A Sunday afternoon. A hangover. A trip to Penzeys to shop for Christmas presents. Are you starting to see the pattern forming? These exact conditions led to my recent, semi-successful trip to El Rey on Washington a few weeks ago and they are what led me back to the same neighborhood (neighborhoods, technically) this past weekend. My intent was to hit Penzeys first, then give Laredo Taqueria a whirl; I had it on good authority that these guys make a taco that would kill the ubiquitous Sunday hangover I've been rocking.
Unfortunately LT was closed, as I was informed by a very nice man in a pickup truck who was idling in their parking lot when I pulled in around 3 p.m.
"They'll be open again on Wednesday, baby girl!" he informed me, and then offered up several other suggestions for where I might procure a taco. I thanked him, but as none of his suggestions were within three blocks, I pulled into the next place I saw: Pollo Campero.
The empanadas looked tempting, so I ordered two of those -- a Cubana Pork and a Spicy Chicken -- along with my Yucatan Pork taco, and a side of quinoa and black bean salad. Slogans on the menu promised fresh Latin flavors, and there is clean -- if somewhat sterile -- cheery brightness to Pollo Campero. The staff manning the microphone and drive-through windows was genuinely friendly and put a smile on my face.
As did the food.
Call me crazy (or selfish or stupid or wrong) but the food was great. The flavors really were fresh and bright. The empanadas were delicious: juicy pork and chicken, flaky crusts, and terrifically flavorful herbs and spices. I thought the Spicy Chicken could have been spicier, but the Cubana pork was the perfect combination of sweet and savory. The taco came wrapped in two corn tortillas -- whether that was a mistake or their M.O., I don't know -- but the meat was again tender and juicy; I didn't use even a drizzle of salsa or a dollop of sour cream. The quinoa salad was the perfect, simple side dish: cucumbers, onions and tomatoes made the beans and quinoa juicy, with a vinaigrette that gave the whole thing some zing. A touch of chili powder added smokiness.
The whole meal came in at $9.73 and I even managed to work out for a half hour later that evening. Not bad for a last-minute replacement hangover meal.
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