Nibble Notes: El Pollo Rico

Tonight was Sunday-dinner-with-the-inlaws night. And it was a winner. Boy, was it a winner.

We went to El Pollo Rico, a Peruvian rotisserie chicken joint in Arlington, Virginia. Mom-in-law has friends who know it well, and recommend it highly.

Located amidst office buildings, El Pollo Rico is an unassuming storefront with a small private parking lot, full at 8pm on a Sunday night. Families were making their way into the building as we pulled in; one of the gentlemen even guided us into a parking spot.

As we opened the door, the smell of chicken and cumin hit us straight on, and it was oh-so-savory. The interior is painted in red, green, yellow, and white (the colors of Peru), with paintings of country scenes hanging on the walls. The line wrapped around the edge of the interior, and was almost all Peruvians; I figured we were in the right place. We made our way up front and the line rounded to the left near the two small registers at the serving counter. I looked up at the menu to peruse their offerings, and saw only the following;

Quarter-chicken $3.90
Half-chicken, white and dark $6.30
Half-chicken, white $7.80
Whole chicken $11.00

All orders served with steak fries and cole slaw.

Cash only.

That was the second good sign. It has been my experience that cash-only joints are serious foodie locales. Experience did not let me down this time, either.

The line was held up while they replenished the chicken supply from the open-air roasters. Twenty-five chickens in each turned slowly over the exposed flame, their juices spitting into the fire, making it lick up at the lower birds. The stove itself is old wrought-iron with brick and surrounded by bags of charcoal; it mesmerized me as my dinner spun before my eyes. After a few minutes, the chickens were ready, and the line moved. Finally, we got up to the counter. It was our turn. My mother-in-law and I ordered (in Spanish, of course!)

The process was as simple as this;

(In Spanish) "I'd like a half-chicken, please, with an Inca Kola (a Peruvian drink that smells like Bubble-Yum and tastes like cream soda.)"

One cook took a plate and put freshly-made steak fries, cole slaw on it, and several little containers of just-made salse verde and spicy mayonnaise. The second cook grabbed a bird, took a cleaver, whacked off half of it, and put the rest on my plate. On a tray, at the register, and off to an old wooden table to eat.

My first bite confirmed my suspicions; this place knows how to make a rotisserie chicken. The skin had been cured in cumin, garlic, pepper, parsely, and salt. The fire-roasting gave the skin a crisp, light texture that was delicious and moist. The meat was perfectly-done, and plenty juicy. I preferred to dip mine in the salsa, which provided just the right amount of kick. The steak fries were hot and lightly-salted, and provided a great starch to go with the protein. The cole slaw was a little runny, but hardly worth complaining about (face it, when the first 'complaint' is about the cole slaw, you're doing something right.) For dessert, a home-made flan ($2).

So let's see. A half a chicken, steak fries, cole slaw, flan, and a soda for under $10? This was one of the most value-oriented meals I've ever had in metro DC. South American candies were available as well to finish off your meal if half a chicken wasn't enough for you.

Interior: 7.00/10.00 (it's simple, appropriate, and very comfortable.)
Menu: 2.00/10.00 (in this case, not a bad thing at all! It's the best 2 I've ever given.)
Wine list: N/A
Service/Waitstaff: N/A (but I will compliment the staff for trying to speak English to us.)
Food: 8.50/10.00
Value: 9.50/10.00 (you cannot beat a quarter-chicken meal for $3.90 around here. Nope.)

Overall: 9.00/10.00

I know the numbers don't add up; I can barely explain it myself. But maybe I can sum it up best this way. On our way out, I noticed a table of ten people. They were a Peruvian family having dinner together. The father sat at the head of the table, overseeing it all with a smile on his face. He had a suit and a tie on, and it was then I realized; this was their Sunday family dinner together. The children were laughing, the adults were chatting, and everyone was eating with a grin on.

I cannot encourage everyone enough to try this place.

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