The Churrasco chicken at this Vaughan restaurant has a vibrant Chilean twist

Suresh Doss: Recently I was talking to my wife Esther about a trip we took to Lisbon, Portugal last year and one of the best food memories from that trip was eating through Churrasquerias.

Ismaila Alfa: Those are Portuguese restaurants that specialize in grilled meats, yes?

Suresh: The best kind of places. There are these small hole-in-the-wall places with a tiny menu and sometimes long lineups. You can follow the scent of the charcoal and oftentimes it’s the only way to find these places because they are not on Google. 

You can get this plate of grilled chicken, crisp skin, and it’s served on a bed of rice with some potatoes, smothered in some red sauce. 

Juan E. Diaz Jr took a chance 15 years ago and opened Pollo Loco Churrasqueria in what was then a mostly industrial neighbourhood in Maple, Vaughan. The region, and the restaurant’s clientele, has since grown drastically. (Suresh Doss)

Ismaila Alfa: where are the best GTA places for Churrasco chicken?

Suresh Doss: We’re lucky. There’s no shortage, there are places on College West, in the Junction, on St Clair West. They’re all different based on two things; how they marinate the protein, and how they finish the plate. But, I was drawn back to this place that I was introduced to by a friend, after spending a day at Canada’s Wonderland about a decade or so ago.

It’s a place where the dish has a very distinct taste, which I’ll explain. It’s called Pollo Loco Churrasqueria, and it literally sits in a plaza overlooking the amusement park. I want you to picture this stretch of Jane Street. It was quite bare 15 years ago when Juan opened this place, think car dealerships and industrial plazas. 

Juan E. Diaz Sr works with his son at Pollo Loco Churrasqueria. (Suresh Doss)

Churrasco Chicken

Ismaila Alfa: And the Churrasco chicken is the signature dish on the menu?

Suresh Doss: Yes, but Juan says it’s not exactly Portuguese. Here’s his take. 

“Its flavours that I grew up with. We’re from Latin America so for us, its fresh stuff like the cilantro, parsley, and fresh garlic. We eat spicy but not super hot. It’s got a nice balance.”

I think this is the story of the GTA; a Chilean family that grew up in Little Portugal, leads to a chef that opens a restaurant paying homage to one of the most classic Portuguese dishes but he is putting his own spin on it with the sauce. This is where he brings his own heritage, the vibrancy of Chilean cooking; the Chimichurri, cilantro, parsley, that goes into the dry marinade and that also goes into this sauce that he spills over the dish before he gives it to you. 

Ismaila Alfa: Okay now you have to tell me about this sauce, Suresh. 

Suresh Doss: You should always ask Juan Sr. or Jr. to give you a little extra sauce. I notice people buying bottles of it. It’s not spicy,  it’s also not the typical tangy hot sauce you get from other grilled chicken places. There’s a lot of weight and depth and a good amount of garlic here. That’s if you go during the week.

The paella at Pollo Loco Churrasqueria has mussels, chicken, shrimp. (Suresh Doss)

Paella

Ismaila Alfa: And on the weekends?

Suresh Doss: On Saturdays, they do paella. It’s a special. This wonderful paella is Mixta style which means it’s a mix of seafood and meat. It’s inspired by the Spanish regional paellas but it’s Juan’s own take. It has mussels, chicken, shrimp. And the stock is cooked down to the point where there is this wonderful cling to the rice. It’s a special, Juan’s dad will write it on the menu every Saturday morning. Both dishes keep, so you can order one for lunch and take the other for a second meal.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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