Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the great peruvian taste test

First in a series. Check out which places readers prefer, my reviews (part ONE and TWO) and some of my favorites.

What is there to say about pollo a la brasa other than that it is amazing when done correctly, when the meat falls off the bone, when the skin is tender but not gummy? When it is properly supported by sides of rich, fluffy rice and plantanos charred but still golden inside?

I first discovered Peruvian rotisserie chicken on my lunch break at an internship almost four years ago, led through the streets of Bethesda by a strange new smell to a little strip mall with a place called "Chicken on the Run." I went inside and expecting to find a mom-and-pop Boston Market, but soon realized my life would never be the same again.

Preparing food at the new El Pollo Rico in Wheaton in 2008. Photo by Chip Py.

The streets of the DMV carry the heavy fragrance of rotisserie as chicken joints line up cheek-by-jowl in places like Langley Park or Wheaton. But not all pollo a la brasa is created equal. More than once I've passed up a good rotisserie spot for one with a shorter line, only to leave broken and disillusioned.

Yet most Peruvian chicken reviews are for restaurants in Virginia, be they from foodie and economist Tyler Cowen or top picks from the City Paper or an elaborate blind taste test from Northern Virginia Magazine. We in suburban Maryland deserve a somewhat comprehensive, largely unbiased review of pollo a la brasa to ensure that their lunch breaks and takeout dinners are flavorful and that those who do chicken right stay in business.

That's why JUTP is hitting the streets in the search for the perfect Peruvian chicken, not to mention the best sides. To start, I want to know where YOU go for pollo a la brasa. Do you follow the crowds to El Pollo Rico, or is the best stuff found off the beaten path? What are the best neighborhoods for good chicken? Do chains like Crisp & Juicy pass muster?

I'll use your suggestions to compile a list of restaurants, which I'll then try and review. (If you're willing to take these tasty bullets with me, let me know.) Together, we can end the search for el mejor pollo, the best chicken.

Come back soon, but only after you tell me where you eat. Leave a comment or shoot an email to justupthepike at gmail dot com.


Terry in Silver Spring said...

I eat at Crisp and Juicy regularly, the one in the Blair shopping center on East-West Highway. The chicken is flavorful, juicy, and delicious. The plantains can be a big greasy now and then, but are still wonderful. I do think that the stores within that chain do actually vary a good bit. I've been to good Crisp and Juicy's (the Blair one) and to so-so ones.

I used to go to a Mom and Pop Peruvian chicken place up on Georgia Avenue, near the Plaza Art Supply store in DTSS, but it seemed to keep changing hands and varied so much time to time. I stopped going and can't recall if it's even there anymore.

The other Peruvian chicken place I've been to recently is the one across from the AFI on Colesville. It's called Sabroso Grill. It was ok, not nearly as good as the Crisp and Juicy at the Blairs. We went after seeing a movie, maybe at 7pm or so. The chicken had obviously been in the warmer for a while. The taste was good, but the wings were really dry and the breast meat was drier than it could have been. Sides were served from a messy steam table beside the register. Food was slopped on the surface from the workers not being careful as they scooped it up. The cilantro-lime rice didn't taste of either cilantro or lime. The plantains were REALLY greasy. The black beans were watery but passable. The two sauces served with the chicken were fine, although neither was particularly spicy. One was a nice fresh tasting green sauce, the other the typical yellowy sauce. The yellow sauce had less flavor than the sauces at Crisp and Juicy, but I did like the green sauce.

Kim said...

My biggest issue with any place that is not Crisp and Juicy is the lack of the orange-colored hot sauce. No other sauce compares in my book.

chippy said...

I am BIG fan of the Pollo El Brasso!!

And it all started with my first visit to El Pollo Rico when we opened up the Wheaton Gazette in 1996. For year I ate there at least twice a week. Talked about it all the time and when folks came from out of town a trip to El Pollo Rico was a must.

My heart sank on the morning I took this picture


Cause it was on this day that the magic flavor of El Pollo Rico went up in smoke. The new location cannot match the flavor of the old.

I have been on a search for a replacement ever since.

Pio Pio/ Super Chicken was high on my list for the last two years but has recently been replaced with Inka's Chicken on Georgia Ave right next to the adult bookstore and Tropical Lagoon. Their chicken just falls off the bone!

Check it out.

Jessica McFadden said...

I'm a big believer in EPR - this trumps pizza delivery for the occasional Friday night takeout in my house.

(If there was a low-sodium version then I would be in heaven, but I guess that's missing the point.)

WashingtonGardener said...

Count me as another fan of Crisp & Juicy at the Blairs ANDtheir amazingly addictive orange sauce. They are locally owned, family run - as much a "chain" as Lebanese Taverna and McGinty's - but I guess if a place has more than one location and is successful, you have to turn your back on it to be PC? :-(
I like Sabroso Grill (across from AFI) too - great service with a smile and good prices.

Anonymous said...

Gotta go with Crisp and Juicy in Silver Spring as well. We used to live at Rock Creek Springs apartments and it was perfectly placed between us and the metro.

Bossi said...

Sardi's in Beltsville is handy to get to from work, and my coworkers also adore Sabroso across from AFI. I haven't had a chance to taste it myself quite yet, though I may get a chance to give it a whirl tomorrow night. I can't help but still be fan of Pollo Rico, even if it's not the same as it was in its heyday.

Unknown said...

We still love El Pollo Rico. During the closure we found Pio Pio Super Chicken to be an acceptable substitute. And it's so fun to say!

We have also had good luck with The Chicken Place on University. It's more eat-in than carry-out, but that gives a chance to enjoy the delicious Pisco Sours.

Julianne said...

I think Crisp & Juicy is the best. I have been to both the Rockville and Silver Spring (Blairs) locations. Both are great, but I think the food at Rockville has been better. Both locations are waaay better compared to Sobraso on Colesville.

Cyndy said...

I'm a big fan of Crisp and Juicy and the orange-colored hot sauce. That's probably my favorite place.

There's also a new one I've eaten at a few time that is also very good. It's in the Layhill shopping center at the intersection of Layhill and Bel Pre roads. I think it's called Pollo Brasas.

Bossi said...

Oh yeah, I've heard from several neighbors that Mega Chicken along MD 198 in Laurel is also quite good... but with Pasta Plus & the now-Laurel Dutch Market so close at hand, I have yet to get myself to stop by despite passing it almost everyday.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

One day, I have to learn the name of those sauces at Crisp and Juicy and stop calling them "the yellow one" and "the orange one". :)

Unknown said...

Kickin Chicken, a new Peruvian Chicken restaurant on Rockville Pike, across from Wintergreen Plaza, is by far the most delicious chicken I've ever had. It leaves Crisp and Juicy to shaaaaaaaame.

Kim said...

@Bossi I have to say, I was really underwhelmed the one time we had Mega Chicken carryout. But it is a bad idea to judge on a single trial.

But of course a few more peruvian chicken places have popped up in Laurel; there's Pollo Campero and then another one I can't remember the name of.

chippy said...

I was thinking about Pollo Campero. I don't think they are Peruvian. I went there expecting a Peruvian Rottisere and got South American Popeyes.

zia said...

I can't believe no one's mentioned La Limena. Great peruvian restaurant in Rockville.

OmNomNomables said...

hey you should really try Sardi's Pollo A la Brassa on route 1. It peruvian AND greek (greek owned) so what they serve is a range of lamb gyros to the classic chicken. their sides are plentyfull as well (plantanos, coleslaw, beans, rice, mixed veggies, potato wedges, fried yucca) and have their own signature sauces. along with the food, the ambiance is great, two flat screens, xm radio playing, and plenty of elbow room to dig into your chicken ^.^

Dan Reed said...

Oh, I know Sardi's in Beltsville. I LOVE Sardi's. It even made the Great Peruvian Taste Test Poll but, unfortunately, didn't place in the top five.

Sardi's also has locations in Frederick and another soon to open in Gaithersburg, so y'all upcounty folks can enjoy Peruvian without going very far.

chippy said...

OMG the way Rebbeca described this Sardis place I damn near drooled on the keyboard.

I will be spending Wednesdays in Beltsville starting next week. I will have to look up this Sardis place.

Chip Py
Wheaton, MD

FatJew69 said...

I eat at Sardi's Pollo a la brasa in Beltsville Md. 2 or 3 times a week. The long lines at lunch are so worth the wait. The chicken is the best I have tasted thus far. They also have 3 sauces that are different than other chicken joints. Its also great they dont nickle and dime you for extras. I heard Sardis has a location in Gaithersburg but I havent checked that out yet.

gorda said...

Kennys peruvian chicken at 10118 Colesville road is the best.Tried the alfajor and lomo saltado,these people know what they are doing.