Last Saturday, by 7:30 p.m., a line snaked to the door, and every table was taken inside the Grand Prairie location of Pollo Salsa. The air outside was a bit too chilly for most to enjoy a meal on the large patio, though some did.
Pollo Salsa prides itself on their flame-grilled birds. A huge open grill lines the back of the kitchen, and flame-kissed meat is constantly shuffled about. The menu includes a range of Mexican food options, such as burritos, enchiladas, tacos, salads, fajitas and the popular asada fries. Margaritas and beers help wash it all down.
The best thing about this spot though? The vibe. I can’t explain exactly the source of that vibe, but it’s just good.
Orders are placed at the counter, customers are given a number and then they're on their own to secure a table. When I was there, families of six, seven or eight squeezed into booths built for four (with the little ones stacked on top of each other) while they scouted for larger tables to open up. A stack of chairs near the restrooms is useful for adding one more spot to a booth.
At a table next to us, a young man was so intently focused on his chicken, rice, beans, Bud Light and margarita, I’d wondered if he’d eaten in a week. He had a routine for squeezing lime over a bite of chicken before tucking it into a part of tortilla and slathering it in salsa. He never looked at his phone or the TV, like he’d been planning this meal all week and wanted to do nothing but enjoy it. Alone. No distractions. Taking his time.
Kids slurped bowls of soup and tables shared stacks of nachos. Several tables had a plate of grilled chicken in the middle to share (an order of six pieces is $11.75).
Time passed by quickly, and about 20 minutes after we ordered, our food was brought out to us. We loaded up on salsas, pickled onions, limes, a big wad of napkins and quickly got messy. My three-piece chicken meal came with two sides and tortillas and cost $8.50.
Daniel Castaneda, an owner and general manager, opened the first Pollo Salsa in Carrollton in 1989, then this spot in Grand Prairie back in 2001. The latter has garnered a whopping 47,000 Facebook followers.
Castaneda attributes the packed booths and popularity to their emphasis on customer service and from-scratch food. I asked about recipes and the cooking process, and he explained it’s all based on home cooking.
“These recipes were handed down from our parents and other relatives in the states of Sinaloa and San Luis Potosi,” Castaneda says. “And our food has been prepared the exact same way from day one. It takes longer, yes, it is more work, yes, but it is worth every bite.”
Castaneda shared a bit about his grilled chicken technique and recipe.
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“We use a good size whole chicken, cut it open, marinate it in all fresh and natural ingredients for at least three hours,” he says. “Then, off to our giant, open-fire grills. Our pollo is always served fresh off our grill to our customers to ensure it is always super hot, crispy on the outside and juicy inside.”
Castaneda added that customers can actually hand pick their birds. You don’t hear that often.
They recently added UberEats to their ordering options. There is a drive-thru, but the night we were there it was closed. No matter: I suggest going in and experiencing the full vibe.
Pollo Salsa, 709 W. Pioneer Parkway, Grand Prairie. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.