Fast-casual chicken chain Pollo Tropical is finally staking a claim inside Dallas proper, with a branch slated to open on Greenville Avenue and four more branches opening around Dallas-Fort Worth in 2015.
The Greenville Avenue branch will open toward the end of the year, in an SMU-friendly spot that's just south of University Boulevard, says Danny Meisenheimer, chief operating officer.
"We have a few locations in Florida that are right on college campuses," he says. "College kids love the food. We call it food you feel better about eating."
They're also opening a branch off 75 and Campbell, and they're hitting Tarrant County with new stores in Euless, Wautaga and Southlake. More branches will open in Houston and San Antonio, as well. "Our goal is to Caribbean-ize Texas," he says. "We want to take Texans to the island."
Pollo Tropical has Dallas ties. Though based in Miami, it's owned by Fiesta Restaurant Group based in Addison, along with its sister brand Taco Cabana. Pollo Tropical made its debut in Texas in 2014 when it opened a branch in Addison. There are now more than 15 locations in Texas, including restaurants in Frisco, Denton, Fort Worth and Allen, with plans for at least 11 more.
Its signature dish is citrus-marinated grilled chicken, but the menu also includes mojo pork, beef, wings and tropical sides such as rice, beans, yuca and sweet plantains. The cuisine is Caribbean, which makes it stand apart from Mexican-themed chicken chains such as Pollo Regio.
"Caribbean is the heart of our brand," Meisenheimer says. "It's really what drives us. It starts in the kitchen, with beans, rice, plantains, fried yuca and tropical juices like guava. And then the design of the building, which we updated with the opening of the Addison store."
To emphasize its flavor profile, Pollo Tropical is throwing a month-long "Caribbean Heritage" celebration by offering discounts to customers who bring in coupons from the competition.
Meisenheimer says there's something addictive about the flavors.
"It's citrus, it's garlic, it's the Scotch bonnet peppers, it's the variety of Caribbean spices, there's so much flavor in our products," he says. "And the dipping sauces are something you don't find everywhere, like curry mustard and cilantro garlic and guava barbecue and pineapple rum. If you take those sauces, it lets you make each meal different.
"And the sides go beyond rice and beans. The fried yuca is like a potato but with a tropical kick. And the plantains are great."
Although they don't advertise Pollo Tropical as "healthy," Meisenheimer says that the lean, light approach is in line, including a Tropical Light line with dishes under 500 calories.
"You can come in and eat healthy," he says. "But I think it's really the authenticity. We do a lot of scratch cooking with food that's hand-made at the store. It's not cookie-cutter. This place is real."