Few foods inspire such strong loyalties as Peruvian roasted chicken. Each purveyor has its own blend of aromatic spices, which might include black pepper, aji pepper, black-mint paste, and a heavy dash of cumin. And each has you order at the counter while someone deftly hacks up the birds. Our critics tried nearly 20 chickens to find the best—not too salty, not too bitter, with moist meat and crisp skin.
What we found was a surprise. Not only was the winner not El Pollo Rico (locations in Arlington, Wheaton, and Woodbridge), a perennial favorite among aficionados, but it came from a shop owned by Koreans: El Pollo Kiki Riki (2533 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton; 301-942-0352). Regardless of the owners’ heritage, they took the top spot with juicy meat and flavor that stood out for its cedar-like smokiness.
The runner-up? The chicken at Sabroso Grill (8624 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-565-5232). The seasoning was on the mild side, but a wonderful smokiness infused the meat, not just the skin. We found food-blog favorite Super Chicken to be too salty—despite tasting it from two locations (locations in Wheaton and Bladensburg). And although El Pollo Rico was very good, our tasters commented that it was unremarkable, blending in with several other chickens that we liked but didn’t love.
Which brings us to what we really learned from our tasting: Even middling Peruvian chicken is pretty good.
This article appears in the May 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.