Take out and drive-through review
A short and sweet review this week, necessitated by the fact that I have been largely ill. Sadly, dining has been the least of my priorities. That said, even a sofa-ridden foodie needs something substantial after endless days of fasting and cans of soup. Which is where our second trip to El Rooster Rojo helped ease my cravings this week. It also offered up the opportunity to take some quick snaps for this weeks brief review.
Our first visit to El Rooster Rojo was a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure you all know that lazy type of night when cooking a meal is clearly absurd and even going through the drill of a sit down restaurant meal seems arduous. After weeks of pointing at “that new chicken place” on State Street, we decided El Rooster Rojo would help feed our hungry bellies on this particular night.
From what I can gather, El Rooster Rojo isn’t a chain. Driving past this sparklingly-new joint on State Street initially gave me me pause to consider otherwise. It has all the elements of a big box eatery. From the exterior, the large totem-esque sign beckons you off the busy road. Inside the spotless surfaces and decor have a definite corporate feel. Clearly some time, effort, and money have gone into the refurbishment of this former bagelry.
On this virgin encounter, the restaurant was largely empty aside from a couple of small families chowing down to dinner. We were greeted by whom I am guessing is the owner/operator. And a very friendly, enthusiastic and smiling man he was too. “Do you like chicken?”, was his opening gambit. Yes, yes we do. Whilst we perused the menu, he also gave us a freebie to snack on, a chicken, cream cheese, and green chili concoction in a fried tortilla, mighty fine it was too.
In addition to the free food, we also got some more information on the star of the show, the chicken. Apparently the chicken is brought in fresh each morning, slaughtered that same day at 3am, soon to be cooking slowly in El Rooster Rojo’s special seasonings. The restaurant smelled great, we were hungry, and our host was making us eager to order.
The menu is structured around El Rooster’s ‘Mexican style chicken’. Chicken can be ordered by the 1/4 ($2.59 dark, $2.99 white), the 1/2 ($5.99) or whole ($9.99). Selections are also offered with two sides and a soda in most cases as a combo. Sides on offer include rice, pinto beans, salad, corn, mashed spuds, mac & cheese and chips & salsa. Not a fry in sight, which is all good by me. In addition to the simply plated chicken, you can also choose from items that incorporate the featured meat, such as salads, burritos, quesadillas, tamales and tacos.
There’s also a family pack ($26.99) which features two whole chickens, 2 sides and a bunch of tortillas. My bet is that would be a whole lot cheaper, healthier, tastier and more fun than any fast food chicken alternative.
Perusals complete, we made our choices, thanked our gracious host and made our way home with a raft of sauces precariously balanced in our take out bag. As we left, we also noticed the drive through window situated on the north side of the building, should one (us on our next visit!) need that sort of thing.
Safely home, we dug through our considerably weighty boxed feast to see what we had secured. As well as our meals, we had a range of condiments. Some packaged limes, pico de gallo and a salsa. Back at the restaurant we were asked our preference of heat, to which we both shot back with “hot”. We are both Sriracha fanatics, and in comparison to our favorite condiment, this sauce was indeed as promised, damned !hot!
Wendi’s menu choice of preference was the Rojo Salad ($6.99):
A hearty salad of chicken breast, sour cream, cheese, guacomale, pico, rice, beans and “rojo” dressing. A hefty serving and no mistake. After our first visit Wendi proclaimed this the equal of Cafe Rio’s chicken salad, which is no small praise in itself. This would easily be a salad large enough for two, if it weren’t for the slightly scant serving of chicken. A separate order of a 1/4 chicken would easily make this two meals.
I decided to go with the staple of the house and opted for the 1/2 chicken combo (2 sides, soft drink, $7.99):
The chicken was deliciously moist and flavorsome, leaps and bounds beyond traditional fast food fare. The seasoned skin whilst quite salty, was lip smackingly tasty too. While I tore the poor chicken to pieces (Wendi looking on in semi-horror) the pig in me did consider that maybe next time I could manage a full chicken. The two sides I ordered put a stop to those thoughts though.
As you can see from the picture above, I went with the rice and pinto beans. Whilst nothing exceptional, they were a nice change of pace from stodgy rice and sloppy refried beans. The only sour note was the rather stingy serving of 2 tortillas. I could have easily eaten twice that, and had plenty of chicken to load more up with too. I’m going to make a note to ask for more the next time I order.
I am always on the lookout for great new take out and drive through places, especially those that break out of the hamburger and fries mold. Doubly so if that fast food, is healthy food. And apart from the salty seasonings, this places ticks all those boxes. Our second illness-forced visit was through El Rooster’s drive through, which I am also happy to report was equally friendly, and up to the quality of our first meal.
Now I just have to work up an appetite for that full chicken, I’m fairly sure I can do it…
El Rooster Rojo
2233 S State Street, Salt Lake City, 84115
(801) 484 0146
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.