Rico Pollo won't fly on Federal, but San Antonio Mexican Bakery rises above the fray
In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard - south to north - within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on my next stop....
For all the taquerias, pho shops, diners and loncheras that make Federal Boulevard such a rewarding food destination, Rico Pollo has never beckoned me. Chicken just isn't that interesting. Still, I will concede that when chicken is done right, if the skin is crisped or even slightly charred from the oven or grill and the juices mingle just right with the seasonings, it can be a satisfying and inexpensive meal. So that's where I set the bar when I walked in at lunchtime on a sunny Saturday. Cheap and tasty -- how hard can that be?
- Cafe Chihuahua is pregnant with possibilities
- Andy's Kitchen Asian Express is worth a risky left on Federal
- At Granny Annie, the Southern cuisine is pretty peachy
- At 4G's on Federal, the food is not the topic of conversation
I was even tempted to skip Rico Pollo and claim the "chain restaurant" defense. From what I can gather, there are at least three Rico Pollo shops in the metro area. But they don't seem to be related to restaurants with similar names in other parts of the country, so I stuck with my plan of covering local (but not national) chains: places like this one, Bubba Chinos and Jack-n-Grill. What this really means is that I'm taking one for the team here.
Entering Rico Pollo, I was greeted by a shabby interior and the strong aroma -- unsurprisingly -- of grilled chicken. I had a full view of the kitchen from the dining area, which I'm not convinced was a good idea. While I ordered my meal, several whole chickens landed with a thud on the open grill -- thrown from the open door of a walk-in cooler several feet away. I had just watched Beasts of the Southern Wild the night before, so I half-expected to hear someone shout "Feed up time! Feed up!"
Dark meat is generally moister and more flavorful than white, so I ordered the quarter-chicken dark meat combo, which came with soupy, completely unseasoned refried beans, what looked and tasted like instant rice, some steamed corn tortillas, and two pieces of marinated and grilled chicken -- a drumstick and an odd cut that was part thigh and part back.
The seasoning on the chicken was barely detectable and the grilling had not imparted any additional flavor. It was properly cooked, but rather than firm and juicy, the chicken was oily and mushy. Although a grilled green onion and whole jalapeño had been added as garnish, the plate was a sad mess.
The name of the game here is chicken, chicken and more chicken, so deep-fried flautas and smothered burritos are also available -- stuffed with, you guessed it, chicken.
So much for low expectations.