Healthy Options at El Pollo Loco

El Pollo Loco

Founded in 1975, El Pollo Loco now has over 400 franchise locations in ten states. They’re one of the more unique fast-food operators, since they’re serving grilled (not fried!) chicken, and burgers are nowhere to be found on their menu.

They have recently started introducing more fried fare, however, jumping on both the fish taco and sweet potato fries bandwagons. (It’s a shame their fish tacos are battered and fried, considering they instead could’ve thrown the fish on the grill right next to the chicken.)

There are quite a few good options here (if you eat meat, that is), though there are indeed a handful of pitfalls as well.  As with most restaurant fare, keep a close eye on the sodium — it adds up very quickly. They also have quite a few side dish options — which range from 57 to 329 calories, and 53mg to 770mg of sodium!

If you’re trying to eat healthfully at El Pollo Loco by getting a salad, avoid all of the salad dressings. They’re all loaded with fat (and therefore calories), sodium, or both. Top your salad with a small amount of the house salsa instead (it still has quite a bit of sodium, but much less than the dressings).

I found many discrepancies between the information in their printable PDF and their interactive, online nutrition information (Looks like they do a lot of rounding in the printable version).  Nevertheless, none of the differences were significant enough to change my overall recommendations.

Chicken – Better Choices

Since the servings sizes vary so much here, I’m also listing the calories-per-ounce and the mg-sodium-per-ounce for each item.  That makes for some interesting revelations — including that their skinless chicken breast earns a spot on the “worst choices” list (due to the sodium content).

Chopped Breast Meat (2.8 ounces)
100 cal, 1.5g total fat, 330mg sodium, no fiber, 21g protein
36 cal/ounce, 118mg sodium/ounce

Chicken Leg (1.6 ounces)
90 cal, 4g total fat, 170mg sodium,  no fiber, 12g protein
56 cal/ounce, 106mg sodium/ounce

Chicken Thigh (3.1 ounces)
220 cal, 15g total fat, 320mg sodium, no fiber, 21g protein
71 cal/ounce, 102mg sodium/ounce

Chicken – Worst Choices

I’ll admit, there isn’t a huge difference between the best and worst choices here, though the wings do have significantly more sodium than the other options.

Chicken Breast (4.3 ounces)
220 cal, 9g total fat, 620mg sodium, no fiber, 36g protein
51 cal/ounce, 144mg sodium/ounce

Chicken Breast, skinless (4.0 ounces)
180 cal, 3.5g total fat, 560mg sodium, no fiber, 35g protein
45 cal/ounce, 140mg sodium/ounce

Chicken Wing (1.3 ounces) X
90 cal, 5g total fat, 290mg sodium, no fiber, 11g protein
69 cal/ounce, 223mg sodium/ounce

Tacos – Better  Choices

Even though they’re battered and fried (sigh), the calorie and sodium content in the fish tacos are fairly reasonable.

Classic Baja Fish Taco
209 cal, 9g total fat, 251mg sodium, 2g fiber, 8g protein

Taco al Carbón
160 cal, 6g total fat, 290mg sodium, 1g fiber, 17g protein

Spicy Avocado Fish Taco
211 cal, 9g total fat, 301mg sodium, 2g fiber, 8g protein

Burritos & Tacos – Worst Choices

All of the burritos are over 1,000mg of sodium. The Beans, Rice, and Cheese is the better of all the burrito options, but remember that about 2,300mg of sodium should be your daily max…

Grillmaster Steak Taco X
260 cal, 13g total fat, 550mg sodium, 1g fiber

Crunchy Chicken Taco X
191 cal, 8.2g total fat, 476mg sodium, 2g fiber

BRC Burrito X
450 cal, 12g total fat, 1,050mg sodium, 4g fiber

Grilled Chicken Tortilla Roll X
397 cal,  16g total fat, 1,104mg sodium, 1g fiber

Twice Grilled Burrito X X
800 cal, 40g total fat, 1,730mg sodium, 3g fiber

Ultimate Grilled Burrito X X
670 cal, 24g total fat, 1,410mg sodium, 5g fiber

Classic Chicken Burrito X X
537 cal, 17g total fat, 1,369mg sodium, 4g fiber

Tortillas – Better Choice

Corn Tortillas (Two 6″ Tortillas)
120 cal, 2g total fat, 60mg sodium, 2g fiber

Tortillas & Chips – Worst Choice

Flour Tortillas (Two 6.5″ Tortillas) X
210 cal, 7g total fat, 370mg sodium, 2g fiber

Tortilla Chips X X
160 cal, 8g total fat, 250mg sodium

Sides – Better Choices

Fresh Vegetables (without margarine)
35 cal, no fat, 35mg sodium, 3g fiber

Fresh Vegetables
57 cal, 2.6g total fat, 58mg sodium, 3g fiber

Loco Side Salad (no dressing, no tortilla strips)
35 cal, 1.5g total fat, 170mg sodium (?), 1g fiber

Loco Side Salad (no dressing)
70 cal, 3.5g total fat, 170mg sodium (?), 2g fiber

There are discrepancies between the salad nutrition info on their PDF and on the interactive nutrition list on the website.  Either way, a side salad without dressing or tortilla strips is one of the best side dish choices on the menu.

Corn Cobbette (5.2 ounce, as listed on the PDF)
110 cal, 3g total fat, 40mg sodium, 2g fiber

Corn Cobbette (10.2 ounce, as listed on the interactive website)
253 cal, 7g total fat, 53mg sodium, 11g fiber
I’m guessing this one is incorrect?

Sides – Worst Choices

This is where the sodium really starts to add up if you’re not careful. I hate to have to include all the beans & rice in the “worst” list, considering that they’re probably the most popular side dishes… If you must have beans, get the Pinto Beans — they have less sodium than the BBQ Black Beans.

Flame-Grilled Corn
132 cal, 6g total fat, 324mg sodium, 3g fiber

Cole Slaw
134 cal, 10g total fat, 224mg sodium, 2g fiber

Chicken Tortilla Soup X
165 cal, 7.7g total fat, 574mg sodium, 2g fiber

Spanish Rice X
170 cal, 2.3g total fat, 558mg sodium, no fiber

Mashed Potatoes with Gravy X
124 cal, 1.9g total fat, 552mg sodium, 2g fiber

Pinto Beans
200 cal, 4g total fat, 370mg sodium, 8g fiber

BBQ Black Beans X
200 cal, 3g total fat, 522mg sodium, 4g fiber

Sweet Corn Cake X
250 cal, 10g total fat, 359mg sodium, 1g fiber

Macaroni & Cheese X
280 cal, 17g total fat, 770mg sodium, no fiber

Sweet Potato Fries X
327 cal, 20g total fat, 446mg sodium, 4g fiber

French Fries X
329 cal, 17g total fat, 701mg sodium, 4g fiber

Salads & Bowls – Better Choices

Loco Side Salad (no dressing)
70 cal, 3.5g total fat, 170mg sodium (?), 2g fiber

Chicken Caesar Salad (no dressing)
232 cal, 7.4g total fat, 517mg sodium, 3g fiber

Salads & Bowls – Worst Choices

607 cal, 10g total fat, 1,751mg sodium, 11g fiber

Chicken Tostada (no dressing) X
862 cal, 43g total fat, 1,429mg sodium, 7g fiber
And that’s without the dressing.  Yikes!

965 cal, 34g total fat, 2,383mg sodium, 13g fiber
Never eat anything with the word “Ultimate” in the name.

Salsas – Better Choices

House Salsa (mild, 1.3 ounces)
9 cal, 135mg sodium

Pico de Gallo Salsa (Medium, 1.3 ounces)
14 cal, 146mg sodium

Jalapeño Hot Sauce (0.5 ounce)
5 cal, 184mg sodium
Note the smaller serving size. 0.5 ounce is about one tablespoon, or one packet.

Salsas – Worst Choices

Avocado Salsa (Hot, 1.3 ounces)
36 cal, 270mg sodium

Salsa Roja (Hot, 1.3 ounces) X
14 cal, 397mg sodium

Salad Dressings – All Worst Choices

All of the salad dressings are worst choices (either for the calories, the sodium, or both). Instead, add a little bit of the house or pico de gallo salsa.

Creamy Cilantro Dressing (3 ounces)
441 cal, 46g fat, 591mg sodium

Creamy Cilantro Dressing (1.5 ounces)
220 cal, 23g fat, 295mg sodium

Light Creamy Cilantro Dressing (1.5 ounces) X
70 cal, 5g fat, 400mg sodium

Light Italian Dressing (1.5 ounces) X
20 cal, 1g fat, 770mg sodium (!)

Thousand Island Dressing (1.5 ounces) X X
220 cal, 21g fat, 350mg sodium

Ranch Dressing (1.5 ounces) X X
230 cal, 24g fat, 390mg sodium

Value Menu – Better Choices

Taco al Carbón
153 cal, 5.2g total fat, 291mg sodium, 1g fiber, 11g protein

Chicken Leg (1.6 ounces)
90 cal, 4g total fat, 170mg sodium,  no fiber, 12g protein
56 cal/ounce, 106mg sodium/ounce

Value Menu – Worst Choices

Cheese Quesadilla X
430 cal, 14g total fat, 870mg sodium, 1g fiber, 20g protein

Taquito (ONE!) X X
226 cal, 12.3g total fat, 602mg sodium, 2g fiber, 10g protein

Crunchy Chicken Taco X
191 cal, 8.2g total fat, 476mg sodium, 2g fiber

Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.

indicates the “best-of-the-best,” and X indicates the “worst-of-the-worst,” more or less.

Photo by Michele Molinari.

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