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OC Register Article 2016


The Best Thing I Ate: Mesquite-grilled chicken

Juicy grilled chicken at El Pollo Norteño in Santa Ana is so good you’ll want to order a whole bird.BRAD A. JOHNSON, STAFF

El Pollo Norteño

Where: 1525 W. First St., Santa Ana

When: Lunch and dinner daily

Cost: Half chicken $8, whole chicken $14

Phone: 714-542-0779



(Additional locations were not sampled for this story.)

I kept driving by this place and smelling smoke. It always smelled like a picnic at the park, one of those big family reunions where the crazy uncle has gone slightly overboard with the barbecue pit, but in a good way.

Sometimes when I would drive by El Pollo Norteño, it would look as if there was actually a large celebration taking place in the parking lot in front of the restaurant, where a portable, makeshift barbecue grill sent huge plumes of smoke into the traffic on First Street.

I haven’t seen the outdoor grill in the parking lot lately – it seems maybe they’ve moved it to the back – but you can still smell the smoke from the street most days.

They serve a lot of tasty food here, but there’s really just one reason I stop: the mesquite grilled chicken. The chickens are small, so it’s easy to underorder. I’ve learned to buy the whole chicken, just so I can have a couple of pieces left over to take home. The chicken is juicy and tender on its own, which is how I like to eat it.

Who needs beans and rice when you can eat more chicken? But I also like pulling it apart and dunking it into the restaurant’s bright green salsa, made with fresh jalapeños, and wrapping it in hot flour tortillas.

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