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Visits to El Pollo Rico and Pollo Campero- Overrated!!

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  • Richard Apr 20, 2005 02:08 AM
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Well, I finally got around to visiting El Pollo Rico and Pollo Campero (both in Wheaton). According to award winning reviews, posts here and lines at the restaurant, El Pollo Rico seems like it would be a destination restaurant.

it's just fire-cooked chicken (similar in taste to chicken cooked over a barbecue grill) with a somewhat spicy rub. I stress the "somewhat" spicy, becuase, although it was pretty decent, it really didn't penetrate the entire chicken. I've eaten at plenty of chicken places in Mexico, where rotisserie chicken is sold. The chicken in Mexico is just ok, and barely spiced. it's main appeal is that it's quite cheap in mexico and that it's fresh and pretty convenient.

Finally the prices. I myself consumed a whole bird in one sitting, mainly becuase i prefer not to eat the more grisly (fatty) parts of the chicken and i usually prefer not to eat skin, unless it is highly spiced and extremely tasty. At $11.31 or so, decently priced, but not exactly dirt cheap either. I admit the steak fries were quite good and the green salsa (not the mayo based one) is also quite good, if they would just give you more of it. I just fail to see what is so "special" about El Pollo Rico. It is good chicken, with a good fire roasted flavor, and that seems to be about it. The spice/rub is pretty decent/good but nothing out of this world or anything.

As for Pollo Campero, i read the posts here about the long lines and fanaticism to try Campero's chicken. Well i had a 3 piece dinner for $6.81. The fries, cole slaw and tortillas were really nothing special at all. And the chicken? A step above KFC, Popeye's and the like in preparation and lower on the grease/nastiness factor. but when it came down to it, spicy KFC or Popeye's is actually tastier. I just never eat it mainly because it is usually prepared in an extremely greasy and nasty fashion. And the brine/spices? Nothing that i found extremely flavorful or out of the ordinary. Overall, i found it kind of pricy for 3 pieces of chicken. Would i visit it over mcdonald's and the like? sure. but anything special?

am i missing something here? please provide your input or opinions as to what i may have missed. did i order wrong? did i get a dud order? Is Crisp and Juicy or another chicken place better/spicier/tastier? Thanks!!

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  1. In my view, the (just about) first pollo-a-la-brasa place in this area is still one of the best: Crisp & Juicy. It's been a while since I've been there, but I was told that they rub the spices under the skin - none of this "brine" silliness.

    Why the long lines of immigrants longing for the taste of home? Because if a jillion born-Americans were all in some country where there weren't any McDonald's, half a jillion would flock to the first one that opened up.

    1. Wayne's got it right about Pollo Campero, and I'm surprised even the immigrants do eat there noting the price compared with Popeye's, etc. I will give them the one small thing of when that chicken is cold, it does rise above the rest (when the others are cold as well) - but I'm not really going to buy it just to stick it in the fridge.

      As for Peruvian chicken (El Pollo Rico), there is definitely better chicken, and most other places give you better side options, such as yucca or rice and beans, but EPR is in my mind the standard - the place where you start. You just had the greatest hits album but you really want to explore the better songs found on the various first release albums. Since I've moved to the burb's, Pollo Real in Herndon is stellar on both chicken and sides. Now that you know the Pollo, though (the Peruvian kind), you'll start seeing places all over, they really just go on and on, especially in Arlington.

      1. Yup, Pollo Campero is overrated, and especially overpriced. Their chicken is preboxed, so unlike KFC and Popeye's, it's tougher substituting pieces. Also, the overpriced chicken doesn't come standard with any type of biscuit or bread. I've seen some immigrants show up with empty boxes just to stock up, although the hype has died down some. There was an article in the post about 1 year ago that covered the hype behind this chain, and supposedly one store made 2million in about 7 weeks (roughly).

        4 Replies
        1. re: RL

          Sorry, I don't know where you get the idea that it's pre-boxed, but that is just plain wrong. They go and get it and box it from the trays after you order it; you can watch them (in fact, you can't not watch them--the whole process is right there in front of you, and I have had it both at Bailey's xroads and Wheaton). I have walked out with all dark meat, all thighs, you name it. You can get just about any combo you want in my experience, with no difficulty.

          As to quality, perhaps some have gotten the impression from the write-ups that it's some kind of super duper thing on a par with Maestro or something. Guys, it's fried chicken, and it can't be more than that, but for my $ it's still way ahead of anything that either Popeye's or KFC has ever put out. The crust is much thinner, not all bread and grease like the others. And it has IMO a very good flavor.

          As to the question from the OP whether he is missing something, the answer is yes--the best thing they have is the beans, which need to be eaten as a soup not a side, and are about the best bean soup you will ever find anywhere. The other sides are ho-hum.

          1. re: johnb

            I respectfully disagree on the chicken as I've already posted, but I would have to say that the beans can be beaten as well, especially by Jammin Joe's beans out on 29 near Gainesville.

            Also on beans (but not a bean soup type thing) - get thee to Teocalli Tamale and get the Pintos. Wow!

            1. re: Dennis S

              I must admit I've never had the beans, or anything else for that matter, at Jammin Joes in Gainsville. On your recommendation, I will endeavor to stop there the next time I pass by (since I do love bean soup). Meanwhile, however, I still say you'll be hard-pressed to find a better bowl anywhere within, say, lunchtime driving distance of downtown DC (Chantilly would be about my limit).

              FWIW, Kliman said roughly the same thing in his recent City Paper review, linked below. He was also pretty high on the chicken.

              Link: http://restaurants.washingtoncitypape...

            2. re: johnb

              Don't be sorry. I get the idea that their chicken is preboxed based on me patronizing their establishments. They have good chicken, but high volume, which is why they prebox their chicken at the busier locations.

          2. Crisp and Juicy is great, and I also like Edy's in Bailey's Crossroad--their spice rub/marinade is savory and spicy.

            4 Replies
            1. re: zora

              I'm a big fan of Edy's green sauce. Most places have a pretty darned good green sauce, but Edy's is outstanding.

              1. re: zora

                I am a big fan of Crisp & Juicy, as well. El Pollo Rico Arlington might be a pale version of the other El Pollo's, because it is not as well spiced as Crisp & Juicy, and the chickens at C&J are a bit plumper, too. Plus, I love the yucca fries and the rice and beans is pretty good too. Don't get me wrong, EPR is an order of magnitude better than fast food, but Crisp and Juicy is even better and both of them are less than $10 for a darned good meal, even with a side.

                1. re: zora

                  - I'm a big fan of Crisp and Juicy, and I've hooked my mom and sister on it.
                  - The flesh of their birds is redolent of garlic.
                  - I don't know how they accomplish that, whether it is brining or not.
                  - Also, the hot garlic mayonnaise at Crisp and Juicy is profoundly cathartic, and they sell it in big containers that you can take home and dip toast in it.
                  - I have tried El Pollo Rico, and thought that it was good but not as good as Crisp and Juicy.

                  1. re: Murex

                    Are the Crisp & Juicy in Willston and Falls Church the same? And isn't the one on Lee Highway near Old Dominion also a Crisp & Juicy?

                    The chicken at the one at Willston is pretty juicy but not very crisp. I think the one in Falls Church does better all around, but it's too expensive. I haven't been to the Lee Highway place (whatever it is if not C&J) in quite a while.

                    I really like El Pollo Rico in Arlington. I've never been to the Wheaton one. While my conscience tells me that I'd rather have fried yucca with my chicken than French fried potatoes, the fries at El Pollo Rico are among the best I've ever tasted. And I think it's the least expensive of the lot.

                    Just one more opinion of many.

                2. I have 2 Mo Co faves for Latino rotisserie chicken:

                  Pollo Rico and
                  Pollo Primo (which actually was one of the very first such places in Mo Co. It's independent, not part of a chain)

                  Pollo Primo is on Rockville Pike, on the right side in a strip before you reach Edmonston Dr (at Wintergreen Plaza)

                  I prefer it over Crisp & Juicy, but to tell the truth, Mo Co is chock full of pollo places now to fall back on.

                  1. "It's just fire-cooked chicken." Well, anything is just what it is. That might seem awfully good to many folks, including me. It is rotisserie chicken. It is skin-on. Yes it has dark meat and fatty parts. It is cooked slowly on a special device with spices. If you get it right off the spit, it is divine. At EPR in Arlington I can count on getting it hotter, fresher, and juicier than anywhere else I've tried, which brings ir to a whole other level for me. What more do you need to make a great meal?

                    Well, some good sides would be nice. In that case, I suggest Caribbean Grill with chicken that is a bit spicier and excellent side dishes, but unfortunately, I can't count on the chicken being as fresh. Crisp n' Juicy falls somewhere in between for me. Just around the corner from EPR, Pio Pio might be the best chicken of all, except that they have no customers and the chicken has sat for too long.

                    And you noticed it's not cheap, either. The chickens are big and plump and cooked fresh. One chicken feeds my family of four. If I were by myself, I'd get a quarter for sure. Of course, just like you and me, the crowds of folks waiting for the chicken at EPR could probably use a price break and simply buy the Safeway version at half the price. But they put more importance on the flavor and freshness.

                    Sorry you weren't thrilled by it, but judging from your post I doubt that your experience will be dramatically different elsewhere.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Steve

                      Regarding EPR, I have to agree with Steve here. I also frequent the Arlington location, and actually prefer Super Pollo for reasons mirroring why Steve prefers EPR, but the original point in this post are pretty weak. Other than at the Grocery store, where can you get a whole cooked chicken for less than $11?

                      Mexico? Has anyone found other places within a 10 hour drive that are comparable/superior?

                      1. re: microwave15

                        I'm becoming more of a fan of super pollo every time I go. Sides aren't quite up to the Caribbean Grill but are better than Crisp and Juicy.

                        1. re: bacchante

                          The complaint I have is that most of the chicken at these places doesn't cook long enough. They never seem to get it crispy enough up here. In South Florida, the birds are crispier and the marinades more savory. I figured an under-cooked and seasoned bird must be the local preference.

                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                            I'm guessing undercooked is a relative term, because I've never had a raw center in any chicken I've had. Pio Pio overcooks their chicken, and it's extra salty....you may try that place....Wilson Blvd, just past 10th St.

                            Timing is everything...I never miss at super pollos if I go between 5-5:30PM....always juicy, always crispy, and now they've added South Asian cuisine???

                            I now like to order nan with my chicken....who'dathunkit!

                      2. re: Steve

                        I like Pio Pio. I don't think its as good as the original in Queens,NYC, but it is good. And they have more sides. The fried yuca sits around too long though.

                        If EPR had more sides...I'd be there way too often. Its soo close to the grad school.

                      3. Folks-

                        El Pollo Rico and Pollo Campero are national chains, so if the focus of the discussion is going to be on these estbalishments please start a discussion on the General Topics board.

                        We note that some of the following postings are discussing other, local alternatives for this cuisine or comparing and contrasting the local options to these chains, by all means please do continue that localized discussion here and continue to uncover those gems in the greater DC area for your fellow Chowhounds.

                        Thanks.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: The Chowhound Team

                          El Pollo Rico is not a national chain. It is a two location chain. The two locations are in Arlington, VA and Wheaton, MD, both within the purview of the DC/Baltimore board.

                          I believe that the name is used elsewhere, but these two locations are not related to any other restaurant.

                          1. re: Lori D

                            Lori, you're right on Pollo Rico; the mods were in error. But since Campero has outlets in several regions, please discuss it on General Topics so other hounds can enjoy and chime into the discussion....and future hounds searching for info can find it in the place where we do all chain talk (rather than have to search the board for each region in which an outlet exists).

                            ciao

                        2. "i prefer not to eat the more grisly (fatty) parts of the chicken and i usually prefer not to eat skin"

                          This is pretty much the root of your disappointment right here. I'm with Jeffrey Steingarten when he says: "If you can't stand the skin, get out of the chicken". Basically, the skin the the entire point (or close to it) for EPR and its variants. If chicken skin isn't your thing, EPR probably won't be either.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: casu marzu

                            Um...So, this guy did a review of EPR without actually eating the skin of the chicken? He doesn't like the "fatty" parts of the chicken? Yeah, this is DEFINITELY not the restaurant for him. For the rest of us who actually enjoy real chicken, the place is the bomb. Love their platanos also!

                            1. re: casu marzu

                              - Fat carries flavor, so if you eliminate it, you lose flavor.
                              - We should not be neurotic about fat in some puritan pursuit of a sanitized life.
                              - It's not what you eat, it's how much.
                              - So, eat the skin; it's good for the soul.

                              1. re: Murex

                                "Everything in moderation, including moderation"

                            2. You all do know this thread is from 2005 right?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: ktmoomau

                                hilarious!

                                1. re: ktmoomau

                                  Everything old is new again.

                                  1. re: ktmoomau

                                    2008 is the new 2005.

                                    It's nice to have a sanity check on these oft-mentioned quick-but-tasty informal lunch places now and then.

                                  2. I would add another vote for Edy's.

                                    I live in Takoma Park (relatively near Wheaton, MD) and I still would rather go to VA for Edy's.

                                    The owners are a very nice Peruvian and his Thai wife (Edy is named after her - Thai people call her Auntie Eed), so that might explain some of the extra spice in the sauces.

                                    The chicken places in Wheaton are good (especially if you go when your hungry) but nothing I would go out of my way for - so ditto to the original poster's opinion on that.