El Pollo Rico is a restaurant in Arlington’s Virginia Square neighborhood that serves a Peruvian variety of charcoal-broiled chicken known as pollo a la brasa. What sets El Pollo Rico apart from other chicken joints is that the dining experience begins about a block away from the front door. There is a wonderful aroma of charcoal and spiced chicken that floats on the breeze from morning till night, and I noticed it the minute I stepped out of my hotel, which was just down the street. The restaurant is also across the street from George Mason University’s Arlington Campus, and if the aroma is always as tantalizing as it was during my visit, I imagine that it’s very difficult for students to concentrate!
Upon entering El Pollo Rico, you will find yourself in a colorful room filled with still-life paintings and about twenty tables of smiling customers. Don’t be deterred if there is a line; it moves very quickly. Once you’ve reached the counter, you’ll notice two rotisserie ovens packed with plenty of golden-brown, glistening chicken. Depending on your appetite, you can order either a quarter, half, or whole chicken, but I’ve found that even a quarter is plenty for me.
The chicken comes with your choice of two sides. I went with the creamy cole slaw and perfectly cooked steak fries. There are also plenty of drinks to choose from, but I recommend Inca Cola, a Peruvian soft drink that tastes like bubblegum.
The chicken tastes even better than it smells. It’s perfectly cooked and full of flavor. The skin is crisp and blanketed with a unique blend of spices. I believe there is some cumin in the mix, but whatever the case, the flavor has a wonderful complexity to it. Every chicken comes with two sauces. There’s a white sauce, which tastes a bit like mayo and complements both the chicken and the steak fries. More adventurous diners will enjoy the spicy green sauce, which has the taste of fresh, diced hot peppers. If you’re in the DC area and you like chicken, you have no excuse not to stop at El Pollo Rico!