Charcoal Grill Chicken offers homestyle flavor

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Do you ever walk by a neighbor’s house when they have a tantalizing grill going and wish you were invited over?

Well, at Charcoal Grill Chicken, you’re more than welcome to come in and get some of the best grilled chicken you’ll ever have.

Located in a small strip mall, this is a modest, family-friendly place with basic tables and chairs, handwritten signs, cheery orange walls and the delicious scent of grilling meat.

Owner Juan Vasquez hails from a long line of cooks in Guadalajara, and began grilling chicken with his parents at the age of 16. He operated El Rey de Pollo in North Hollywood before opening Charcoal Grill Chicken a year and a half ago in Canyon Country.

It’s a family affair, with wife Esmeralda and 18-year-old son Ismael helping to handcraft the restaurant’s heartfelt dishes, sides and salsas.

“This is the type of food that’s real, that everyone enjoys,” he says. “We like to take our time, because it makes the flavor better.”

Indeed, Charcoal Grill’s chicken starts with a long marinade in citrus, garlic and spices. Your order will take 10 minutes or so, but it’s worth the wait, especially when you’re provided with complimentary rich, creamy bean dip, spicy roasted salsa and warm, golden chips fried from homemade tortillas. Just try to restrain yourself from eating the whole basket (it’s not easy) — because you’ll want to leave room for the main event.

The chicken ($6.99 for two pieces, $3.99 for three pieces, $9 for a half or $17 for a whole) is just as good as it smells. The skin is perfectly crisp and the meat is succulent, with smoky flavor permeating every bite. Eat it straight off the bone or nestle chunks into the soft, hot corn tortillas and top with that yummy salsa.

You’ll have a choice of two sides and you can’t go wrong with any of the options: more of those awesome beans, fluffy-orange tinged rice, coleslaw, or a freshly made potato salad with just the right blend of mayo, spices, and crunchy bits of red and green bell pepper.

Not in the mood for chicken? No problem. There’s also a long list of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and pupusas on the menu.

The barbacoa tacos ($8.95), a specialty from Chapala, Mexico, come three to a plate (plus a choice of two sides). The beef is stewed for four to 6 hours until it renders into juicy, tender shreds. It’s then tucked in a corn tortilla that’s dipped into the meat’s juice and crisped on the grill for maximum flavor. Add a bit of piquant red chili salsa to fully enjoy these little pockets of heaven.

Pupusas ($2.75), a Salvadorean specialty, are elevated here. Vasquez uses three cheeses, which are melted into savory, gooey goodness within the grilled flour disc. It’s presented with a tangy tomato/onion sauce and cool, fresh bits of lettuce and cabbage. Combine it all together for a gourmet quesadilla-like dish. (There’s also a bean and cheese or chicharron option).

On weekends, massive bowls of classic Mexican soups are on offer to warm you up: pozole, caldo de res, or menudo are rotated throughout the month and served with corn tortillas and two sides for just $10.

Whatever you order, do pair with it an agua fresca. Like just about everything here, these “waters” are made fresh on the regular and totally on point. The Jamaica (hibiscus) is tart, tangy, and not too sweet, while the cucumber is light and refreshing, with just a hint of lime.

With its authentic, delicious food, fair prices, generous portions, and friendly service, this is a gem worth discovering, whether you live down the street or anywhere across the Santa Clarita Valley. And like a good neighbor, Vasquez will always welcome you with a smile.

“The beauty of having a restaurant is when people enjoy what you make. They become your friends,” he said. “It’s satisfying to see them satisfied.”

Charcoal Grill Chicken, 18921 Soledad Canyon Road, Canyon Country. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 8 pm Sunday. Closed Monday. To go orders and large party trays available for pick up. For more info, call (661) 495-4045.

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