932 N. Kenmore St.
Arlington, VA 22201
PRICE Under $12
HOURS Open for lunch and dinner daily.
NVM AWARDS Best Bargain Restaurant 2006
NEARBY METRO Orange(Virginia Sq-GMU)
By Warren Rojas
The standard bearer for skewered birds in the minds of many, El Pollo Rico rubs an equally large number of the populace the wrong way because of its unwavering allegiance to steak fries.
But no matter what the yucca-craving masses tell you, EPR co-owner Italo Solano swears they’re the only ones keeping it REALLY real.
“In Peru, no one eats chicken with yucca. You get potatoes,” maintains the scion to what is arguably the busiest rotisserie chicken operation around (Solano says they serve approximately 300 to 400 chickens per day).
The much-lauded chicken hut has racked up awards like so many discarded bones since debuting in 1988, garnering attention from fiercely loyal locals and wandering cheflebrities (Anthony Bourdain popped by earlier this year) alike.
According to Italo, mom and co-founder Nelida Solano is the keeper of the closely guarded chicken marinade that is applied to every bird 24 hours prior to their date with the four massive ovens that keep the populace in flame-licked poultry.
Cooked birds virtually glow, their slow-roasted flesh saturated with concentrated juices (a reservoir of seasoned au jus formed in the well of my Styrofoam plate before I could even take my first bite). The meat proves supremely moist (it’s gotta be brined), delivering parting shots of salt, pepper, cumin and paprika.
A homemade jalapeno sauce fizzles out fairly quickly (provides a slow burn, but nothing in the magnitude of fresh habaneros or ground rocoto), while the updated mayonnaise hangs tough (thick, clinging sauce).
Whereas sides are few, outsourced dessert options abound, including: decent alfajores (sturdy biscuits pressed around blobs of creamy dulce de leche, produced by a Peruvian baker in Silver Spring), assorted cakes (from My Bakery & Café, Inc.) and ice creams (courtesy of Carvel).(May 2006)
By Warren Rojas
What’s not to like about a no-nonsense establishment that continues to crank out some of the tastiest char-broiled birds in the area? El Pollo Rico has been delighting native Northern Virginians and pollo a la brasa enthusiasts from all over the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area for over a decade with spice-rubbed chicken cooked to perfection over smoldering piles of pure lump charcoal. The always crowded Ballston shop has four rotisserie ovens going at all times—and it’s a good thing too, considering there are typically lines stretching from the main counter out the door each day from open to close.
The bare bones menu is simple: Customers can get their fill of rotisserie goodness by ordering a ¼ chicken (chicken plus fries and slaw; $3.90), a ½ chicken ($6.30) or a whole chicken ($11.70) meal. While the spices are similar to the seasoning blend used at any number of copycat establishments, the golden brown birds at El Pollo Rico are absolutely soaked through with flavor—a taste you are unlikely to forget whether it’s your first or your umpteenth visit to this famous chicken hut. Meanwhile, each chicken order comes with a container of homemade hot sauce (naughty) and a mustard-mayonnaise concoction (nice).
The rest of the menu encompasses just two sides, nifty homemade coleslaw and your run-of-the-mill steak fries. The restaurant also features a handful of desserts, including a traditional alfajor (a jumbo cookie filled with caramelized condensed milk; $1), assorted cakes ($2), milhojas (a nutty, multi-layered treat; $2), flan ($2), or exotic Latin American ice creams ($2.50). Standard sodas and fruit drinks are offered, as is the bubble gum-like Inca Cola.