It has been a rough couple of years for El Pollo Rico: in 2007, the owners were busted for hiring illegal aliens and money laundering; then this past summer, the place went up in flames (grease fire, go figure), taking most of its strip mall with it. The plague of frogs never materialized, which is just as well, since the restaurant is Peruvian, not French.
But finally in late November, like a fiery chicken rising from the ashes, El Pollo Rico re-opened a couple of weeks ago in its new location (2517 University, just blocks from the old location) and although the new spot lacks ambience, the food is as good as ever. I love seeing the giant skewers, each holding five or six sizzling chickens, being carried from roaster to warming oven.
The chickens look the same and taste the same. If you like Peruvian roasted chicken, you will like El Pollo Rico; there’s a reason the old location always had a line out the door during prime eating hours, and the new place will too once people figure out where it is. I never understood the cult following (it’s good but not that good), but I’m happy to partake now and then. Mrs. Me will laugh, because historically I have been unenthusiastic about El Pollo, but that’s mostly because I prefer other local options, rather than being a referendum on the chicken.
Anyway, what’s to say about the birds: roasted, salty, a little cumin, probably other spices I can’t pick out, good stuff. The fries are thick, crispy outside and fluffy inside, excellent foils for the dipping sauces (mild mayo-style and spicy ground-jalapeno style; both good but not enough of either, so order extra). The slaw is colorless and bland, but nevertheless crunchy and a pretty good counterpoint to the chicken and fries. Empanadas are good, chicken tamale is okay, with a small piece of chicken and potato chunks inside the masa. Yucca is fine if you like that kind of thing.
So, our Peruvian friends, we’re glad you’re back. In a few years, the new space will build up the same greasy ambience the old one had; it is a fine line between greasy ambience and grease fire, but I am cautiously optimistic.