El Pollo Loco’s Overstuffed Quesadillas Lack a Key Ingredient

Doesn't a quesadilla need a certain amount of cheese to be considered a quesadilla?

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It’s called food styling, ever heard of it?
It’s called food styling, ever heard of it?
Photo: Danny Palumbo

Unless it’s to skip a big line of cars, I’m not one to walk inside a fast food restaurant. The interior of a Wendy’s just isn’t anywhere I want to be. Something about getting out of your vehicle to go to Taco Bell just feels wrong, and Chick-fil-A feels too, how do I put this, meticulously scrubbed and polished. But El Pollo Loco is one of the few fast food dining rooms I actually enjoy. Seeing rows and rows of split chickens on the grill, smelling charred poultry on an open flame—it’s really quite wonderful. As far as chicken restaurants in Los Angeles go, I’m more of a Zankou guy (IYKYK), but El Pollo Loco has had some pretty darn good contributions over the years, and I was pumped to try its new line of overstuffed quesadillas.

Through December 28, El Pollo Loco is serving up overstuffed quesadillas. Essentially, these are neatly wrapped, perfectly portable quesadillas stuffed like a burrito. When it comes to fast food, I usually like to ask myself two things: 

  • “Does this product save time and money without sacrificing too much quality?”
  • “Could I just make this at home?”

A quesadilla is one of those things I’m confident that I could make at home hammered drunk. And there’s already quite a lot of melty and deliciously cheesy quesadillas available in Southern California. But an overstuffed quesadilla filled with meat, roasted vegetables, cheese, and guac? That’s probably not something I’m going to be recreating myself or purchasing at a taco stand. Moreover, when I read the press release for these things, my mouth started to water. So, are they any good? I got a few to find out.

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What do El Pollo Loco’s Overstuffed Quesadillas taste like? 

The Poblano Chicken quesadilla is filled with fire-grilled chicken, melted Jack cheese, creamy cilantro dressing, guacamole, pico de gallo, and fire-roasted poblano peppers. It’s hefty, and reminds me more of a folded burrito than a quesadilla.

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The fire roasted chicken comes through nicely, though. And this quesadilla is absolutely packed with chicken. The poblano peppers are sweet, fruity, and carry some additional smoky flavor. I do find the whole experience, though, to be much too wet. Juices from the pico de gallo and the poblano peppers drip out of the quesadilla, and not in a good way.

My biggest gripe of all is that this quesadilla severely lacks cheese. There should just be far more of it; as it stands, this thing is a burrito, and there are better places to get one of those than El Pollo Loco.

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The Chipotle Chicken quesadilla is more of a step in the right direction, though. It contains a whole lot of cheese and sour cream, so it feels more like an actual quesadilla—smooth, melty, and decadent. It’s got great heat, too. The chipotle peppers really complement the fattiness, and the fire-grilled chicken adds a lovely amount of char. I would order this quesadilla again. The fact that it contains several different types of flavors (smoke, fat, heat) makes for a deeply satisfying experience.

I do like to read the nutritional facts on the fast food items I eat, and each of El Pollo Loco’s overstuffed quesadillas have between 45-56 grams of fat, but also on average nearly 50 grams of protein. Sodium levels are high (every option contains over 1,700mg of sodium), and the caloric intake is somewhere around 900. In short, each quesadilla is quite filling and satisfying. For about nine bucks a pop, that’s pretty good value.

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Again, I ask the question: “Does this product save time and money without sacrificing too much quality?” And I think that these overstuffed quesadillas serve a good purpose in that regard. They’re filling, flavorful, and cheap. One chicken quesadilla is clearly better than the other, but both are solid options, and they are decidedly not something I’m going to be making at home.

When I see TikToks and Instagram Rels for things like homemade Crunchwrap Supremes I can’t help but think, Why the fuck would you do that? Fast food is best when it’s something that you can’t (or shouldn’t) really be attempting yourself, and these quesadillas stuffed with fire-grilled chicken, salsa, guac, roasted peppers, and cheese qualify as something that’s best prepared by the professionals.