The Best & Worst Menu Items at El Pollo Loco
Anyone who has ever visited Southern California has driven by at least a handful of El Pollo Loco locations. The Cali-Mex chain is known as the west coast's local answer to Taco Bell and is beloved by both native Californians and tourists alike. Mexican food notoriously hits both ends of the healthiness spectrum, so we recruited Laura Burak MS, RD, CDN, to help us decide which dishes on the El Pollo Loco menu are better for you than others.
To start off, she had a little advice to keep in mind:
"When it comes to Mexican food and this menu, in particular, you have the option to swap out the more caloric saltier ingredients like cheese, sour cream, and rice, and instead sub in more veggies and salsa. Skip tostada shells and giant wraps and ask for a salad base instead," she says.
Now, here are her recommendations of the best and worst items from the El Pollo Loco menu.
Best: 2 Piece Meal, Chicken Leg with Skin
According to Burak, the 2 piece meal is the best choice because it's an appropriate amount of food. When you add the right sides, there is no need to eat any more chicken, so this portion is ideal.
Worst: 4 Piece Meal, Chicken Breast With Skin
The 4 piece meal is the largest plate in this section of the menu, which means that it also contains the highest amount of calories and sodium. When you add on sides and a drink, this meal becomes too much food for just one person to feasibly finish in one sitting. The pieces of chicken alone would total 880 calories! If you're ordering this, you should share it with a few other people.
Tostadas and Bowls
Best: Chicken Black Bean Bowl
The chicken black bean bowl, which is also featured on the Under 500 category, is a fairly balanced meal with protein, carbs, and fat. The dish contains 37 grams of protein, which is as much as you would get from eating almost four servings of Greek yogurt. Plus, Burak notes that the avocado adds healthy fat to the meal for satiation.
Worst: Double Chicken Tostada Salad
The double chicken tostada salad sounds like a good idea, right? You hear the words "double chicken" and "salad" and it sounds like a nutritious homerun. Think again. This salad contains 1,000 calories, which is equivalent to about 10 servings of popcorn. And consuming that many calories in one meal is never your best option.
Burritos and Quesadillas
Best: Original BRC Burrito
The Original BRC Burrito has 410 calories, which is about half the amount (but still an appropriate portion) as any other burrito on the menu. Plus, with 14 grams of protein, it can be a satiating meal.
Worst: Chipotle Chicken Avocado Burrito
The Chipotle Chicken Avocado Burrito sounds innocent enough, but you're looking at a 900 calorie wrap with 2,310 milligrams of sodium, which is equivalent to an entire day's worth of salt. When you add a handful of chips and guac, the calorie count could easily add up to the amount you need in an entire day as well, so you're going to want to choose another burrito instead.
Worst: Chicken Avocado Overstuffed Quesadilla
The "overstuffed" part of this quesadilla says it all. It's packed full of 940 calories and more than 1,800 milligrams of sodium, which is more than enough for two people to share. Because it's the only choice in the quesadilla section of the menu, Burak recommends that you split it with a friend and get a salad on the side.
Best: Double Chicken Avocado Salad
The double chicken avocado salad is the clear winner on this menu because it contains 370 calories and 14 grams of carbs, which is only about one serving and an appropriate amount for a meal. "You could add a few chips with this meal to make it even tastier and still be within an appropriate calorie count," says Burak. Plus, with 48 grams of protein, eating this is equivalent to almost three servings of lentils.
Worst: Chicken Avocado Tortilla Wrap
The chicken avocado tortilla just makes the 500 calorie cut, coming in at 480 calories. Though the calorie count is still low, the sodium content makes up almost half of the recommended daily allowance. With 1,140 milligrams of sodium, finishing this supposedly "healthy" option would be like eating almost five servings of fries.
Best: Large Broccoli
"Veggies will always give you the most nutritional bang for your buck," says Burak. Veggies are the key to providing the most volume and nutrition for the least calories. You can even add on the large serving of the broccoli to any meal, and the additional fat and sodium are minimal.
Worst: Large Mac & Cheese
Clocking in at almost 800 calories, this side is actually substantial enough to be a meal on its own. And with 2,180 milligrams of sodium, that adds up to the same amount of sodium as almost four servings of Spam. No, thanks!