El Pollo Loco is a chain restaurant that’s a cross between a casual dining sit-down restaurant and a place you run into real quick to get a carry-out. Some locations even have a drive-through option. They specialize in Mexican-style grilled chicken, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas.
As you can imagine, it’s hard to eat low-carb at El Pollo Loco, which is why we recommend eating at home whenever you can. But if you find yourself in a pinch for food and El Pollo Loco is your only option, you’ll be happy to know that there are ways to make it work at least for one meal.
Read on to find out how to order low-carb at El Pollo Loco so you can stick to your low-carb diet.
Tips For Ordering at El Pollo Loco
As we mentioned above, it’s always best to prepare your meals at home and bring them with you whenever you can. This ensures that you won’t be scrambling to find a meal at the last minute, which increases your chances of eating something you shouldn’t.
Eating at home also means that you’re guaranteed to eat keto-friendly foods, and not just foods that are low-carb. There’s a big difference!
For example, a low-carb dieter’s meal could still contain a small portion of fruits and starchy vegetables that might be off-limits on the ketogenic diet. Ketogenic dieters need to make sure they keep their carbohydrate intake limited to five percent or less of their daily calories.
Eating out also means that the quality of food you pick won’t be as good as what you could buy yourself at the store.
Because of these reasons, on the strict ketogenic diet, it’s best to follow your keto plan and cook your own foods at home so you can take control of your macros and the quality. It’s still possible to keep the carbohydrate intake low when eating out, but it doesn’t always mean that you are strictly keto.
Like most restaurants, El Pollo Loco doesn’t mention that they use organic meats or products, which means that you’re not getting the best quality food when you eat out.
Most people eat at El Pollo Loco for the convenience. It’s an easy place to stop in at on your lunch break when you don’t have much time to eat or anytime you need a quick bite.
Lowest Carb Dishes
Here are some of the lowest carb dishes at El Pollo Loco based on the nutrition information:
- Fire grilled chicken thigh, wing, breast and leg with skin (0 grams carbs each)
- Double chicken avocado salad (8 grams net carbs)
- Chicken avocado burrito (without the shell, dressing and pinto beans) (8 grams net carbs)
- Original pollo bowl (without the rice and beans) (1 gram net carbs)
- Double chicken bowl (without the rice and beans) (4 grams net carbs)
Also, keep these tips in mind when you order here to keep it low-carb.
#1. Stick with chicken
Despite being a carry-out or small dining place, El Pollo Loco has an impressive menu. They offer meals under 500 calories, snacks, salads, burritos, starters, and even a “healthier for you” section. With so many options available, it can be hard to know what to order.
We suggest sticking with chicken. After all, it’s what El Pollo Loco is known for. They offer fire-grilled chicken thighs, legs, wings, and breasts, which are all great low-carb options. You can even get a chicken breast with or without skin if you’re trying to keep your fat intake down.
These dishes come marinated in some kind of citrus dressing, so you’ll want to be sure to ask for a dry or plain piece of chicken to keep the sugar content down.
According to the nutritional information on the website, one fire-grilled chicken thigh with skin contains the following:
- 210 calories (3.1 ounce serving)
- 15 grams of fat
- 0 grams carbs
- 0 grams sugar
- 0 grams fiber
- 21 grams protein
If you need a fattier meal, always opt for chicken thighs, wings, or legs as they have more fat than chicken breasts.
We recommend pairing your chicken with a side of steamed broccoli. We noticed that none of the other side dishes at El Pollo Loco are low-carb, so broccoli and maybe a side salad are your only choices.
#2. Order a taco without the shell
It sounds funny, but ordering a taco minus the shell or eating the insides only of a taco is a good way to keep it low-carb while still enjoying the flavor of a taco. El Pollo Loco has a classic crunchy taco that comes with shredded chicken, cheese, and lettuce. They also have a chicken taco al carbon, which has chicken thigh meat, onion, and cilantro. Just be sure not to eat the taco shell, and you’ll be able to stick to your low-carb diet.
If you miss taco, why not trying this keto-friendly cheese shell taco recipe we have?
One thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that most of the meat at El Pollo Loco will be flavored with some non-keto friendly ingredients. It’s a good idea to ask for your meat to be dry or to hold the sauce and seasonings. The meat might also be premade, which means that you can’t order it without flavoring as it has already been made this way.
Also, be sure that your taco contains no sauce. Even if you order it without the shell, some places like to drizzle their meat with additional sauce. Ask for extra cheese, sour cream and guacamole if your meat needs some company and hold the sugar-laden sauces.
Stay away from burritos and quesadillas as these foods are too hard to order without the shell. It’s also hard to only eat the insides of them as they are usually warm and the ingredients tend to stick to the bread.
#3. Pile on low-carb extras
A piece of chicken and a side of steamed broccoli may bore you. To add a bit of jazz to your meal, try piling on safe low-carb extras to enhance the fat content of your food while keeping the carbs down.
El Pollo Loco makes their own guacamole every day, according to their website. Take advantage of this by piling your chicken with some fresh guacamole. They also offer bacon, which is a great way to get more protein and fat in your diet. Plus, you can’t beat the flavor combination of bacon, chicken, and guacamole.
If that combination sounds good to you, then try the double chicken avocado salad at El Pollo Loco for a limited time. It features a double portion of chopped chicken breast, avocado, cotija cheese, sour cream, and house-made pico de gallo. You’ll want to hold the sweet corn and creamy cilantro dressing and ask for extra sour cream or avocado instead.
According to the nutritional information on the website, ordering your salad with these customizations results in the following macronutrient breakdown:
- 350 calories for the entire salad
- 14 grams of fat
- 11 grams of carbs (6 net carbs)
- 5 grams of fiber
- 5 grams of sugar
- 47 grams of protein
If you hold the pico de gallo, you’ll save one gram of carbohydrate and one gram of sugar to bring your net carbs down to five per salad. If you’re worried that 350 calories won’t fill you up, remember that adding extra bacon, avocado, and sour cream will help increase the calories while keeping the carbs down to keep you full until your next meal.
What To Order at El Pollo Loco
Although the menu options may vary depending on location, we’ve scoured the menu at El Pollo Loco and come up with a list of low-carb meals you can eat. You’ll be custom ordering a lot of these dishes to avoid the beans, corn, rice, and other starchy ingredients that usually accompany Mexican dishes, so be sure to follow these directions carefully.
Always make sure that any item you order does NOT come with sauce, which is often added to tacos to help enhance the flavor. You’ll also want to watch out for flavored meat has been marinated or coated in sauce or a sugary dry-rub as these are good ways to accidentally tack on the carbs.
The following is a list of foods that are safe to eat on a low-carb diet.
Limited time menu
- Chili lime chicken tostada (order this without the pinto beans, rice, and chili lime sauce; do not eat the outer shell)
- BBQ bacon avocado chicken tostada (order this without the chipotle BBQ sauce, rice, and beans; do not eat the shell)
- Mango habanero chicken tostada (hold the tropical habanero sauce, rice, and beans; do not eat the shell; also hold the mango salsa if you are keto)
- Chunky guacamole and chips (throw the chips away and add the guacamole to your chicken)
Family chicken meals
For all family meals, hold the warm tortillas and get a side of steamed broccoli or guacamole instead; also be sure the chicken does not have sauce or a marinade on it:
- Eight piece meal
- Ten piece meal
- 12 piece meal
- 16 piece meal
- Eight piece meal of chicken only (we recommend getting this with a side of guacamole)
Individual chicken meals
For all combos, order steamed broccoli as your side and an unsweetened iced tea as your drink; hold the tortillas, beans, and rice:
- Two-piece combo
- Three-piece combo
- Half chicken combo
- Fire-grilled chicken breast
- Fire-grilled chicken wing
- Fire-grilled chicken thigh
- Fire-grilled chicken leg
For all tostada salads, do not eat the outer shell:
- Classic tostada salad (hold the pinto beans, rice, and creamy cilantro dressing; get this with bacon for a nice crunchy treat)
- Double chicken tostada salad (hold the beans, rice, and creamy cilantro dressing)
- Double chicken avocado salad (hold the sweet corn and any dressing that comes on it; ask for extra sour cream or guacamole instead)
- Classic chicken salad (hold the corn, tortilla strips, and creamy cilantro dressing)
- Mexican Cobb salad (hold the black beans, tortilla strips, and creamy cilantro dressing)
- Original Pollo bowl (order without pinto beans and rice)
- Grande avocado chicken bowl (hold the sweet corn, Mexican rice, and pinto beans)
- Double chicken bowl (hold the beans and rice)
- Chicken black bean bowl (hold the black beans and rice; ask for double broccoli or meat)
Burritos and quesadillas
- Chicken avocado burrito (if you can eat the insides only of this burrito, then go for it! Be sure to hold the pinto beans and creamy cilantro dressing)
Eat the insides of the tacos only and throw out the shell:
- Classic crunchy taco
- Chicken taco al carbon
Under 500 calories
- Chicken avocado tortilla wrap (order this without the corn and tortilla or eat the insides only; be sure that no dressing comes on the salad)
- Mini Pollo bowl (get this without rice and pinto beans; ask for steamed broccoli or a bed of lettuce instead; hold the tortillas and chips; get an unsweetened iced tea as your drink)
Sides and extras
- Steamed broccoli
- Loco side salad (hold the corn tortilla strips and creamy cilantro sauce)
- Sliced jalapeno peppers
- Sour cream
Higher-Carb Foods To Avoid at El Pollo Loco
Just like when ordering low-carb fast food, while some foods are easy to custom order and turn into low-carb dishes, others just aren’t worth the effort. We recommend avoiding the following foods and sticking with something that’s easier to order.
Limited time menu:
- Chicken tamale, taco al carbon, and side (you could order this with steamed broccoli as your side and eat only the inside of the taco al carbon, but we think you’ll have a hard time with the tamale; it would be easier to order a chicken taco instead)
- Chicken tamales with a side
- Chicken tamale and tortilla soup
- Chicken taquitos combo (because taquitos are small, we don’t think you’ll get much when you eat the insides of them only; stick with another dish)
- Double queso overstuffed quesadilla (unless you can manage to eat the insides only of a quesadilla, we recommend choosing something else; you would need to order this without the tortilla strips to keep it low-carb)
- BBQ bacon avocado overstuffed quesadilla (if you want to eat the insides only out of this, then be sure to get it without the BBQ sauce)
- Chicken avocado quesadilla (if you can manage to eat the insides only, then get this without the creamy cilantro sauce)
- Chicken fajita burrito
- Chipotle chicken avocado burrito
- Rancherito burrito
- Classic chicken burrito
- BRC burrito
Under 500 calories:
- Chicken tortilla soup
Starters, sides, and drinks:
- Chips and queso
- Pinto beans
- Black beans
- Macaroni and cheese
- Mashed potatoes and gravy
- Coleslaw (this would be OK to get if you can hold the dressing)
- All sweetened drinks
- All desserts (currently we only see cinnamon churros on the menu)
- Corn and flour tortillas
- All sauces and dressings
We always recommend eating at home or at least preparing your meals using store-bought ingredients only whenever you can. This allows you to control what and how much you’re eating, which is important if you’re trying to meet the strict requirements of the ketogenic diet.
Low-carb eaters can be a little less fussy about their macronutrient intake, but you’ll still want to consume organic meats and low-carb vegetables as much as possible. Because of this, it can be hard to eat out. If you find yourself in need of a quick lunch or snack, then you can find some decent options at El Pollo Loco.
Your best bet is to get fire-grilled chicken and a side of steamed broccoli. Watch out for chicken that has been marinated in a sugary sauce or topped with creamy cilantro dressing. If you go with a salad, hold the dressing and ask for extra guacamole, sour cream, or bacon to give your meal a boost.
El Pollo Loco likes to add a lot of beans, rice, corn, and tortilla strips to their dishes, so be on the lookout for those. If you go with a combo, be sure to order an unsweetened iced tea as your drink and hold any tortillas or chips that accompany your meal. You can get a side salad instead, but ask for no dressing and tortilla strips to keep it low-carb.
Photo credit: James Jones – flickr.com