NYC/NJ Dining: Pollo Tropical

Pollo Tropical (Columbia Park Shopping Center)
3103 Kennedy Blvd, North Bergen, NJ

(201) 864-4060

Pollo Tropical
374 Route 3 West, Riverfront Center, Clifton, NJ

Pollo Tropical
771 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY

(718) 218-8965

Web Site:

Click for Hi-Res Slide Show

If you live in South Florida, the Pollo Tropical quick-serve restaurants are among the best alternatives to the usual suspect fast food chains, with their clean and bright colored tropical-themed dining rooms and their flame-grilled marinated chicken, served Caribbean-style. With 75 stores in Florida, Pollo Tropical recently opened 3 stores in the NJ/NYC metro area, with two in Northern NJ and one initial store in Brooklyn.

In Northern NJ Pollo Tropical faces huge competition from many independent and well-established Pollo a La Brasa restaurants, such as the very popular Colombian Pollos Mario NY/NJ mini-chain and any number of other Latino-owned roast chicken places in Union City, North Bergen and West New York.

However, I think they have an interesting angle, in that they appear to be more non-Latino friendly than the other restaurants in the area. The counter staff at the establishments are fluent English-speaking and the stores have clear menus in English. The menus are limited to variations of a few different items and easy to understand, and while the featured dishes themselves are not hardcore Cuban, Dominican or Puerto Rican (with the exception of the Ropa Vieja) they are items that have broad appeal, such as the chicken, pork and steak sandwiches, plates and salads. The BBQ-grilled chickens themselves, the signature dish of the restaurant, are excellent and are cooked properly to order. The restaurant chain is very healthy-eating focused and provides nutritional data for every item at the restaurant with printed-out pamphlets.

The Pollo Tropical store at Columbia Park Shopping Center in North Bergen.

Pollo Tropical brings the taste of Miami to New York and New Jersey. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below.

Store Interior

Counter area, with a view of the grills

Condiment area. We really liked the curry mustard sauce and the Guava BBQ. Pollo Tropical’s hot sauce is also made with Red Amazon Peppers and Cane Vinegar, so its not your typical hot sauce.

Ropa Vieja, a traditional Cuban and Puerto Rican dish made with braised beef that is cooked until it falls apart, and is served over Sofrito-seasoned yellow rice, salad and beans.

Maduros, deep fried sweet plantains. A must order.

Sides — rice and beans, yuca with garlic sauce, and tomato onion salad, all of which we thought were very good.

Mango “TropiChiller”. This was like an Ice-E or a 7-11 Slurpee, very sweet, a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for more of a fruit shake like a Cuban Batido.

Roast Pork sandwiches, a fast food take on Pan con Lechon. Unlike the Cuban style from which it is derived, this bread is not panini grilled and pressed, but it is very good quality sandwich bread, kind of like a Ciabatta roll. The pork was nice and juicy, had a great grilled flavor and was well-seasoned. The French Fries were also excellent and were made with fresh cut potatoes (or a superior frozen variety, it was hard to tell) and still had the skins on them.

Half BBQ Roast Chicken, the main event. These are cooked split open and flattened on the flame grill, and the skin is allowed to become crispy. The meat was still nice and juicy, even the breast, and was seasoned Caribbean-style. Probably the best fast-food chicken I’ve ever had.

28 Responses to NYC/NJ Dining: Pollo Tropical

  1. tk says:

    i have the unfortunate honor of working in the business that is right next to the pollo tropical in clifton. the first few weeks their ventilation system didn’t work too good, our store smelled like garlic and assorted old meats. recently their water system got backed up with grease and they had a big grease truck to clean the system. the area behind the store is already a mess with grease and other garbage on the road. customers have come in to our store and told us that the chipotle store is much better then pollo tropical. sorry to burst the bubble that pollo tropical is the best around

  2. Jon says:

    Chipotle? The chain owned by McDonalds?

    They don’t do food even remotely like whats served at Pollo Tropical. If people are comparing them, that’s ignorance speaking.

    Not that Chipotle is horrid–for what they do they are alright (dumbed down mass-appeal production-line Tacos and Burritos), but its a totally different level of operation. Pollo Tropical actually has to COOK stuff.

    That said, I am sympathetic to anyone who has to exist in the space next to a new restaurant location shaking the bugs out of their ventilation, waste disposal, etc. If they are still having these kids of problems in a few months I’d be highly critical at that point, but its pretty much expected right off.

  3. Chipotle -was- owned by McDonalds, up until October of 2006.

    Frankly it is unfair to compare Chipotle to Pollo Tropical. Chipotle is Tex-Mex style food and Pollo Tropical is Cuban/Puerto Rican/Dominican style food. That’s like comparing Japanese food to Indian Food — both Asian cusines, but very different. Sure, they are both Latino, but that’s where the similarity ends.

    I’ve never had the opportunity to eat at a Chipotle but I hear for QSR type food its pretty decent.

  4. By the way, it is interesting to note that Pollo Tropical is owned by Carrols Corporation:

    Which is a large operator of Burger King franchises plus they own Taco Cabana, which competes with Chipotle in some markets.

  5. Tess says:

    I have eaten at the Pollo Tropical in North Bergen. Very disappointing. You’re right – Pollo Tropical is more non-Latino friendly and they have lots of glossy pictures but their food’s awful in comparison to what’s up the street on Bergenline Avenue. There are TONS of great Cuban/Ecuadorian/Peruvian/Columbian/Dominican restaurants there. Most are privately operated and many have English translations. Going to these places is like taking a vacation b/c you can immerse yourself in each country’s respective culinary culture. They’re 100% authentic – the staff and clientele are mostly Latino but won’t give you the hairy eye when you enter b/c they’re just going about their day. Really chill. You MUST go.

  6. Lola777 says:

    I am deeply offended by the post about the smell of the food it sounds to me like the person with the complaint has bias issues. I ate at Pollo Tropical and the food was wonderful and the people very friendly, I would love to have a restaurant in Sussex NJ I drove 35 min. to eat at Pollo Tropical in RT 3 and was not disapointed. You have try the Pina Colada Smothie is the best. My advice for TK is to dont knock till you try it buddy. PS: the Restaurant on RT 3 was spotless and its about time we have a nice tropical place to eat thanks guys.

  7. Randi says:

    This is one time I’ll have to disagree with you. Last March, Robin and I ate at Pollo Tropical in Hallandale Beach, FL and we both though it sucked!! Maybe we picked the wrong location but I wasnt impressed. I might also be comparing it to El Pollo Loco which I love and ate a lot( when I lived in Cali). I dont know what else to say about PT, it just didnt do it for me.

  8. Hallandale Beach? C’mon. Most of the people who live there don’t even have their original teeth, let alone know what latino food actually is. In fact I’d be hard pressed to find ANY good food in Hallandale Beach! That’s where my grandparents had their condo in the early 80’s. I’d try a branch in a predominantly Latino area before trying one in Early Bird Special land.

  9. markymark says:

    Gotta disagree with you there, Jason. When my grandfather-in-law lived in Hollywood, FL we used to go to Hallandale Beach to eat at Padrino’s. This was a family-run chain of about 3-4 restaurants with very good Cuban food. One would see a mix of bubbes, zeydehs, abuelos and abuelas there. My kids had their first madauros there and have been eating them since.

  10. Todd Jaspers says:

    I live in South Florida, and I eat Pollo Tropical constantly. I can literally eat it every day. 90% of the people I work with and are friends with are Latino. I’m 1/4 hispanic (Argentine) if that counts, but I think the food is great. Absolutely NO complaints here from the food. I can’t get enough of it. I’m fairly “proper” when it comes to foods and cuisines. I’ve always been somewhat in aristocracy my entire life, eating cornish gain hens and chicken cordon bleu as regular meals at the various prep schools I went to growing up. With that kind of food background, I can still say that Pollo is absolutely top-notch. Of course, it’s served in styrofoam containers, with plastic utensils, but… it’s about as authentic as you’re going to get from something that I would hardly refer to as “fast food”.

  11. LHPSNO says:

    I agree with ToddJaspers……PolloTropical just opened in Pompano or at least I just found out….LOL I can eat it everyday……YUMMMMMM I commute up to Gainesville, and we don’t have one around there……Keeping my fingers crossed for more Florida Locations…..

  12. mickey999 says:

    I have to agree-Pollo Tropical is the best “fast food” restaurant I came across in Florida-Mick,England

  13. Roberto Aloi says:

    I read several comments concerning eating there every day. I eat there at least five times a week. My only issue with the chain is consistency or the lack thereof. The location I find most reliable in terms of quality and cleanliness is the location in West Palm Beach Florida close to 45th street and Military trail.

    The chicken is always very juicy and well seasoned. When I am in other areas of town and eat at one out of convenience I am typically disappointed. Chicken that is overcooked and dried out or sometimes downright burnt!

    If the location you go to has a management staff who really cares about their particular location and the quality of what they are creating you certainly will not be disappointed. When things are done by the book so to speak the food is excellent.

    How the food is cooked is not rocket science so these comments about mom & pop places in the northeast being so much better is rather hilarious.

    Now a complaint to round this out – The black beans… Every so often I might find some remnants of diced pepper or a bay leaf. Some leftover clue indicating someone actually seasoned the “out of the can” taste of the bland beans. black beans are a wonderful thing when seasoned. Straight from a can could not be more bland.

    When you dine in please ask them to give you some garlic (not garlic sauce). They also have onions you can get. Be certain to put them on your black beans and rice and even distribute some garlic over the rice and beans and it makes that particular side shine.

    Maybe it’s an Italian thing with the garlic, I don’t know but it works.

  14. The menu reads great, but the food is a letdown.
    Today I made my first visit to a Pollo Tropical, a newly opened store in Clermont, Florida. One of our party had the boneless chicken breast meal with white rice and black beans, Two of us had chicken, yellow rice and vegetables Tropichops, plus a side of fried yuca with garlic sauce, a side of balsamic tomatoes and a Caesar side salad.
    The chicken breat was reasonably good if not anything special, but everything else was disappointing. The rice and beans were all virtually tasteless. It would be impossible, in a blindfolded tasting, to tell red beans from black, or white rice from yellow, (and perhaps even rice from beans). The Tropichops were all rice, with only a few tiny bites of chicken and perhaps a half-dozen peas and even fewer tiny carrot cubes each. Between the two Tropichops there was one small brocolli floret. The balsamic tomatoes were unisnspired, the Caesar salad nothing but chopped lettuce, bland croutons and a sprinkling of cheese with no detectable flavor. The yuca was also without any detectable flavor save for the garlic sauce, which amounted to nothing more than a watery garlic puree.
    The polite and friendly manager queried our table about our meals, and I politely told him that I was disappointed with the blandness. His pleasant and polite response was that they “don’t cook as spicy as your mother would cook so that everyone will like it.” If flavorlessness is the formula then I wish them luck, but it won’t win me as a customer.

  15. Imani says:

    I love Pollo Tropical. And as far as the one in Hallendale is concerned, I’ve been there once, and it was great. Normally I got to the one on University Drive because it’s near my school, Nova Southeastern University. Overall, I was impressed my first visit. It’s great food, great ppl, and …great food. Lol. That is all. Good day.

    I said good day.

  16. Imani says:


  17. Patty Gonzalez says:

    I love Pollo Tropical. The food is far from bland and if you want to spice it up they offer sauces on the salsa bar. I am a little confused when someone mentioned finding a diced pepper or a piece of bay leaf in the black beans as an indicator that it is out of the can. That is ridiculous! Pollo Tropical prides itself on making all items from scratch. I think for the most part the food is great. They now do catering sizes and they are really inexpensive to feed a lot of people. I usually visit the one in Kendall by Dadeland and I have no complaints so far.

  18. William T. says:

    I love the food at Pollo Tropical. The Chicken is not only healthy, but tastes really good too. Check out there website,, they got great give aways and are even raffling off free food for a year!

  19. Ann A. says:

    This Pollo Tropical is one of my favorite places to eat! I live about 10 minutes away and make the drive about 3 times a week. Their black beans are as good as my mothers!

  20. izzy says:

    Great food at a price that can’t be beaten. keep up the good work pollo trop.

  21. Jason says:

    I’m reading this as I enjoy my take-out lunch from the Pollo Tropical on Route 1 in Woodbridge, NJ. I have to say that it has become one of my staples for lunchtime. Really, at $5 for a 1/4 chicken lunch special, it really is hard to beat it. I’m trying the balsamic tomatoes for the first time today as a side, and, mentioned in a previous comment, they are quite good.

    Compared to some of the other fast-food dining options around this area, it is nice to have something that is a bit healthier and more natural!

  22. Andrea says:

    Pollo Tropical is awesome. The food is great and the price cannot be beaten. Has anyone tried thier new wings?? They are my new favorite dish there.

  23. Heidi says:

    I ate at the Coral Springs, Fl location and loved it!! So did my family. I live in Georgia and hope hope hope some day there’ll be a location in or near Marietta

  24. DJ says:

    Does anyone know the recipe for the curry mustard sauce? I would rather have that than win the lottery!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE that sauce!

  25. esther says:

    can i buy the hot sauce

  26. Donia says:

    Not all Pollo Tropicals are run identically – some food is prepared better than others, example one location burns their chicken or it’s dry, the other has tasteless runny black beans, stickey rice, etc.. after trying half a dozen locations, we have settled on one which is our favorite and we believe to be the best one in Miami.

  27. […] a Wendy’s, a Church’s Fried Chicken, a KFC, a Pizza Hut, a Domino’s, and Pollo Tropical. I’ve even seen a Krispy Kreme and Wal-Marts and […]

  28. I eat at the Pollo Tropical in Pembroke Pines ALL THE TIME. Love it! The Caribbean Soup is delicious. I love the fact that they cook the “chicken on the grill” (tI say that of course, with their theme song tune! lol). I was raised eating cuban food, so their menu definitely hits the spot for my taste :)

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