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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Latin American
Counter service

Daily 11:00am–10:00pm

Features Delivery, kid-friendly
Bar None
Credit cards None


Arlington, VA
932 N. Kenmore St.
Arlington, VA
(703) 522-3220

Wheaton, MD
2517 University Blvd.
Wheaton, MD
(301) 942-4419
El Pollo Rico
A no-frills atmosphere and brusque service, but good, cheap rotisserie chicken and bold sauces

Tucked into a no-nonsense building along nondescript strip malls in Arlington and Wheaton, this cavernous, clattering space is generally filled with families and groups of friends chattering in a mix of Spanish and English. It’s industrial, to be sure, but in a good way: the main attraction consists of hundreds of chickens packed tightly onto spits, where they rotate in a massive oven and baste in their own juices. The service is abrupt; make sure you have your order decided by the time you get to the counter, and be ready to pay cash only.

Fortunately, the choices are limited. Order your whole, half, or quarter chicken (dark meat in the last instance), with steak fries on the side, but skip the mayonnaisey, watery cole slaw. To drink, traditionalists choose the neon-yellow Inca Kola or bright-orange Champagne Soda. Grab a tall stack of paper napkins from the counter, carry your tray to a sticky table, check your chair for grease or soda spots, and sit down to enjoy a meal that’s surprisingly satisfying.

The chicken itself is juicy and true to its own flavor, although its skin is crunchy in spots and flabby in others. The fries, while clearly not homemade, are crisp and golden, and a convenient vehicle for mopping up the flavorful chicken juices. The accompanying sauces—a mayonnaise spiced with yellow chilies and a fiery green-chile chutney spiked with lime and cilantro—are formidable condiments for chicken and potato alike.

El Pollo Rico does brisk business at the dinner hour, so be prepared to battle for a parking space in the cramped lot. While this restaurant won’t win any beauty contests, the atmosphere is jolly and noisy; the high-ceilinged, cement-walled room fills with a boisterous communal spirit. But the chicken—not the place where you sit to eat—is the real destination. In a place where five dollars cash (there’s an ATM near the front) buys you a quarter-chicken meal dripping with authentic flavor, little else matters. Come hungry, eat (or take out), and go back for seconds.

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