Dino’s Burgers #2: Putting Maniacal Chicken on Chopping Block

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Restaurant Sign Los Angeles

Dino's leads with burgers instead of chicken, but pollo rules at this restaurant.

I can still remember the day I discovered Dino’s – January 6, 2000. I was working as a Writers’ Assistant on “JAG,” and my key mid-day duty was to find restaurants and retrieve lunch for the writing staff. That morning, my friend John and I both read Barbara Hansen’s review in the L.A. Times, and we were instantly energized by thoughts of El Pollo Maniaco (the maniacal chicken). Since John was a producer, I was dispatched to the Byzantine-Latino Quarter to pick up a plate for each of us. My stomach has never been the same. I mean that in the best way possible.

According to Hansen’s article, Dino was then-owner Demetrios Pantazis’ father, who emigrated from Greece in 1955. “The chicken recipe originated with Pantazis’ great-grandfather in Patras.” The counterman told me that the Dino’s empire dates to 1968 and now includes the original Dino’s Burgers in Lincoln Heights and Dino’s Burgers #3 in Azusa. The current business cards credit Demetrios’ daughter Konstantina Pantazis with control. The counterman said Konstantina’s Uncle George owns the Lincoln Heights original.

Restaurant Los Angeles

There are ten tables inside and two outside, with “dining room” walls lined with two-tone tiles. DINOS is spelled using brown tiles. Wall-mounted menus list an array of breakfast items, Mexican-American comfort food like burritos, and of course burgers, but I never see the need to order anything but El Pollo Maniaco.

Chicken Los Angeles

Back in 2000, the grilled chicken plate was priced at an astonishingly low $3.28. That included (and includes) a flame-red half-chicken served over a huge heap of French fries, all doused with potent red sauce. The Styrofoam container also includes crisp, unadulterated cole slaw and warm corn tortillas.

The marinade permeates the bird and isn’t just limited to the skin, like at lesser chicken establishments. At those low prices, I certainly questioned the integrity of the chicken, but with one bite, my fears were sent packing. Even at $5, the current cost of the meal, the chicken plate remains one of the best food bargains in the city.

According to Hansen’s article, the marinated red chicken is an old Greek recipe that owner Demetrios Pantazis “marinated and basted with secret seasonings – vinegar and garlic, obviously, and there must be oregano.” That ingredient list still doesn’t explain the distinct color that permeates the yard bird, but the counterman wasn’t about to give away the house secret recipe.

In the year 2000, Pantazis estimated that he sold “3,500 plates a week.” Looking around at what other customers were eating, and considering the long line, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has increased.

Dino’s spice-doused French fries are scintillating, and irregularly shaped. Some fries were circular, others rectangular, and other fries defied geometric categorization altogether. With each bite, the force of the lip-stinging spices begins to build. It’s a sensory experience, especially given the fierce aroma that wafts from the plate. When I decide to eat healthy, I substitute a base of rice and beans, which gets the same red sauce treatment.

Horchata Los Angeles

Being a Latino neighborhood, Dino’s carries Mexican fountain drinks like Jamaica and horchata. I ordered a small horchata ($1.30), a sweet rice milk drink made with cinnamon, a cool way to extinguish heat from El Pollo Maniaco.

October 2008 Update: The Lincoln Heights original is no more and the cost of the chicken plate is $6.50, including tax, still a bargain.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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