill.  One that makes a Weber look like a puny Foreman Grill.  When J and I buy a house, I know exactly what's going in the backyard next to my Dora the Explorer jumper.  The grill itself is built to accommodate more meat but still a bad ass piece of work.

Another thing I found to be essential is the type of charcoal used: mesquite charcoal from Sonora, Mexico.  I learned that the vast majority of charcoal production happens in Sonora, Mexico and in Arizona, due to the concentration of mesquite trees.  This particular charcoal really does have a more robust, distinct smokiness that is a palate pleaser.  I've never achieved this taste because I've always used Trader Joe's charcoal mix, Kingsford briquettes and old shoes.  But now we all know how to. 

 A few things before we indulge:
(1) The chickens are usually served with rice, beans and tortillas.  Extra tortillas will cost more.

(2) Grilling takes practice, and not everyone is perfect.  So if you see pink in your chicken, ask them to grill it longer.  

(3) Never settle for the chicken that's already been grilled.  I've waited a good 25-30 mins at places like Dino's and Pollo ala Brasa for my chicken, and it's always worth it.  How do you know if that chicken's been out for an hour, slowly overcooking itself?  Aye, unacceptable.  

(4) Say no to BBQ sauce.  Latinos don't deviate too far from their common culinary rituals.  They've always got a hefty supply of red and sometimes green salsa for you to "dip your chick in."  

(5) If you want to make the most out of your meal, may I suggest this really miniscule, geeky food tip?  Because I am patient enough to wait for a chicken hot off the grill, I'm getting a really hot piece of food.  What happens though is that the food is still cooking even when you've removed it from the heating source and all the juices have not rested.  Once you get your boxed-up chicken, give it 5-7 mins before you eat and you'll find that you've basically caused a mini steam-box that allows the chicken to rest and 'sweat'. The result? A nice pool of chicken broth that tastes so good with tortillas and salsa.  Mmmmm.

(6) I don't usually like to give 'judge's score' on food because I just like eating/talking about food, and not pretend I'm a self-appointed food critic, but because the competition is FIERCE enough to be on ESPN, and within inches of each other, I had to.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6.50 half chicken; $12 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: A+ 
Schedule: Fridays only, 9:30 am to 3 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: B+, 3rd place

I take Adams to work every day off El Diez and spotted these guys.  I missed them twice, getting there too early and getting there too late.  Finally, after a 3-week attempt, I got to try the chicken cooked by this sweet family from Colima, Mexico.  The chicken here was fantastic. Nicely charred skin, generous spicing and strong flavor.  I think the only thing was that the chicken was a bit overcooked.  The hot sauce on the other hand is really pleasant.  The day I picked up the chicken, I bought another 1/2 portion to divvy it up amongst 4 co-workers I've slowly turned on to places I enjoy.  They all came back with me 3 hours later to get their own. Everybody was happy.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $7 half chicken; $11.50 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.  
Hot Sauce: C- 
Schedule: Everyday, 9:30 am to 11 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: C+, 4th place

Amidst all the Korean BBQ places adding to the good pollution quota, this Koreatown vendor is not ashamed to cause smoke signals off Western Avenue.  This one isn't exactly a roadside griller as it is part of a Mexican restaurant.  They just choose to help paint the sky more gray. But I do love the fact that I have basically 12 hours everyday to feed my face with tasty pollo asado and the people are super nice.   The skin was excellent, with that right amount of char. The meat was cooked pretty nicely, but overall, it was a bit light in flavor.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B+ 
Schedule: Saturday & Sunday only, 9 am to 5 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A-, 2nd place

Did you know that good things come to those that take the wrong fucking exit on the freeway? This is how J & I found these cool roadside grillers.  J didn't know to look for smoke signals like I did.  I could see these guys from blocks away because they were lighting up the street.  The skin was very very good – thin and more on the crispy vs. charred side.  Meat was very moist, even the breast meat was good.  I hate that part, it's boring and dry.  Zzzzzzzzzzz.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B 
Schedule: Everyday, 9 am to 9 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A+, 1st place

This roadside griller actually belongs to the cleverly-named Mexican market, Mercado Mexico. Of the four vendors I saw today, this would be the big formidable corporate monster of the roadside grilling industry. With an impressive 4 oil barrel length and at least 40 chickens grilling at one time, these guys will have me back here again in no time.  Skin was nice, but the meat and flavoring was the best in my opinion.  Jeni and I loved it.  It's clear they are doing well when they have that many chickens grilling and a line of 4-5 people buying only grilled chicken.  

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

Los Angeles Roadside Chicken

This is also proof that the roadside grillers of Mercado Mexico have been around for some time now.  I can barely read the sign on top!

The truth is, I'll take any of these places for a meal anyday.  There's something about street food that really arrests me.  The taste of the food?  The honest authenticity?  The unibrow-raising prices.  The hardworking families doing what it takes to see the next day?  Yes, but for me, I'm all about the experience.  

Enjoy. Thanks for reading. 

21 comments:

weezermonkey said...

I'm not sure I've ever seen pollo a la calle! It looks awesome. I love the dirty street sign as proof.

Tricerapops said...

D - you're doing God's work here. Loving it. Thanks for the run down - I've added some of these to the hit list to try.

Gastronomer said...

Love that you cover the LA street food beat. I can smell the smoky chicken right here in Pasadena!

D, Where can I find Asian street food in LA?

Anonymous said...

Looks awesome, when I was in school in Santa B. there was a place that did something similar. Now that I'm back in Hawaii there is HuliHuli chicken, they sell at schools for fundraisers not as gritty or ethnic but delicious.

SinoSoul said...

Glad you took the adventure and did the pollo al carbon tour. Erik M tipped me off to Mercado Mexican last summer and we've been visiting since.

Really love soaking the rice in the chicken jus.

One Food Guy said...

Nice legs, D. I too love a juicy breast. If the food trucks and roadside carts don't come to Boston, I'm just going to have to bring Boston to the food trucks.

I hear the Brig in Venice is crazy with food trucks now. That was the site of my first, and only, Kogi experience! Mmmmmm

e d b m said...

WeezerMonkey, I just made that term up haha. It's more widely known as "pollo asado" or "pollo al carbon". yes, the sign is hilarious.

Tricerapops, thank you, sharing is caring. Did you try Ricky's yet?

Gastronomer, thank you. You know, I talked to Viet of Viet Noodle Bar/Viet Soy Cafe a while back and he had mentioned the possibility of starting a mock 'Saigon Street' fair in a parking lot somewhere in Atwater Village. I'm sure if that happens, it could get some nice attention.

Anon, I saw a place in Hawaii on the way to North Shore called Kiawe Chicken? It's off the H1 highway I think. Thanks for stopping by.

TonyC, yeah man I love that place Mercado Mexico. I think that'll be my first choice for chicken. Oh yes, chicken jusssssssss.

Scott, again let us know when you're in LA and we'll help you grow some manboobs.

Daily Gluttony said...

Ooooh Isaac will be so happy to see this post; he used to LOVE hitting up this one pollo asado stand in Boyle Heights (forgot exactly where it was) when we lived at the loft.

Makes me all nostalgic for the downtown LA days.

RoobnLA said...

Ur street food coverage is unrivaled! Awesome work.

elmomonster said...

Goddamn it! I was in LA last week! Now I have to go back up again! :-)

SinoSoul said...

congrats on pick-up by Food News Journal today!!

The Guilty Carnivore said...

It's really hard to top the combination of grilled chicken and rice no matter how you slice the cuisine/origin.

e d b m said...

Pam! Your old place was so chill, perfect for your reception night. Try out the East LA place, really good stuff.

Elmo, where'd you eat?

TonyC, thanks for the head's up. I've never heard of that site.

Anonymous said...

Ok, here's street food you need to check out, on Saturday, between Stanford and Central on 9th/Olympic(it changes names at some point)in downtown LA, produce area, there is a 2 block area of all sorts of grill action happening. The smells will drive you crazy!!

Elisabeth said...

Ok, here's street food you need to check out, on Saturday, between Stanford and Central on 9th/Olympic(it changes names at some point)in downtown LA, produce area, there is a 2 block area of all sorts of grill action happening. The smells will drive you crazy!!

elmomonster said...

I had an intimate birthday brunch with my lovely dining companion at The Bazaar. Of course, she treated!

Donny said...

ugh! i have been a LA resident for over 20years i never knew about this! now i'm in NYC and i want some of those chicken. i'll go to LA for a whole week if someone wants to set up a food tour. please?

e d b m said...

Elmo, that is one EXPENSIVE brunch haha. we went there once and decided it is too huge of a financial blow haha.

Donny, as with LA and NYC, you give and take. i think about all the middle eastern carts and pizza all the time.

e d b m said...

GC, it's also hard to resist anything with Maggi Sauce. hey man, it was great hanging out with you. you are a good man.

justJENN said...

Damn that's a lot of chicken eatin'!

Hobson's Choice said...

Another amazing food story. I have always relied on Pollo a la Brasa, apparently to my detriment. I never thought to look for the oil drum kings of Los Angeles. Thanks for the doing the legwork. And I loved the photos.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

ShareThis