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Zankou... ???

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Just when I'd amused myself with an overwrought report on Clementine's which seemingly belabored the fact that the counter person wasn't a Mensa member, I found myself late last night in a similar position at the seminal Zankou-W.L.A. branch. Coming back from a show, with the drive thru line at Jack's way too long I spied the well lit Zankou at Sepulveda and Santa Monica Blvd and thought what a perfect time to try this place again. I'd only been once before when they first opened and was fairly underwhelmed especially in light of my friend's overwhelming enthusiasm for the Valley branch. I got in right under the wire before their 11pm closing. For $4.98, the price of a whole sumptious Costco bird, I got the fairly moist quarter pound white meat chicken plate which sports three large pieces of pita bread, a geneorus serving of fairly decent hummus and a mound of some pink pickled oddity. I believe it's all meant to be held together by a small container of a white garlicky paste that resembles Elmer's glue. I truly don't get it. El Pollo Loco is more flavorful. Now who's being overwrought?

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  1. I don't think you're that far off and are more right on then most who worship Zankou, IMHO.
    I personally find their chicken a little too greasy and their other items are okay, at best. If you consider this place more of a fast food joint rather then a high quality sit down middle eastern restraurant, you won't be as dissapointed. I tend to agree with you and 4 out of 5 times would prefer to pick-up El Pollo Loco over Zankou. I'd much rather use El Pollo's guacamole salsa with rice and beans over overly mayonaised garlic sauce (which makes you stink for 2-3 days, not to mention your car and house.) Not good!!!

    The pink stuff you saw are pickled turnips. They're pickled with vinegar, spices, garlic and beets, hence the pink color.

    3 Replies
      1. re: Joe

        Chicken is dry and nothing special. Albertson's rotisserie chicken is way better. But what is special is the garlic sauce. That is their whole secret for success.

        1. re: daveg456

          Every few weeks, for several years, I go to the Van Nuys Zankou and have NEVER had dry chicken. I gave up buying chain grocery store roast chickens years ago because the ones that my mom always got from various Ralphs around W.L.A. were ALWAYS dried out. When I tried Whole Foods, their chickens were even worse, dry and expensive! Pollo a la Brassa on Western at 8th St. is great but not a short detour off of the freeway on my way home like Zankou is. I'm due for a stop at Zankou and hope and expect that it will be as good as always. I do drive by a new Albertsons on my way home and may try the chicken but my expectations are not high.

      2. I think that the garlic sauce saves the chicken, regardless of how much it makes you smell. It's garlic!

        I always get the shawermas, which I enjoy a lot. If there are better shawermas, I would love to hear where I could find them.

        1 Reply
        1. re: young_chower

          Excellent shawarma at Mediterranean Cafe in Pasadena. Zankou is OK, but is only popular because it is closer to the Westside than the more plentiful and smaller Armenian/Lebanese places in Glendale and Pasadena.

        2. results vary from branch to branch, order to order. i've had great chicken at zankou. i've also had dry, bad chicken. still its miles better than el pollo loco overall, where smoke seems to be the only seasoning.

          that "pickled oddity" is a middle eastern thing - not my cup pof tea but some people dig it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: rameniac

            IMO, smoked cooked chicken beats a drenched in grease chicken which is commonly consumed with garlic mayonaise and pita bread. I couldn't think of a more dry combination. Saying that, I eat Zankou infrequently and I have friends that love it. Usually, it's because it's something new and different for them. Isn't that the case with almost anything? It's human nature.

          2. The quality does seem to vary widely. The Glendale branch, on Colorado, can be very good if you go there around lunch or dinner, when it's crowded. Otherwise, not so good. The Hollywood branch, on Sunset, is in my experience nearly always awful. With so much other, better chicken around town, I seldom bother with Zankou anymore.

            1 Reply
            1. re: estone888

              the Sunset location has the worst bird i've ever had and i dig Zankou- so if any one decides to try it for the first time, check out the one in Glendale.

            2. Their garlic sauce is the best! I've tried the one in Pasadena.

              1. As other posts imply, the west LA branch is emphatically NOT either the seminal or most representative branch of Zankou. In my experience, it's the most chain-like, anonymous link in the chain, which is unfortunate since it's only a couple of miles from my house. We've had much better results with the birds in Van Nuys, Hollywood (which I believe is the original), etc.

                Also, as many other posters have pointed out through the years, the roast birds at Zankou have not been their strong suit for a long time. Maybe the decline started around the time of the horrible family murder-suicide in 2003. But the chicken tarna, on the other hand, is still usually excellent, even in West LA. The garlic sauce is hard to resist, even now that we all know the secret ingredient. The pita is--well, the pita comes in a bag, it's not great, but it's good enough.

                And those pink things? Pickled turnips--a standard in middle-Eastern establishments all over town. I love 'em. There are better ones at some of the better Armenian, Lebanese, Israeli, etc. around town, but for fast food Zankou's are not bad at all.

                4 Replies
                1. re: PayOrPlay

                  Per the company website, the Hollywood location of Zankou is now closed. Whether closed, being remodeled, or being relocated, I have no idea, although the parking was always difficult.

                  1. re: carter

                    Jeez, first L'Orangerie and Matsuhisa and now this! When will the carnage cease? :-)

                    1. re: carter

                      The Hollywood location is still open. I was there today.

                    2. re: PayOrPlay

                      I agree. The chicken tarna with extra garlic sauce is the thing to get. I wouldn't travel across town for their roast chicken, when you can get a decent model almost anywhere.

                      Love the pickled turnips.

                    3. No, I just called - they're fine. (My heart sank when I read the above mentioned post.)

                      1. So PayOrPlay is wrong? The Hollywood location is still open?

                        Regarding the variations between locations, I understood that the the different restaurants (Hollywood, Pasadena, W. La, Glendale) were owned and operated by different people in the family. Which is why the W. LA office looks like a "real" chain restaurant.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bo_burger

                          Just to clarify, PayOrPlay has no idea if the Hollywood location is open or not. (Actually, let me restate that, now that I've seen JudiAU's post above--if Judi says it's open, it's open.) It was Carter who (accurately) noted that the Zankou website doesn't list the Hollywood location. http://www.zankouchicken.com Could be any number of reasons for that.

                          1. re: PayOrPlay

                            "It was Carter who (accurately) noted that the Zankou website doesn't list the Hollywood location. http://www.zankouchicken.com Could be any number of reasons for that."

                            Maybe certain members of the family aren't talking to each other :)

                        2. I agree, I'm not sure what the fuss is about as well. The garlic sauce just tastes like straight grease to me and the chicken was not very flavorful. But I know my friends swear by it ;)

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Alice

                            Do you eat it properly? I tear off a bit of the chicken, including some of the skin, place it in a pita half and coat the chicken with the garlic paste. Chicken + Pita + Garlic Paste = Crazy Delicious.

                            1. re: Silent_Android

                              I did eat it properly as you described, but I guess, I should also say to be fair, that chicken isn't my favorite food.

                              1. re: Alice

                                thats not entirely fair now is it to comment on food that you are not fond of in the first place? thats like saying the bone in filet at mastro's is mediocre at best.....oh and by the way....i really don't like beef.

                          2. I live half a mile from the Zankou on Sunset, and if it closed there would have been a small riot.

                            But yeah, the zankouchicken.com site only mentions it in passing when it talks about the company history.

                            Maybe the Hollywood location is so popular, they need not advertise it anymore in hopes the parking situation will improve?
                            Sometimes when establishments are TOO popular, they actually lose business, either due to limited parking or a long wait time (which was the case with the original Palm Thai location - that's why they moved to a much larger place a few blocks west)
                            People tend to lose their patience and decide to spend their money elsewhere.

                            1. I am a Zankou Chicken fan from way back (I think the original...and that is the definition of seminal, is it not) branch is the one in Silver Lake/Echo Park/Hollywood (on Sunset) when my boyfriend lived near there. When I first started eating there, the chicken was always FANTASTIC! Much juicier and more flavorful than El Pollo Loco (the chicken is what's important...you can get your own condiments anywhere). And then he and I moved to Pasadena and discovered the Glendale branch (on Colorado), and went out of our way to go back often. BUT...the branch in Pasadena is only so-so. I think it is important to listen to what people are saying...if you want to taste what people are talking about, go to a branch that is noted for having good chicken...because they are not all equally good...

                              1. To me, Zankou's garlic sauce is like smack, it's so addictive. Instead of tying my arm off to get high, I just go for an extra large tub of garlic sauce and some of their (greasy) chicken or other rotisserie chicken. Their must be some endorphin released when that stuff hits my taste buds. It's almost embarrassing how excited I get by the garlic sauce. Forge the turnips, pita, etcetera. That stuff is just filler.

                                I think I need a program.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: sillyrabbit

                                  I agree completely. Have you used the sauce in any other recipes? It might be good on a sauceless pizza.

                                2. My most recent visits to the West LA location have been really disappointing. They have skimped on the pickled turnips and there was barely any garlic sauce on my chicken tarna wrap. I've had much better luck at the Van Nuys location.

                                  1. In days of old, Zankou did rule the chicken coop. They were succulent and delicious. Put El Crazy Chicken to shame. But, sad to say, they expanded, they changed and now, IMHO, as far as the chicken goes, they should be relegated to the rank of fond memory. That being said, how about Pollo a la Brasa on 8th street? Huh? I just got back from Tulum, Mex. and there was this little Brasa stand on the main street. We ate, we enjoyed and, I have to say, our Pollo is on par with their Pollo.(and, a damn sight more hygenic) So, I say leave Zankou in its place and move up, way up, to La Brasa.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: mssreatalot

                                      i have been to that chicken spot you speak of in tulum!
                                      about a hundred feet away from the bus terminal right?
                                      tasty stuff!

                                    2. I have always had wonderful food from the Anaheim store.
                                      The Hollywood store has been on and off.
                                      The Glendale store is supposed to be good (the Armenian enclave).

                                      1. As a kid, my father use to bring home Zankou Chicken or sometimes we'd have lunch at Zankou. That was 30-40 years ago and in a whole different country. My father was friends with Vartkes (the original owner) and he use to come and sit with us and chit chat with my old man as we chowed. The original Zankou (original for continental US) was in Hollywood (on Sunset) and for the first 5-8 years of their existence, it was pretty damn close to what they use to serve in Beirut. Once they had commercial success and they branched out is when the quality of food became sub par. That only amplified when the family tragedy struck about 3 years ago. I’m not saying it’s horrible. I’m simply stating its average chicken and there are far better options out there.
                                        If you're searching for something unique, try Pollo a la Brasa on 8th and Western. Now that’s original and flavorful chicken.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Joe

                                          here's a common chicken plate from Pollo Ala Brasa. So delicious!

                                          1. re: Joe

                                            That chicken looks good, but I don't know what it is about the fries.. They look.. unique! I want to try!

                                            1. re: Joe

                                              I, too, prefer Polla a la Brasa to Zankou. Zankou's roasted chicken tastes dry and reheated.

                                              I also recommend the chicken at any of the California Chicken Cafes. They move a lot of chicken so they are able to roast throughout the day. The eight piece all-dark meat special (four leg/thigh quarters) for $5.50 is pretty hard to beat.

                                              1. re: tritip

                                                when i was there 2-3mo's ago, the eight piece dark meat deal was no more.

                                          2. I'm a normally HUGE of Zankou Hollywood. I had last eaten there in late May, but I did have an experience ths past weekend that causes me to give some of these comments more consideration. My garlic sauce was YUK. The mix seemed really off. Maybe it had less garlic and more potato? Dunno. AND I had wicked indigestion that night. I guess I'll check back here and keep tabs,

                                            1. i love that garlic sauce more than any other condiment i've ever put in my mouth.
                                              i've been to almost all their locations and had juicy bird and a not so juicy bird. but the skin always tastes really crisp and flavorful.
                                              but the toum and the hummus are both aweeeeeeeeesome!
                                              i've tried the recipe someone posted on chowhound for toum and felt it tasted nothing like the real thing. oh well.
                                              ill keep buying large tubs of it and eating it on a cracker, on veg, on the spoon!!!!

                                              1. Yes, junglekitte, I love it too. But this time it was gross. And my stomach felt it.

                                                1. my stomach always feels it after i eat too much of the garlic sauce. hehe.

                                                  1. just went to the sunset one this week. loving the chicken. loving it!!!

                                                    i really don't get the people who hate this place. maybe you are not eating your chicken in the place? i dunno, the skin is always perfectly awesome, and the chicken is never dry, always juicy.

                                                    1. I love this place. It's awesome. I've only been the Pasadena and Anaheim branches.

                                                      1. Just ate at the WLA branch and it was great - moist, tasty, perfect. No complaints here. But, can't comment on garlic sauce because they forgot to include it.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: yogachik

                                                          Forgetting the garlic "sauce" with Zankou chicken is like forgetting the cheese on nachos.

                                                        2. Zankou rules. The hummus. The garlic paste. The tarna. The low prices. The fact that it's perfectly situated wherever you want to be: OC, Westside, Valley, Pasadena, Hollywood, Glendale. The late hours. The shawarma. The fast service. The yellow shirts.

                                                          All that said, I've never really ordered a 1/4 chicken or 1/2 chicken there more than once, and that is going back to the late 80s when it was just the Glendale branch. Didn't like it too much. I always get the sandwiches and plates. And I always love them.

                                                          Zankou is one of the best food experiences in LA.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: scoot

                                                            I believe its difficult to compare El Pollo Loco with Zankou, although both serve chicken and in similar style, they are a bit different. If one prefers more of the salsa and so forth then you would opt for El Pollo Loco, while Zankou serve up more of a middle eastern style.

                                                            1. re: knsv

                                                              Zankou: garlic (even without the paste)
                                                              El Pollo Loco: achiote

                                                            2. re: scoot

                                                              Always get the whole chicken and the mutabbal (or if you're more into lemon, the hommus) and make those decadent pita sandwiches with chicken, too much garlic paste, and the mutabbal or hommus. There's nothing like it. Unless, like my Armenian neighbors, you add handfulls of fresh herbs (that you get at your local Armenian market, not available at Zankou). Try matching that in NYC or SF!

                                                            3. Personally, I'm all about it. I would eat there everyday if I could stomach it, literally. The spices and garlic pack such a punch that I can't go back for a few days. On days I go, it's the only thing I eat all day or night. I've also tried buying extra for at home but it's not the same out of the ice box.

                                                              1. To be fair, I'll admit I've had both ridiculously good and embarrassingly worse experiences at Zankou.

                                                                At best, they're inconsistent with their chicken but you need to experience their garlic sauce at least once in your lifetime.

                                                                That scrumptious paste is the only thing they've got going for them.

                                                                1. You ordered the wrong thing. Get the chicken tarna wrap. My God. I get mine with hummus and tahini. I can attest that the West L.A. tarna is as good or better than the Van Nuys location.