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The Barrio Theory Behind Dino’s Famous Chicken’s Mysterious ‘DUI Fries’

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]’ve been a loyal paying Dino’s Famous Chicken customer since 2001. 

Back when their famous ‘Dino’s Chicken’ plates were $4.75, my mom would give me $20 of her hard-earned money in the mornings after dropping me off at Berendo Middle School so that I could grab four plates on the way back home to share with my family. 

But this story is in appreciation of their underrated second-best seller. A pile-up of their L.A. Greek diner basics combined into one glorious one-plate feast: DUI Fries.

The outdoor eating area at Dino's Famous Chicken original Pico location. Photo by Vladimir Santos for L.A. TACO.

DUI fries, for the uninitiated, are carne asada fries topped with chili, shredded yellow cheese, pastrami, and drenched in their famous chicken marinade. It is the city’s maximum expression of chili cheese fries. 

Their DUI fries are the graduate-level application of that famous spicy, acidic, garlicky bright orange secret marinade. It is the perfect continuation after you have put in years of work eating their iconic chicken plate. Developed by the late founder, Demetrios Pantazis, in the early 80s, that sauce is the business’s building block. I always joked that whatever is in that juguito is coursing through my veins since I have consumed so much of it throughout my life. And once you’re ready for it, it tastes exceptionally great on their french fries.

George Pitsos. Photo by Vladimir Santos for L.A. TACO.

According to George Pitsos, the son-in-law of the late owner Demetrios Pantazis, the fries do not correlate with the police code for drinking and driving. It is an acronym for Dino’s Ultimate Invention. 

I think the truth of its origins lies somewhere in the middle: with die-hard Dino’s customers customizing their orders to what they loved the most and Dino selflessly abiding as an ode to his golden rule of outstanding customer service. 

As ‘Hood lore goes, two rocker foo brothers, Alex and Rick Morales, who were born and raised in Koreatown, allegedly invented the dish after many booze-filled nights filled with fast music would bring them to Dino’s every weekend. In an attempt to sober up before driving home back in early 2010, they would order the pastrami sandwich and carne asada fries so often that the cooks started combining the extra pastrami (they pack them high) with their fries. If you want to get real deep into the rabbit hole of the hazy origins of DUI fries, this Foodbeast article also from 2017 disputes this claim and alleges that the dish was actually created in the 70s from the rival burger spot across the street. 

Dino's DUI Fries. Photo by Vladimir Santos for L.A. TACO.

L.A. TACO brought this alternative ‘hood theory up to Pitsos, and he did not dismiss it, but he also did not endorse it. “Maybe, I don’t know, if you say so,” before telling me that Dino himself thought the most important pillars of his business were customer service and quality ingredients. “My father-in-law believed so much in mouth-to-mouth advertisements...if a customer said, ‘Hey Dino! Give me some fries with some juice on it!’ He would do it, and word would spread.” 

I think the truth of its origins lies somewhere in the middle: with die-hard Dino’s customers customizing their orders to what they loved the most and Dino selflessly abiding as an ode to his golden rule of outstanding customer service. 

Dino's 'off-menu' DUI Fries with Dino's Famous Chicken added. Photo by Vladimir Santos for L.A. TACO.

Although these packed fries are also loaded with carne asada, this dish bears no resemblance to the nacho-like pride and joy of San Diego, carne asada fries. There is no sour cream or guacamole here, just a few generous ladlefuls of Dino’s marinade. 

Pitsos did not provide comment to L.A. TACO about how many gallons of marinade they go through daily, or how many chicken plates they sold, or how many DUI fry plates they sold, but with a sly smile, he reassured me it was “a lot.” However, an article on Eater about Dino’s from 2017 reports that combined, all locations of Dino’s Chicken go through over 12,000 orders of their chicken a week. 

For many who grew up nearby, it is a trip down memory lane. DUI fries are more than the sum of its parts, and it is embedded in Pico Boulevard’s DNA. 

Dino’s DUI Fries, all three and a half pounds of it, goes a long way in Koreatown’s historically diverse working-class neighborhoods. It is enough to feed your inner circle of homies, or if you’re still growing boy in the barrios of K-town, a very hungry you. 

Outside of Dino's. Photo by Vladimir Santos for L.A. TACO.

The home-cut fries are crispy, the sauce addicting, and the toppings extra heavy and freshly made. For many who grew up nearby, it is a trip down memory lane. DUI fries are more than the sum of its parts, and it is embedded in Pico Boulevard’s DNA. 

Pitsos tells L.A. TACO that the restaurant has actively been working on creating an improved, off-menu version of his family’s famous DUI fries. It includes a freshly charbroiled quartered chicken on top of the fries, because why not? After all, contrary to popular leftover fries belief, they hit differently the second time around para la recalentada. 

Dino’s Famous Chicken, 2575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006

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