Update, August 6: Chicken lovers, rejoice! After more than three weeks of shuttered doors, Wheaton's El Pollo Rico is once again open for business.
According to a cashier, the Peruvian rotisserie is back open on a permanent basis: "We're open for our normal business hours," he said, already sounding fairly occupied.
The reopening of the restaurant promises the return of large crowds of roasted chicken fanatics. "There's a line forming outside the store right now," said the cashier.
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Update, July 24: Despite last week’s assurances from staffers at the Arlington El Pollo Rico that the Wheaton branch of the restaurant would reopen this week, the Latin rotisserie remains closed, with a number of disappointed customers. We were down on the scene yesterday afternoon and were forced to grab a bite at competitor Pio Pio Super Chicken a few doors away.
While the Pio Pio cashier wasn’t sure about the fate of El Pollo Rico, he believes Pio Pio’s business is increasing. Cab driver Koungue Bienvenu, seated inside and nibbling on French fries, admitted he was there only because he was “starved.” The longtime El Pollo Rico fan noted the differences between the two vendors’ styles of Peruvian chicken: “This one is served cold, and it just doesn’t have that same great taste. Maybe they don’t use charcoal here?”
The Pio Pio Super Chicken dining area had a handful of customers. But as Bienvenu pointed out, “if the chicken was good here, the room would be packed.”
Other El Pollo Rico fans were just as upset. A car drove by with one passenger yelling, “Bring back El Pollo Rico!” (We couldn’t agree more.) A little while later, three young men returned to their car with down-in-the-dumps looks on their faces. They had trekked from Bethesda and had been hyping up El Pollo Rico’s chicken during the entire car ride.
We’ll check back in next week to see if that yellow “closed” sign is still on the door. The latest news from the Arlington El Pollo Rico is that Wheaton will reopen next Monday. We’re crossing our fingers that they’re right this time.
Update, July 16: Peruvian chicken withdrawals need not extend more than a week! Wheaton's El Pollo Rico closed its doors last Thursday afternoon, but according to a phone conversation today with an Arlington El Pollo Rico manager, who chose to remain unnamed, the Wheaton location will re-open next Monday, July 23. Though the two El Pollo Rico stores operate independently, they were originally run jointly by Victor and Francisco Solano. The stores continue to share close ties. We will follow-up with more El Pollo Rico coverage later this week, including a visit to the Wheaton location on the alleged re-opening date.
Peruvian Chicken Restaurant in Wheaton Runs Into Trouble, Mystifying Customers
El Pollo Rico, a Wheaton restaurant that opened in 1988 and is on The Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats list, didn’t have the usual stream of customers outside this afternoon. At 3 PM, people were greeted with a handwritten “closed” sign, and most were left confused and shaking their heads. A health-code violation? Some peered inside the window for a sign of life: The lights and fans were still on.
As the Washington Post reported yesterday, federal officers arrested four of the family members who own the restaurant for “knowingly employing illegal immigrants and laundering the money earned from that business.” The Washingtonian was unable to reach anyone at El Pollo Rico to confirm if it was closed due to the arrests.
Sam Bellafior, owner of a nearby barbershop, said: “It’s the working people that get hurt.” Constantine Gnahoui-David, who was planning to pick up a chicken so his wife didn’t have to cook, also empathized with the workers arrested: “It’s not their fault. They need to make a dime, too.”
While most of the people gathered outside were Latino, Gnahoui-David proudly asserted that “this wasn’t just a place for Hispanics. Look at me—I’m African.” As the Zagat and Washingtonian kudos in the window proved, El Pollo Rico was recognized across cultural lines. “There were plenty of Americans coming here, too,” Gnahoui-David said.
A local pioneer in serving authentic Peruvian chicken, El Pollo Rico developed a steady clientele. “The chicken there is incomparable,” said a customer who declined to give her name. Despite the fact that competitors have opened nearby, most of today’s disappointed crowd planned to check back for updates.
In the meantime, we’ve found some good alternatives from our August Dirt Cheap Eats article, due on newsstands in late July. El Pollo Campero is a Guatamalan fast-food chain with six area locations. Arlington’s Super Pollo is another option, serving popular sides such as yucca fries in addition to the charbroiled chicken.
Having El Pollo Rico withdrawal? Send questions about that and anything else related to Washington dining to Kliman Online, a conversation with dining editor Todd Kliman every Tuesday at 11 AM.