Undercover checks out three chicken joints
Good eats at, from left, Cowboy Chicken, Raising Cane's and Pollo Campero.
When the Uber driver finds out you’re heading to Cowboy Chicken for lunch and is only half joking when he invites himself along because the rotisserie meat “is just about the best there is in Dallas,” expectations jump even higher. The food lives up to the hype at Cowboy Chicken, known for its slow-roasted-on-a-spit, wood-fired chicken that in real life is as succulent and flavorful as the online imagery suggests. A “Quarter White” order for $7.99 gets you a sizeable piece of skin-on breast meat, a roll and two Wild West sides (the baked mac and cheese and corn fritters are winners). There’s also a selection of chicken sandwiches, enchiladas and salads, plus a whole bird option. A counter filled with brown paper to-go bags illustrates a robust takeout and catering business. While the line stretches to the door at noon on a Thursday, employees are friendly and efficient, with food runners bringing plates to the booths and tables, each designated with a number placard. Rows of whole chickens, slowly turning over the flames and intentionally visible through a viewing area, are just enough to distract from the clutter.
The upshot: The food is as advertised at Cowboy Chicken, where the aroma, sight and taste of wood-fired meats keep your mind on the meal and not the occasional messy tables. — LM
When people order chicken fingers at a typical restaurant, they are generally a child or have the palate of a child. But Raising Cane’s has the ability to turn sober adults into gleeful chicken-finger-eating maniacs— err, make that Caniacs. The 361 Raising Cane’s restaurants serve up almost exclusively chicken fingers with crinkle-cut fries, coleslaw and Texas toast being the only sides. The menu is so laser- focused that there is just one dipping sauce. When the chicken fingers are this good—and wow are they good—you don’t really need much else. The chicken fingers are ensconced in a just-right crispy breading on the outside, succulent and juicy on the inside. The toast is a strange, long sesame bun that has been lightly griddled to toasty perfection. And the fries…well, they’re fries, and fries are great. Some say Cane Sauce—a thousand-island like dipping sauce—isn’t enough, that they need honey mustard, they need barbecue and they need buffalo sauce. And they’ll say it while they inhale a basket full of chicken fingers dipping in that one-and-only sauce all the way. While we’re all used to a bevy of sauces, options and add-ons, indulgent food doesn’t need to be complicated.
The upshot: This is not exactly an experiential brand unless you count a disco ball as an experience, but who cares when the chicken fingers are this delicious. —NU
Ever wonder how consumers feel about your franchise? Editorial staffers Laura Michaels, Nick Upton, Tom Kaiser and Beth Ewen check out three brands in a different genre each issue, and report back.
Pollo Campero is different from the other chicken players, because it’s a Guatemalan-based company expanding into the U.S. rather than the (more typical) other way around. During the depths of a cold Minnesota winter, where FT Undercover resides, the brighter, bolder flavors of Latin cooking seem more appealing than yet another fried chicken concept—no offense. As it expands stateside, Pollo Campero says it appeals to Latin American millennials, and that’s just who was waiting in line and eating lunch while my colleague Laura and I ordered. I chose a two-piece Peruvian grilled chicken meal with cilantro rice and warm tortillas, in addition to a five-piece order of fried Chicken Bites just for fun. Laura ordered chicken empanadas with yuca fries—not bad for $18.50 including two big sodas. My grilled chicken had a subtle spice rub and pleasing hint of citrus. Laura loved the generous empanadas with corn, chicken, cheese and peppers, with a perfect, fresh -tasting pastry shell.
The upshot: For anyone who lives where it’s 10 degrees or lower on the thermometer, Pollo Campero is the perfect mini-getaway, even though we’d rather travel to Latin America itself.—TK