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Pollo Campero Delivers Fresh, Bright, Fun Flavors

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.

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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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