Papi’s Pollo Loco

Papi’s Pollo Loco, served.

If you follow my blog, you may recall that my youngest stepchild graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology back in May … with no fanfare except for a small dinner party we hosted in her honor. Her request was for an Indian meal featuring biryani, and it was a beautiful evening. 

Earlier this month, my middle stepchild graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies. Yet another anticlimactic moment—again, no walk across a stage in cap and gown. However, we took full hold of a chance to honor her hard work with a small, festive dinner party. 

Her request was a Mexican cookout. So the day after her last official day of college, it was on: she arrived to find a cantina-themed buffet indoors and outside dining. It was a beautiful Friday evening, both sunny and breezy—comfortable enough to sit outside for dinner and continue until well after sunset, with a few “fairy light” strings in a patio umbrella for just the right ambience.

“Papi’s Pollo Loco” (Dad’s Crazy Chicken) was the heart of this meal, reminiscent of her father’s many grilled chicken legs from their childhood. Dear sweet husband has agreed to share his secret recipe, so now you can make this beloved chicken dish for your next cookout! I can’t make this one vegetarian, but if you reduce the salt you have a low sodium version.

I added a number of dishes to complement the chicken. Previously posted recipes include Knock-out Guacamole, Mexican Rice, Green Sauce, and Royal Cabbage Slaw. I also prepared a red salsa, an everyday salad, carnitas (shredded pork), and scratch-made flour tortillas. For dessert: cinnamon ice cream and Mexican Chocolate sorbet, both homemade. 

Refreshments set the mood for this cookout, too. We laid out some cerveza (beer) along with our sweet graduate’s cocktail choice for the evening—piña coladas! We don’t normally do cocktails at our home, so it was a special (and delicious!) treat. Everyone was spending the night, but responsible drinking is always encouraged at our house.… Who wants to stress their liver, dehydrate their body, or wake up with a hangover? Responsible drinking is a healthy choice.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I take time with special events like these. Meal preparation is important. It matters to me to take special care with such a meal because it represents an important milestone in the life of a person I care deeply about. 

The key to making this celebration pop was fresh and authentic ingredients, like locally grown corn on the cob, Grainger County tomatoes (the best!) and authentic Mexican crema for elote (Mexican Street corn). My molcajete (mortar and pestle) was put to good use creating salsas, guacamole and the marinade for carnitas.

Papi’s chicken provided magical memories of a life lived before our step-family came into being, and the rest of the party’s ingredients created bonds for us to grow on. 

“The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap… When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”

G.K. Chesterton

Prep time:  about 90 minutes, not including refrigeration time

Yields: 6 to 8 servings


2 chicken breasts

10 chicken legs

(adjust pieces to your liking)

1 heaping tsp cumin powder

1 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp sage

1 tsp salt


Rinse and dry chicken pieces.

Mix ingredients together in small bowl.

Sprinkle over meat and rub into chicken pieces.

Let sit about 4 hours uncovered in refrigerator. 

Grill over medium heat until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, about 30 minutes for leg, 45 minutes for breasts.

Papi’s Pollo Loco at a glance.

Serving Suggestions

For a Mexican style cookout, serve with Knock-out Guacamole, Mexican Rice, Green Sauce, Royal Cabbage Slaw or Mexican Street Corn. Also pairs well with traditional American fare, such as coleslaw, potato salad, corn on the cob and a variety of salads made with greens.   

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