Secrets of the San Fernando Valley: El Pollo Sonora

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My wife’s Sonoran heritage was something of an anomaly in the Bay Area, but in Los Angeles her Northern Mexican culture seems to be everywhere. You’ve got Sonoratown in DTLA that is absolutely thriving (and Jen is the nicest person ever, so definitely make the effort to go there). El Cholo on Western, an LA institution since 1923, features an absolutely decadent Sonoran-style tortilla on its menu. The LA Times just ran a feature on dining in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora where my mother-in-law is from. And you can even find Sonoran-style hotdogs at trucks all over the city. Even though we’re getting used to the awesome ubiquity of Sonoran culture in our new setting, it’s still incredibly exciting to find another outpost. Thus, when I was driving home from work this past week, taking a shortcut down Vanowen through Van Nuys, I pulled over once I saw the words “El Pollo Sonora” plastered on a strip mall marquee. If the pollo (chicken) was being made by a family from Sonora, I knew it was probably going to be darn good.

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Simplicity is a wonderful thing when it’s done well, and there’s nothing more exciting for me than seeing a restaurant focus on a specialty. One thing about Sonora: it’s known for its beef, not necessarily for its chicken, so I was stoked to see that tri-tip was the other option of the menu. Pollo Sonora is run by the Monrreal family, who purchased the restaurant almost five years ago from the previous owner who specialized in chicken. Clearly not wanting to shake things up with the local clientele, they kept the focus on chicken. But with Sammy Monrreal now running the kitchen, along with his son Leo and his daughter Vanessa at the counter, beef has been added to the agenda. It’s quite simple to order: you choose chicken or tri-tip; plate, taco, or burrito; then you choose your sides. Let’s start with the chicken.

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We try to eat somewhat healthy during the week, and in a pinch I’ll often stop by El Pollo Loco and grab a few breasts to chop up with a salad or eat with tortillas. That won’t be happening anymore, now that I’ve found Pollo Sonora. Moist, succulent, and roasted to perfection, the chicken here is a huge step up. I’ve ordered it three times to-go and it’s been top notch each time.

If you order the plate you get rice, pinto beans, salsa, a grilled jalapeño, and tortillas of your choosing. Seeing that it’s Sonoran-inspired food, I’m always going to opt for the Sonoran flour. The flour tortillas are thick and hearty, just what you need for your meal. Now let’s talk about the steak.

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The beauty of the tri-tip plate option is that it’s really just a classic BBQ dish with Mexican salsas and sides. The beef is served grilled and sliced along with the same sides as the chicken. What I love is the versatility. If I feel like popping a bottle of Bordeaux, or red wine in general, I can grab a beef plate from Pollo Sonora and be good to go. But if I feel like keeping it classically Mexican, I can put a few slices in my flour tortilla, pour on the salsa, and crack open a cold Modelo. I’ve had the beef three times and it’s aways choice, never fatty or chewy, flavorful and cooked medium.

I could probably eat here every day for the next two months and never get tired of it. There’s no alcohol license at Pollo Sonora, so if you want to drink with your dinner just order to-go. Vanessa and the gang are super nice, very helpful, and fun to chat with, so don’t worry about calling ahead. Dinner for two is less than twenty bucks.

Highly, highly, highly recommended.

-David Driscoll