Going into El Rey Del Pollo, I felt like I was reviewing the place for the third time and, in a way, I was.
Understand, I'd never before eaten the flame-grilled organic Mexican chicken that is El Rey Del Pollo's specialty. But I have reviewed restaurants at that location first Mashita Korean BBQ and, later, May Keen Chinese restaurant.
I liked them both, and especially liked the friendly, personal service at May Keen. I was sorry to see it close. But a bit of those previous eateries survives at El Rey Del Pollo, in the long, high-backed banquette running down one wall, and in the same friendly, informative service of those other two places.
I'd never been to a Mexican chicken restaurant, and the owner was great about answering questions and making recommendations. At this type of restaurant, whole chickens are split down the back, laid out flat, liberally seasoned and grilled until they've got a beautiful, dark-brown sear all over. (You can watch this process at the Fort Union location).
Then, each chicken is cut into pieces and served alongside grilled peppers and onions, various side dishes and tortillas. You can make all sorts of tortilla-rolled combinations with the sides and the fresh pico de gallo that comes with everything.
At El Rey Del Pollo, you can order a two-piece combo suitable for one person or work your way up to a 16-piece family meal that features two whole chickens. On the weekend night that we visited, my kids and I shared the whole chicken meal, which was more than enough for the five of us.
The chicken was cut into eight pieces, each of them hot, meaty and flavorful. Our kids took some convincing to eat chicken off the bone members of the nugget generation, they were amazed when their father and I explained that, when we were kids, drumsticks were the child's portion of a chicken.
In fact, El Rey Del Pollo offers kids' meals of chicken nuggets, but I think it's good to stretch those little horizons now and then. Besides, once we'd shown them the juicy meat on those bones, their enthusiasm increased markedly. They also liked the beans, firm but tender, in a milky broth, and the Mexican rice studded with corn.
My husband had a chicken chimichanga, plumply crisp and with rice and beans on the side. Besides the chimi, the menu also offers shrimp empanadas, ribs, the kind of hard-shell tacos that are cooked after their fillings are added, and a baked potato stuffed with chicken, pico de gallo and mushrooms.
We also shared a bunch of tamales, one of my favorite foods. My favorite was the corn tamale, simple and classic and very moist, but I liked them all: the sweet, mild pineapple tamale; the shockingly pink strawberry; the spicy cheese and jalapeno; and the pork, which had quite a kick of its own.
Besides the sweet tamales, which made nice desserts, we shared a bowl of creamy rice pudding (best when we let it warm up to room temperature) and sipped lightly sweet pineapple juice and strong, milky horchata.Chicken combo meals $5.99-$23.99, entrees $5.99-$7.99, tamales $1.25, dessert $2.59.
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org