Thanks to Pollo Campero’s crossover appeal, it’s a Central-American cultural phenomenon to be reckoned with. I can easily see it influencing the greater culinary landscape in the US to the point where it gets woven into the very fabric of what we call American food.
How big is Pollo Campero in the US? There were lines around the block for the LA opening back in 2002. I don’t know another piece of chicken that attracts that level of Dominique- Ansel-cronut-inducing frenzy from people. They’ve even dared to open a new franchise in Nashville, hot chicken’s home turf. İSinvergüenza!
It’s not just homesick Central Americans who stan for Pollo Campero. You’ll also see a fair number of non-Hispanic diners there, too. Kris Daswani, part-owner of a Dallas, Texas Pollo Campero, gets a lot of Anglo-Americans during lunch. He says they go for the fried chicken or Camperitos (their version of nuggets). Many of these crossover customers have become regulars. The menu is familiar enough to US palates to be approachable, while also inviting curiosity about the Central-American items like horchata (a sweetened beverage made from rice), fries made from yuca, guava barbecue empanadas and tamarindo ketchup.
That crossover appeal makes sense, considering the place Latin flavors hold in American cuisine. “Certainly the Latin American influence has spread, especially in the southern United States, to the point where some dishes are now considered part of the pantheon of 'Southern' cooking,” says Nashville-based food writer and hot chicken expert Timothy Davis, author of the definitive hot chicken Bible, The Hot Chicken Cookbook: The Fiery History & Red-Hot Recipes of Nashville’s Beloved Bird.
Davis cites Latin-American foods that have become integrated into Southern cuisine, like tamales, and jalapenos (especially in cornbread), and the liberal use of peppers and hot sauces. Both traditions embrace beans and rice, barbacoa/barbecue, pastor/pulled pork, and the use of tripe, tongue, and other offal.
“My parents live in a heavy agricultural area of North Carolina, and there are two types of restaurants there: Mexican/Guatemalan/Latin American and American Southern,” says Davis. “Both are what you might call country cooking.”