El Pollo Loco Menu Hacks That Will Change Your Life

Even if you don't live in California, Texas, Arizona, or anywhere near the American southwest, you've still probably heard of El Pollo Loco. That might be because you know someone from one of those states who can't walk into a local chicken joint without telling everyone about the greatness of El Pollo Loco "back home." Or, possibly, because you heard the story about Brad Pitt getting his start as one of the chain's giant chickens on the street, luring unsuspecting customers off the sidewalks of Los Angeles. 

But whether you're an El Pollo Loco regular or just looking to try it on a trip where there is one, what you see on the menu isn't the end of all they offer. There's all kinds of healthier – and unhealthier – options to discover — as well as some cool ways to save a few bucks in the process. Here's how to hack the El Pollo Loco menu and maybe even impress that person you know who talks about it All. The. Time.

There are fish tacos at El Pollo Loco, though that's sometimes a secret

Ordering fish tacos at a place that literally has "chicken" in the name might seem a little like ordering a salad a steakhouse. But if you've got an insatiable lust for fish tacos, El Pollo Loco is happy to help. After all, the first El Pollo Loco in the U.S. was in Southern California, and if you're in that part of the country, fish tacos are a must. But at Pollo Loco, you can't just saunter up to the counter, look up, and pick the ones you want — the fish tacos are on a special, secret menu.

According to Secret Menus fish tacos at the crazy chicken were once kind of an urban legend. This was because while some El Pollo Loco locations had developed fish tacos for their secret menus, others had not. So, if you went to the one by your house in LA and told a friend in Sacramento you'd found fish tacos, they might show up at their local El Pollo Loco and think you're a big, fat liar. Fortunately, fish tacos are secret menu items in almost all El Pollo Loco spots now, and they're even part of the regular menu in some places.

Here's how to save $3 on your El Pollo Loco chicken burrito

Reddit truly is an amazing place, where if you follow the right threads you can literally learn how to make tens of thousands of dollars in the stock market and bankrupt a couple of hedge funds in the process. And while making oodles of cash on GameStop sounds cool, you know what's a lot more practical, and way lower- risk? Saving three bucks on a burrito at El Pollo Loco.

This, at least, is what we learned from Redditor opi8, who showed the world you can order a Rice, Bean and Cheese (RBC) burrito and ask to add shredded chicken, which will save you almost $3 on any of El Pollo Loco's chicken burritos. A quick check of El Pollo Loco's menu shows the RBC burrito clocking in at $1.49, a full $4.50 less than any other burrito on the menu. The upcharge for adding chicken is only a couple dollars, so, voila, you've just gotten a chicken burrito for, as opi8 claims, under $4. Still, they warn, "Sometimes they get pissed at me for requesting this, but more often than not, I manage to pull it off."

El Pollo Loco's avocado salsa can be added to anything for free

A certain, semi-competing fast-casual chain whose name rhymes with "shmipotle" is notorious for informing customers guacamole costs extra at every possible moment. And while El Pollo Loco will also charge for avocado slices and offers chips and guac as a side, you can enjoy the restaurant's avocado salsa atop literally anything on the menu for free.

Heather Gardea, El Pollo Loco's Vice President of Research & Development who is also the company's Executive Chef, suggested to Mashed that adding the avocado salsa to a tostada is perhaps the best non-traditional use. But Gardea also advised that the sauce can be used as a dressing for anything on the menu: Avocado salsa can be drizzled inside tacos, stuffed in burritos, or even stuck alongside those massive El Pollo Loco family chicken dinners, if you want to dip your on-the-bone chicken in the saucy, tangy avocado goodness. The best part is there's no charge to add the avocado salsa to your meal, so if you're hankering for the flavor but don't want to add to your tab, it's a perfect option.

How to get an order of fried serrano peppers with an El Pollo Loco family meal

El Pollo Loco's family dinners are generally some of the better values on the menu, and you'll get anywhere from eight to 16 pieces of chicken and two or three large sides starting at just $20. The sides range from the traditional rice and beans to cole slaw, or even salad and broccoli if you're trying to cut carbs. But if that's not enough for you, you need only ask to get a little extra kick for free.

"Make it spicy," Heather Gardea, El Pollo Loco's Vice President of Research & Development, advised to Mashed readers. "Ask for a side of fried serrano peppers to enjoy with your family chicken." 

If you've had them, you know the serranoes at El Pollo Loco aren't particularly tear-inducing, so even if you're leery of spicy foods, this one should be ok. And hey, any time you can get a restaurant to throw in something for free, it's an opportunity not to pass up.

How to cut carbs with cauliflower and broccoli at El Pollo Loco

In 2020, El Pollo Loco recognized that the quarantine-induced sedentary lifestyle that many were slipping into needed more healthy dining options. And by the end of that year, the restaurant answered that need by introducing a whole slew of less caloric choices on its menu, which included revamping the popular Pollo Fit Bowls to include double citrus marinated chicken, organic super greens, and a new cilantro-lime cauliflower rice.

"We are proud we are able to offer our customers organic ingredients and low carb options like cauliflower rice that are simply not available at quick service restaurants," Bernard Acoca, President & Chief Executive Officer at El Pollo Loco, said in a press release.

But the healthy stuff isn't only available in those bowls. You can also put cauliflower rice — or you can ask for broccoli if you're feeling extra keto — in traditional bowls, burritos, or anything else with a starchy base, meaning that post-Pollo Loco rice bloat can now be a thing of the past.

Swap rice for chips in your El Pollo Loco bowl for ultimate nachos

On the other end of the calorie-counting spectrum, if you like all the glucose-spiking carbs of rice but need juuuuust a little more fat thrown in for good measure, you can also sub tortilla chips for rice in every rice bowl on the El Pollo Loco menu, as Food Beast discovered in 2020. But as delicious as having a big bowl of tortilla chips topped with citrus marinated chicken, pico de gallo, sour cream, and avocado sounds, perhaps taking a quick look at how many calories and fat grams you'll be adding is in order.

According to El Pollo Loco's nutrition guide, a Grande Avocado Bowl (what we just described above) with chicken clocks in at 780 calories, with 26 grams of fat. While the guide doesn't break that down by ingredients, assuming the bowl has a standard side of rice as its base, 160 of those calories and 1.5 grams of fat come from rice. Sub that with a standard side of tortilla chips, at 200 calories and 11 grams of fat, and you've now added nearly 10 grams of fat to your bowl (although the calorie count only goes up by 40, to 820). 

Many of Ell Pollo Loco's "secret" recipes can be made at home

Though El Pollo Loco doesn't divulge its secret recipes to the general public, the internet is awash in ways to try and make the chain's food at home. It doesn't take much more than a Google search to find the recipe for pretty much anything on the menu, but the most common seem to be the avocado salsa and, of course, the chicken. 

The salsa, according to Just a Pinch Recipes, isn't much more than an avocado mixed with a jalapeno, cilantro, white vinegar, salt, water, and onion.The chicken gets a little more complicated, as this recipe from Food. starts with pineapple and lime juice, then adds everything from garlic to oregano to yellow food coloring into the mix, to give it that signature El Pollo Loco "look." 

Does it taste exactly the same? Probably not, and with eight-piece meals for $20, we're not sure how much money you'd be saving, necessarily. But trying to re-create El Pollo Loco at home might be fun anyway, especially when you start tweaking the flavors to see if you can do better.

Sub avocado for chicken to make almost anything at El Pollo Loco vegan

In early 2020, El Pollo Loco made news by introducing an entirely new line of menu items with an all-vegan Chickenless Pollo line with mock chicken made from soy protein. At the time, El Pollo Loco President and CEO Bernard Acoca announced proudly that, "evolving our customer favorite Chickenless Pollo innovation takes us another step further in the plant-based space." (via Eatery Pulse). And while the pollo sin pollo is an admirable advent, those who want good old fashioned vegetables to make their meals vegan can do that too — if they know how to ask.

Mitu actually broke down 21 ways to make El Pollo Loco meals vegan, most of which simply involved asking for stuff without cheese, chicken or cilantro dressing. The big takeaway from the story, though, was that you can sub a fresh avocado for chicken in pretty much any item. So, if you want a chicken black bean bowl without chicken or chickenless chicken, you can still be left with more than just a bowl of rice and beans.

You can order chicken without the skin at El Pollo Loco

While it should excite any health-conscious fast-casual connoisseur that you can order chicken without chicken at El Pollo Loco, there are those out there who still enjoy a good piece of poultry but don't particularly like dealing with the greasy, slippery skin. And for these clean-handed few there exists a special section on El Pollo Loco's secret menu, where skinless chicken is available to anyone smart enough to ask.

According to Secret Menus, El Pollo Loco offers a boneless, skinless chicken breast that still maintains all the smoky, citrusy deliciousness of the skin-on stuff, with roughly half the fat content. Now, some might argue this takes away much of the signature El Pollo Loco flavor, but if you're one whose palette skews more towards spicy that savory, you won't notice much of a fall-off. And you will definitely feel lighter — and cleaner — after your meal.

The El Pollo Loco Smoky Mountain black Bean burrito lives! If you know where to look, that is

Not that the good folks at El Pollo Loco have anything against black beans, per se. It's just that the modern iteration of its menu has only a handful of items that include black beans. And one of those is...a side of black beans. They're somehow lost behind the copious amounts of charro beans on the menu, and while we're not exactly sure why El Pollo Loco shows such bean favoritism, we're sure they have their reasons.

One of the casualties of the chicken chain's move away from frijoles negros was the once-beloved Smoky Mountain Black Bean Burrito, an epic wrap filled with, you guessed it, black beans. It really didn't differ too much from the current BRC burrito, except that it had a figurative mountain of black beans inside. Secret Menus suggests simply ordering a BRC with an extra portion of black beans to recreate the Black Bean Burrito magic. And if you get a cashier who's been working at the venerable chicken chain for years and has no plans to ever leave, they might just give you a knowing grin.

If you're watching carbs, El Pollo Loco has surprisingly good options

Not that it comes as a huge shock that a restaurant whose business model is based around a protein has lots of options for those on a low-carb diet. But if you're hankering for something a little more interesting than just a straight piece of chicken during your next El Pollo Loco trip, there's a simple way to ensure you're not fueling up like a marathon runner without even knowing it.

According to Secret Menus, pretty much anything on the El Pollo Loco menu can be ordered "carb free," which of course isn't completely accurate because even stuff like broccoli has some level of carbohydrates. But the phrase can at least ensure you're not getting any tortillas, rice, charro beans, or other stuff that would make Dr. Atkins roll over in his grave. Again, it's not a feature that's prominently posted on the menu, but if you know what to say, El Pollo Loco is happy to accommodate.

Dip your El Pollo Loco chicken in Mexican vinaigrette salsa

Mexican vinaigrette isn't exactly a salad dressing you find on grocery store shelves across the country or, really, anywhere other than El Pollo Loco. The chain introduced the dressing at the end of 2020 as part of an effort to make its menu more health conscious, according to a press release. The new dressing replaced the old citrus vinaigrette, and is "Keto Certified" with no high fructose corn syrup, according to the company.

This, of course, might lead some to think El Pollo Loco has replaced the salad dressing flavor as well, but rest assured, this is not the case. It's got the same crisp, citrusy kick as its predecessor, though admittedly, it's not nearly as sweet. Still, Heather Gardea, El Pollo Loco's Vice President of Research & Development, told mashed that dipping your chicken straight in the sauce for a lower-calorie keto treat is the way to go. It's not particularly indulgent, but it is a marked bit healthier.