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Everything's crisp at Chicken Lisa's

Succulent carnitas and charbroiled chicken fuel a ride to Escondido's outskirts

Carnitas combo, with guacamole, red rice, refried beans, and corn tortillas
Carnitas combo, with guacamole, red rice, refried beans, and corn tortillas

There is no shortage of good Mexican restaurants scattered among the 40 miles between my home and Chicken Lisa’s, but we press on. We think we’re getting close when we start to spot Escondido freeway exits, but the mapping software says there’s another 12 minutes of driving ahead. That’s because Chicken Lisa’s sits about as far out as Escondido gets, up in the old North Broadway neighborhood, just beyond a wooden community sign welcoming folks to Escondido Hills. Beyond that, San Diego County mostly peters out into scrubby slopes and the occasional country club another 15 miles to Fallbrook.

Place

Chicken Lisa's and Your Mexican Favorites

555 W Country Club Ln E, Escondido

We’ve held our appetite all this way because I’ve recently learned something about the six-year-old restaurant: if you love crispy chicken skin, it’s the place to be.

The full name of the place is Chicken Lisa's and Your Mexican Favorites, and that doesn’t even tell the whole story, because in a second part of the restaurant (if you turn left inside the entrance) there’s a beer and wine bar called Frankie's at Chicken Lisa's.

Chicken Lisa's, found in a way out Escondido strip mall next to a 7/11

That part’s set up for sipping suds and watching sports on TV while you sample the house chicken. And if anything, the restaurant side is even more casual. It’s a counter shop built along one side of a long, narrow dining room with patios at both ends. Any vibe caters to the suburban locale, its bright yellow walls hung with tchotchkes and eclectic artwork.

The chicken-friendly sports bar, Frankie's at Chicken Lisa's

Behind the counter, spatchcocked chickens are lined up on a grill, charbroiling till the meat is tender and that skin is crisp. Crisp like thinnest of crackers, but with the craveable blend of schmaltz and savory seasonings: garlic, cumin, chile, maybe paprika. I order the half chicken combo ($11), and choose fries as one of the sides. These too, are uncommonly crisp, battered before they hit the deep fryer.

A narrow counter shop, decorated with tchotchkes

But but I’m not thinking about potatoes when I wrap a few hunks of thigh meat, crispy skin, and salsa into a flour tortilla. From the first bite, I’m feeling really great about driving all this way. It’s the charbroiled chicken-style behind El Pollo Loco’s success, only done much better.

The half chicken combo, with uncommonly crispy charbroiled chicken (and fries). And the chicken may not even be the best thing on the menu.

The half chicken combo, with uncommonly crispy charbroiled chicken (and fries)

On a second, $11 combo plate, we dig into something nearly as crispy: carnitas. A hefty portion comes slathered with fresh guacamole and served with red rice and cheesy refried beans. I take to this plate with corn tortillas, but the result is the same. The carnitas are marvelously simple: just enough brine to embellish the pork, which is slow cooked tender and juicy, then pulled into pieces that are seared to a crisp before serving.

“This might be the real story here,” my wife tells me, between bites. It’s about the only conversation we can muster at Chicken Lisa’s. The food has all our attention, as it should. There’ll be plenty of time to talk on the ride home.

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Carnitas combo, with guacamole, red rice, refried beans, and corn tortillas
Carnitas combo, with guacamole, red rice, refried beans, and corn tortillas

There is no shortage of good Mexican restaurants scattered among the 40 miles between my home and Chicken Lisa’s, but we press on. We think we’re getting close when we start to spot Escondido freeway exits, but the mapping software says there’s another 12 minutes of driving ahead. That’s because Chicken Lisa’s sits about as far out as Escondido gets, up in the old North Broadway neighborhood, just beyond a wooden community sign welcoming folks to Escondido Hills. Beyond that, San Diego County mostly peters out into scrubby slopes and the occasional country club another 15 miles to Fallbrook.

Place

Chicken Lisa's and Your Mexican Favorites

555 W Country Club Ln E, Escondido

We’ve held our appetite all this way because I’ve recently learned something about the six-year-old restaurant: if you love crispy chicken skin, it’s the place to be.

The full name of the place is Chicken Lisa's and Your Mexican Favorites, and that doesn’t even tell the whole story, because in a second part of the restaurant (if you turn left inside the entrance) there’s a beer and wine bar called Frankie's at Chicken Lisa's.

Chicken Lisa's, found in a way out Escondido strip mall next to a 7/11

That part’s set up for sipping suds and watching sports on TV while you sample the house chicken. And if anything, the restaurant side is even more casual. It’s a counter shop built along one side of a long, narrow dining room with patios at both ends. Any vibe caters to the suburban locale, its bright yellow walls hung with tchotchkes and eclectic artwork.

The chicken-friendly sports bar, Frankie's at Chicken Lisa's

Behind the counter, spatchcocked chickens are lined up on a grill, charbroiling till the meat is tender and that skin is crisp. Crisp like thinnest of crackers, but with the craveable blend of schmaltz and savory seasonings: garlic, cumin, chile, maybe paprika. I order the half chicken combo ($11), and choose fries as one of the sides. These too, are uncommonly crisp, battered before they hit the deep fryer.

A narrow counter shop, decorated with tchotchkes

But but I’m not thinking about potatoes when I wrap a few hunks of thigh meat, crispy skin, and salsa into a flour tortilla. From the first bite, I’m feeling really great about driving all this way. It’s the charbroiled chicken-style behind El Pollo Loco’s success, only done much better.

The half chicken combo, with uncommonly crispy charbroiled chicken (and fries). And the chicken may not even be the best thing on the menu.

The half chicken combo, with uncommonly crispy charbroiled chicken (and fries)

On a second, $11 combo plate, we dig into something nearly as crispy: carnitas. A hefty portion comes slathered with fresh guacamole and served with red rice and cheesy refried beans. I take to this plate with corn tortillas, but the result is the same. The carnitas are marvelously simple: just enough brine to embellish the pork, which is slow cooked tender and juicy, then pulled into pieces that are seared to a crisp before serving.

“This might be the real story here,” my wife tells me, between bites. It’s about the only conversation we can muster at Chicken Lisa’s. The food has all our attention, as it should. There’ll be plenty of time to talk on the ride home.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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