What's perhaps most unsettling about this trend is that the best minds of our generation may in fact be those crafty spammers, whose words (albeit chosen randomly by a computer) I find nonetheless provocative and occasionally prescient.
"Dreamy baste instinctive," one advised me the other day, which may not mean anything to you, but to me was like a little bird in my ear whispering, "I think it's about time for an El Pollo Supremo fix."
The Super Chicken called to me, and I could not refuse. There have been other subliminal messages from the feathery caped one over the years: getting stuck in traffic and arriving home too late to cook; Tower Market giving the last rotisserie chicken to the guy in front of me; my 3-year-old parading up and down the kitchen chanting, "Pollo, pollo, pollo"; the smell of charring chicken skin pulling me from the burrito joint up the street and dragging me into the coop (OK, not so subliminal).
I don't even try to fight it anymore. If it comes down to pizza, Chinese, or El Pollo Supremo (3036 16th St., 431-7978; 2801 Folsom, 550-1193; 5210 Mission, 337-5750), the lure of this local chain's flame-grilled chicken, with its salty-tangy-crispy skin and succulent meat, barbecued just to the point of carcinogen onset, means there's really no contest. How it's made remains something of a state secret, as closely guarded as the whereabouts of the profits from the California Lottery. Employees at all three locations would divulge nothing more than the fact that the chicken is marinated in all-natural products for 24 hours before hitting the grill (my taste buds revealed a little more: garlic, sugar, a touch of chili, and cumin).
And the chicken isn't the only lure. El Pollo delivers a triple whammy, sealing the deal with outstanding, abundant side orders, and a price that's beyond reasonable ($5 for a half chicken; $14 for a family pack, which includes a whole chicken, two sides, a dozen steamed corn tortillas, and salsa).
Just deciding which side will accompany your meat can be a paralyzing task. All orders come with a choice of black, refried, or pinto beans (pinto are the best -- slow-cooked in a piquant, slightly glutinous sauce, spiked with just the right amount of chili powder and garlic); coleslaw or green, potato, or macaroni salad; corn on the cob; Spanish rice, white rice, rice with vegetables, or moro (black beans in white rice); fried yucca (casaba root); tostones (fried green bananas with garlic); or fried sweet plantains.
The line at both the Mission and 16th Street outlets usually allows ample time for contemplation -- which can be a good and a bad thing. Stand around long enough and you might be snapped out of your trance by some of the more unsavory neighborhood characters or the cafeterialike décor. Or worse, you might catch one of the other poor soulless Internet victims mouthing the words "dreamy baste instinctive" and realize that you are nothing more than a chilblain in a genius spammer's master plan.