Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs. She blogs at goodiesfirst.com.
Country of origin: Guatemala
Locations worldwide: 300+ in twelve countries
NYC locations: One in Washington Heights and one in Corona
Pollo Campero, the KFC of Latin America, is often regarded as the only Guatemalan restaurant in New York City. That's not really the case—but Guatemalan-Salvadoran Tierras Centro Americanas in Jamaica and Bensonhurst's Maranatha barely register outside their communities.
A love of fried chicken, however, is universal.
In 2004, Pollo Campero arrived with fanfare and long lines in Corona and Sunset Park, the popular chain's first New York outposts. The Brooklyn spot closed a year later. Some said the prices were too high for the area, others speculated that the nostalgia factor—Guatemalans are rumored to be so fanatical that planes en route to the US are perfumed with the poultry souvenirs—didn't take hold in the predominately Mexican neighborhood. In Washington Heights and Corona, though, you can still get your Latin fried chicken fix.
Just like at KFC, you can order grilled chicken—but why would you? Instead, opt for a combo meal ($5.99, three dark meat pieces and two sides) or a box ($12.99, eight pieces) of the lightly breaded, mildly spiced fried chicken. The "Flavor You Can't Campero" is attributed to their secret marinade (naturally) and slow pressure-cooking. Spruce up salty, citrusy meat with pico de gallo or pickled jalapenos from the salsa bar.
Sides ($1.89) remind you that you're not at an American chain. Tortillas replace biscuits and gravy is nowhere to be seen (you can have mashed potatoes, though). Highlights include the Campero beans, soupy pintos flavored with cilantro and both bacon and ground pork, and flaky yuca fries that are unusually light and greaseless. Campero rice, the usual tomato-red starch dotted with peas, is merely adequate.
The moist tres leches cake, adorned with a single maraschino cherry, makes for a super sweet finish.
On my visit to the Corona branch, they were out of the advertised tamarindo, horchata and marañón (cashew apple juice), though, so if your heart is set on Latino beverages, it might be broken.
Pollito, the chubby, hat-wearing mascot, will walk you through the company's timeline on the way out the door. They might have to expand that educational wall mural; Pollo Campero has been testing locations inside Wal-Mart and will replace a McDonald's at Disney World later this year. The cheery Guatemalan chain has even pecked their way into China and India. The company's ambitious ten-year plan? 1,750 franchises worldwide.
1391 St. Nicholas Avenue, New York NY 10033 (map)