El Pollo Rico

932 North Kenmore St.
Arlington, VA  22201
El Pollo Rico on Urbanspoon

There seems to be a million Peruvian (I always thought they originated in Argentina) Chicken places in Northern Virginia alone.  When I lived in Arlington about a decade ago, I lived right beside Crispy & Juicy and I'll probably always be loyal to the first place I ever had Peruvian chicken.  It's still one of my go-to places when I want a quick and delicious dinner.  But, I had read that the best place for Peruvian was El Pollo Rico located on a little side street almost in between Clarendon and Ballston.

Like most of these places, El Pollo Rico is a modest joint but with a substantially larger seating area than I've seen in other places.   It was moderately busy when I went there but the traffic flow was constant throughout the time I ate.  I was pretty hungry that night so I ordered a half chicken with just dark meat.  You could only choose between rice, fries or slaw as your sides so I went with a double starch special of rice and fries.  I wasn't feeling the slaw tonight.  It would've been nice to be able to choose a side that wasn't white or yellow but the place was as no-frills as it gets and it was apparent that it was all about the chicken.  I also got one of their green sauces and two of the yellowish sauce (25 cents extra for the second one) that I loved so much from Crispy & Juicy.

The first thing I noticed is that this was a big ass half a chicken and it was going to be a challenge to get it all down.  The next thing is that the fries thick cut steak fries which are always awesome and the rice was going to be a good vehicle to soak all things.  The big difference in this chicken and in other types of Peruvian chicken was that there was a substantial amount of chili powder rub on the chicken that gave it a nice bit of heat and a depth of flavor beyond the natural roasting and juiciness of the chicken.   I didn't particularly like the green sauce which was a bit bland and more like a relish to me.  The other sauce had the same kick that I'm familiar with but with a hint of mustard and sweetness.  I combined some pieces of chicken with the rice and applied the sauce liberally so I could get a great contrast in flavors and texture.

It's tough to go wrong with Peruvian chicken but it's also tough to differentiate yourself.  While I wished there was more variety in their selection of sides (but really I'm Asian, so rice is like my blood and no one's ever gone wrong with steak fries), the meal really does center around the chicken.  The spice rub and the sauce make it stand out amid a sea of chicken houses and while my first love is Crispy & Juicy, if I were to step out on her every once in awhile, El Pollo Rico may be the place you'd find me.


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