Maryland's Magnificent Chicken

29 Dec
December 29, 2010

Many Washington, D.C. residents bemoan the fact that this area doesn’t have an indigenous cuisine to its name. Because of the transient nature of this town, it seems there isn’t a food for Washington to call its own.

That may be a blessing in disguise. Because of the constant influx of newcomers, the D.C. Metro area has a great number of ethnic restaurants.

From authentic Thai to fantastic Middle Eastern food, there is no dearth of meals from any different country.

The best though, might be in a little shop on a main drag in Wheaton, Maryland that channels the flavor of Peru.

El Pollo Rico serves just one dish, which reflects its nomenclature: the most delicious, decadent chicken in town.

The décor in the restaurant is sparse, with white vinyl floors, plain tables and chairs and bright walls, painted in red, yellow and green.

However, when one first walks into El Pollo Rico, the simple decorations are the last thing that people notice. Instead, it’s the overwhelming smell, a combination of sweet and savory spices that please the senses.

The scent comes from the store’s secret spice rub, which is heavily patted over the hundreds of chickens that are roasting in plain sight. Just behind the register sit large brick rotisseries. Sunk into the walls these ovens hold massive heaps of ashen coals, fires that have been going all day and are constantly being stoked.

Above them are approximately fifteen spits, all sitting on a giant wheel. Each is laden with ten to fifteen birds. Each row spins on its individual spit, while the entire contraption constantly rotates, bringing the birds to within inches of the scorching flame then whisking them away. It creates a crisp and crackling skin, but prevents them from being burnt.

These chickens are the only item on the menu and they come in only three portions. A quarter chicken, a half or a whole.

And while all those portions may seem large, the birds are too irresistible to stop eating. The flesh inside is thick and juicy, and a quarter chicken goes down faster than you think. With any order comes a choice of sides: a soupy coleslaw, steamed white rice or thick cut French fries.

Order the fries — they pair amazingly with the restaurant’s two wonderful dipping sauces.

The two sauces come complimentary with any order, and are an exercise in contrast. One is a thick, mayonnaise-based sauce; the other, a biting, vinegary blend of diced jalapenos. Stir the two together for the perfect match, a smooth, creamy yet spicy sauce that tastes wonderful slathered on top of fries or chicken.

El Pollo Rico has one other location in Arlington, VA. At either restaurant, be sure to bring cash. It’s not that the meals are expensive, fifteen dollars will get you a whole chicken and two sides, it’s that neither location takes credit cards.

And even if it requires a trip to the bank, it is worth it to enjoy an out-of-this-world bird.

-David

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