Most Peruvian restaurants in greater Silver Spring are of the whole-roasted-chicken variety, e.g. El Pollo Rico (2517 University) — Just Up The Pike recently reviewed several of them. More full-menu Peruvian spots are sprinkled around MoCo, maybe most notably La Flor de la Canela in Gaithersburg (117 North Frederick Road), which remains our favorite Peruvian food so far.
Turns out Wheaton has a higher Peru quotient than I realized: within a couple of blocks, we have El Pulgarcito de Callao (plus at least one more, Mi Peru, over at the Viers Mill-University junction). This weekend we hit two of them for back-to-back lunches, although it turns out the one we didn’t go to might be the best of all (hard to say, since we didn’t go there!) — but more about that in episode two.
We started on Saturday at The Chicken Place (2418 University), tucked into the West end of the New Kam Fong-Dusit Thai-Irene’s Pupusas strip mall. Pretty audacious to name yourself The Chicken Place, as though there were no others! Despite their having been open for at least 17 years — maybe more, depending how out of date their business cards are — I had never paid much attention to their bright yellow sign and wood-roofed patio fronting onto University Avenue, but a commenter here awhile back asked for a report, wondering (partly but maybe not wholly in jest) if perhaps they might be “a front” for something more nefarious than mere Peruvian delicacies.
We liked the ambience: tots of wood inside — tables, chairs, wall art — and a red tile floor. Two televisions showing soccer; a light touch with the background music, probably most unobtrusive of any of Wheaton’s Latino establishments I’ve visited. We were in a front window booth and could barely hear the traffic on University. Service was friendly and attentive and accurate and quick and fully bilingual, no complaints about any of it.
I don’t know if this is typical, but the appetizers both came with salads (very good, with lots of red onion and tangy, vinegar-lime dressing) and the entree was veggie-free. We started with the chicharron de puero (crispy pork), which was a bit dry outside but juicy inside at first, less so after it had been sitting on the plate for 10-15 minutes, and which came with tasty yucca fries (more fibrous than potato fries but otherwise pretty similar), and the papa rellena, basically ground beef and boiled egg wrapped in mashed potatoes and deep-fried. Yes, yes yes.
The appetizers were large portions (plus the unexpected salads) so even a shared entree was more than we could finish (woohoo leftovers): aji de gallina, shredded chicken in a creamy yellow sauce with steamed rice, was subtle, almost bland, but Mrs. Me liked the rich cheesy milkiness of the sauce. Just needed a little more salt, or cumin, or something.
And Diet Coke.
Overall, a solid meal, we will return for sure at some point. Pretty sure they’re not a front. By they way, The Chicken Place does have the ubiquitous Peruvian rotisserie chicken, among many other menu options, but not sure they’re the best place for that kind of thing. They were a Washingtonian Magazine “Best Bargain Restaurants” pick several times in the early to mid 1990s, but have maybe fallen off the radar a bit since then. But how do they compare to Wheaton’s other offerings? Coming in Part 2: We visit El Pulgarcito de Callao with a Peruvian friend in tow, and get a tip on Cabanita.