El Pollo Loco's Puffy Tacos Are Neither Puffy nor Tacos--Nor Good. Discuss

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I've long had a soft spot for El Pollo Loco, and not just because it's one of the few Mexican-originated fast-food chains. My parents would take us there for as long as I remember, because their charbroiled chicken was buttery and smoky, their pinto beans weren't half-bad, and they had Orange Bang! on tap. But I stopped patronizing El Pollo Loco once they veered away from serving chicken, chicken tacos, or chicken burritos, and dived into the realm of beef, pork, and other non-poultry heresies.

Their sad decline continues with the introduction of what they call "puffy shell" tacos. The chain's chief marketing officer, Ed Valle, boasts in a press release about the pride they take in their "innovative take on traditional tacos, and have gone to crazy lengths to prepare our unique shell," which is all bullshit. This is a blatant ripoff of the legendary puffy tacos of San Antonio, which have been around since at least the 1950s. And El Pollo Loco's shell is unique in the sense that it's absolutely disgusting.


El Pollo Loco gets it wrong from the beginning by using flour tortillas to, as they claim, "create a thin, super-crisp outer layer with a soft, airy center." There's your first problem: puffy tacos aren't created with preformed tortillas but rather fresh masa that's thrown into the deep fryer so that air pockets form in the masa and stay there upon cooling--hence, the "puffy" nickname. El Pollo Loco's shell, on the other hand, tastes like pita bread with air in it, featuring a weak outer shell, a doughy center, and none of the greasy shards that make eating puffy tacos such a pleasure.

And then comes the worst part: the actual meat. The chorizo tasted like Taco Bell meat, while the chicken was dry and flavorless. Actual puffy tacos, on the other hand, traditionally come with ground beef (picadillo, not chorizo) or some type of guisado, either choice always juicy. The combination of crunch and juiciness--all while the shell maintains its structure, mind you--is what makes the puffy taco so delicious.

Here, here are some real puffy tacos, from the legendary Henry's Puffy Taco in San Antonio:

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Oh, sweet Mexi mana...

El Pollo Loco's terrible take on this meal follows in the trend of big chains appropriating regional Mexican specialties (Chipotle and the Mission burrito, hot dog chains and the Sonora dog, Rick Bayless and his entire career) and getting them completely wrong. But at least a Chipotle burrito and your average bacon-wrapped hot dog is edible; El Pollo Loco's "puffy shell" tacos will inspire no one to try and find the source, which just might be as welcome a development as the fact that this is a limited special. Please, please, PLEASE, El Pollo Loco: stick to what you know--you know, chicken.

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78 comments
WendyCarrillo
WendyCarrillo

I was at EPL yesterday for lunch and I asked the young Chicana at the counter if she liked them and she said, "ummm, I'd get the charbroiled ones instead if I were you." hahaha. those are still pretty good. :) 

WendyCarrillo
WendyCarrillo

I was at EPL yesterday for lunch and I asked the young Chicana at the counter if she liked them and she said, "ummm, I'd get the charbroiled ones instead if I were you." hahaha. those are still pretty good. :) 

ocsurfgirl
ocsurfgirl

My hubby laughed off EPL's version of a puffy taco as ridiculous. And he's a gringo!

It only reminds me of the Puffy Shirt Seinfeld episode! :)

Xelena Erzulie
Xelena Erzulie

That name "Puffy Taco" is kinda vulgar/funny and reading this makes me laugh ... sorry I had to go there. ok, maybe not so sorry :)

Niko Babic
Niko Babic

Nastiest thing I've ever had there. Lost my faith in EPL :'(

Zamir Gymkata
Zamir Gymkata

Despite all of the imagery in popular culture we don't have El Pollo Loco in NM. So I cant be disgusted. But guisado in your article is something we all grew up with that in Southern NM. I asked a friend in Phoenix about it he thought I was crazy. Can someone here describe San Antonio Texas version. I know generically it is stew but every region has a different take.

Cheri Weeks
Cheri Weeks

Lol, okay. It's not that serious, I just enjoy his show for the history and culture that it brings to the masses who wouldn't care otherwise, I don't know the man personally.

David M. Smith
David M. Smith

Actually had some 2 days ago. Not wasting money on them again

Esperanza Moreno-Cortes
Esperanza Moreno-Cortes

Please, I would love to try those indian tacos! If you can get on my profile, inbox me the recipe.

Stick A Fork In It
Stick A Fork In It

Cheri: Rick Bayless is a charlatan who has nothing but bad things to say about our friends, so we'll talk trash right back!

James Stutsman
James Stutsman

I can't imagine with all the excellent mexican food here why EPL or Taco Bell even bothers...(^^^)

Karina Karina
Karina Karina

I did read it, conceptually I get it but I'm trying to get an understanding of the taste and texture.

Ricardo Hernandez
Ricardo Hernandez

U got to come down to San Anto mamita and get puffies from Henrys.

Ricardo Hernandez
Ricardo Hernandez

Stick to sheeken locos, Henry's puffies of San Anto es la mera neta.

Ed Murrieta
Ed Murrieta

those look like Indian tacos. mmmmmm, frybread.

Shawn Smith
Shawn Smith

No one can imitate the original Puffy Taco in Whittier.

Lc Fister
Lc Fister

That looks like salsa between 2 buns.

Lehi Vargas
Lehi Vargas

Esos no sonm tacos, son una invención gringa que no tienenada que ver.

Patricia Cuestas-James
Patricia Cuestas-James

I will say this Henry's Puffy Tacos did have good beans and rice which majority of the time are a big miss with all Mex restaurants.

Patricia Cuestas-James
Patricia Cuestas-James

When I want enchiladas the true Mex way is with Chile Colorado or verde not none of this Tex Mex gravy crap lol

Patricia Cuestas-James
Patricia Cuestas-James

I have never had Pollo Loco's tacos. I'm from AZ so puffy tacos are ugh lol. When I moved to Houston last year I stopped by S.A. and had Henrys. Too Tex Mex for me. I am used to Southern Mex Amer food not Tex Mex that is probably why.

Brian Christiansen
Brian Christiansen

Henry's is the best for puffy tacos. Did you go to the original location, or the americanized version on bandera @ 410?

atarian999
atarian999

@Shawn Smith -  Original Puffy Tacos originated in San Antonio.  if his are different, I don't want them.  (If  they're the same, then the hell with originality and I want some).

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