El Pollo Rico (Arlington, VA)

My last day on this year’s trip to DC had me visiting several clients in Arlington. One of these had me walking between Virginia Square and Clarendon Metro around “late lunchtime”, and it was impossible for me to resist another trip to El Pollo Rico for pollo a la brasa (a.k.a. Peruvian chicken). Starting, oh, around 15 years ago at least, pollo a la brasa joints seemed to start popping up all over Arlington. Indeed, I can think of at least a half dozen off of the top of my head. But El Pollo Rico is one of the older ones. It’s also better and cheaper than some of its competitors (although I admit I have yet to do an exhaustive review of Arlington pollo a la brasa joints, fun as that would be), so between that and its location, it’s my go-to joint for chicken in Arlington.

Basically, El Pollo Rico is a no-frills pollo a la brasa joint. Hiding behind a fairly nondescript storefront that sports a simple yellow “El Pollo Rico” sign (without any of the giant chicken cartoons that a lot of chicken places seem to think are required), it’s mostly a large seating area, a long serving counter, and two prominent chicken rotisseries (usually one or both are being loaded or unloaded). Basically, you walk in the door, place your order at the counter, and wait for your chicken. When it comes down to it, the feature of El Pollo Rico is the simplicity: you order a quarter, half, or whole chicken, two sides to go with it (choices include fries, coleslaw, and rice), and your choice of mild (mayo-based) or hot (jalapeno salsa) sauce on the sides, and watch as they literally do a hatchet job on your chicken and serve it up to you.

Normally I’d do a half chicken with rice and coleslaw, but despite my frequent biking around town, it’s been a week of excess, so I opted instead for the quarter chicken. Like always, I really enjoyed this chicken. First of all, this style of chicken is all about the skin, and the chicken here has a really good, cumin-laden spice rub. It has also been broiled perfectly, with a nice crispy skin that’s just starting to crackle up from the rendering fat. However, the meat itself is great, too, juicy, tender, yet full of both smoke and spice flavors infused into it. I’ve never been terribly impressed with the sides here, but the coleslaw is good enough, and the rice is actually a nice vehicle for chasing down the random bits of chicken and hot sauce left over from my clumsy butchering with plastic utensils.

While I know there are some other comparable (and even better) pollo a la brasa joints out there (for example, I rather like Nando’s, which has a few outposts in the area), I rather like El Pollo Rico. It’s cheap. It’s convenient. It’s popular enough that you always get the freshest of chicken, since it just came off the rotisserie. And it’s quite good. This wasn’t my first visit (although, like many Arlington joint, this was my first visit with a camera), and it won’t be the last.

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