The Central American-based chain's first Midwestern transplant is a sunny safe-haven from typical fast-food mediocrity and exudes a unique sense of organized chaos. Like an uber-caffeinated Corner Bakery, Campero's hosts assign tables and numbers to the mostly Spanish-speaking crowds waiting in the chain's expansive foyer. When an order is ready, servers locate the number, drop the food on your plate and then snatch the number back. The system works surprisingly well considering how crowded the place gets on an almost hourly basis.
Despite a super-secret recipe, the fried chicken itself is almost indistinguishable from Campero's North American cousins. Regardless of any quasi-KFC tendencies however, it's not just chicken that draws people to its colorful premises: it's the Latin side dishes. No American fast-food chain offers both sweet and fried plantains and spongy bean burritos. All delicious, but because of a heat not found in most American side dishes, the Spanish rice is a particular standout and perfect for those with ironclad stomachs.
The menu follows the normal chicken-place template: divided into single and family-style offerings with multiple side-combinations. Por ejemplo, a two-piece dark meat (white slightly extra) single-person dinner costs $3.59 and comes with one side. A three-piece (also all dark) meal comes with two sides for $5.99. Plus each meal comes with (what else?) several plastic-wrapped tortillas. Larger family meals such as the eight and twelve-piece boxes come with at least two larger sides and run between $13.89 and $30. Desserts, however, should be fervently avoided: runny rice pudding and chunky lava cake make a mockery of the pseudo-traditional Latin sweets we all know so well. Soft ice ream redeems Campero just slightly, but if it's vanilla you're craving, do yourself a favor and stop by the Baskin Robbins down the road.
Check out the Albany Park location of Pollo Campero.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Adam White