When I moved to the D.C. area in 1993, I took up residence in Clarendon. Back then, the sleepy commuter community was far from the young, hip, prohibitively expensive urban village it is now. A handful of mediocre restaurants, used car dealers, and tiny, really old houses was about it. No Whole Foods. No Pottery Barn. No Spider Kelly’s. It’s no wonder I moved to Silver Spring Maryland after five months.
But alas, Clarendon offered at least one saving grace for hard-partying recent college grad with a voracious appetite for new culinary offerings: El Pollo Rico.The legendary restaurant was my gateway drug into the wonderful world of charcoal-broiled Peruvian chicken. As a Philly boy raised on cheesesteaks, scrapple and hoagies, the simple concept of rotisserie chicken seemed over-hyped. But Peruvian chicken – prepared well – is on a whole. Nuh-vuh. Level. Marinated in any number of seasoning combinations (every place has their own secret recipe). Slow-broiled over red-hot hickory or oak coals, and served up with a spicy mayo or extra hot salsa verde. Pure Poultry nirvana. Maryland and D.C. have chicken joints but in my opinion, the best are right here in Alexandria and Arlington. The areas booming Latino and Hispanic population certainly have something do with it, but the areas overall diversity provides a strong customer base for this simple, yet delicious food.
So when you’re craving chicken, there’s never a need to settle for greasy, over-breaded, fast-food fried; tasteless Boston Market , or that sorry, dried-out excuse for rotisserie that a certain three-letter chain serves up. The Chicken Place on Leesburg Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads serves up “pollo a la brasa” chicken (steaks and sausages, too) out of a small white building within walking distance of an Olive Garden, Chi-Chi’s, and Ruby Tuesday. David versus Goliath, right? But any day of the week, The Chicken Place is packed. Just across the Pike from the Chicken Place is Edy’s Chicken and Steak, a larger, more commercial-looking establishment that still delivers the same juicy, flavorful chicken accompanied by authentic homemade sides like fried yuca and beans and rice. And to satisfy the sweet tooth left by that salty, succulent bird, Edy’s has a killer desert selection. Red velvet, black forest and coconut cream cakes, and a nice variety of cheesecakes are among the offerings.
Though it has more locations in Maryland, Crisp and Juicy on Lee Highway in Arlington is still a player in the Arlington/Alexandria Peruvian chicken game. Senor Chicken at the intersection of South Glebe Road and Mt Vernon Avenue, near Potomac Yards and Del Ray, receives mixed reviews on Yelp, but its proximity to Old Town makes it a popular stop for local residents. And we can’t forget the grandaddy of them all, El Pollo Rico. Displaced from its original home in a small run-down strip center in pre-development Clarendon, EPR now calls 932 North Kenmore Street near Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood, home. Ask any local who’s experienced it, and El Pollo Rico is arguably Northern Virginia best Peruvian chicken – moist, well-seasoned and consistent, with a rich smoky flavor that comes through in each and every bite. Wash it down with an Inca Cola and top the meal off with a sweet vanilla flan, and you can literally stick a fork in me. I am done.
There are a slew of other Peruvian restaurants in the Alexandria/Arlington area – just take your pick. And if you come cross a particularly good one, tell a friend. They’ll thank you for it.