In the last four years, I've become a bit of a Peruvian snob. I live in North Kensington, on the edge of Wheaton and we are lucky to have a profusion of authentic, Peruvian/Hispanic-run chicken places near us. For years, the acknowledged king of the hill has been El Pollo Rico at 2541 Ennalls Avenue. Perennial Washingtonian Cheap Eats write-ups and lines out the door have been proof of this. A few doors down in the same shopping center on Ennalls Avenue is a worthy competitor - Super Chicken Pio Pio. I've eaten at both for years and generally enjoyed the experience. But, neither has been perfect.
El Pollo Rico makes great tasting chicken, but they cook so much of it that I sometimes think that they let the quality slip. The skin is often a bit overdone. (On ocassion, it approaches burnt.) Worst of all, the meat is usually pretty dry. Its not so bad when you use the green and yellow sauces they give you.
Super Chicken Pio Pio always has much juicier chicken, but it often comes at the cost of crispy skin. Super Chicken's skin is often flabby and soggy. I'm guessing that its partly the effort to keep the meat moist and also the fact that they cook LOTS of chicken and pile it up in a big plexiglas case on the counter.
Both El Pollo Rico and Super Chicken Pio Pio are side-dish-challenged. Both serve really hideous, acidic coleslaw that tastes like it came out of a 5 gallon bucket. The salad they both serve is pretty pathetic and the black beans are unremarkable. Super Chicken Pio Pio has one notable advantage - FRIED YUCA! El Pollo Rico doesn't offer it, all - just fries. Super Chicken's yuca is authentic and noticably so. It's peeled, roughly cut, and often has the tough strings still left in. It's very similar to what you would get in a Hispanic home. But, both places do have one common problem with their fried sides - they are extremely oily and at times you can tell they don't change the oil. (No surprise, because they sell lots of product and they are cranking it out continuously.)
BUT, in the past week I've discovered a refreshing and unlikely alternative Peruvian chicken joint which is actually located next door to Super Chicken Pio Pio on Ennalls Avenue. It's called El Pollo Kiki Riki. I found out that it was opened by the same Asian owner of the Chinese eatery that just closed in the same space. Yeah, I thought the same thing - ridiculous. But, from the moment I stepped in there, I knew something was different.
First, the aroma of the chicken immediately made me know that it was worth tasting. It didn't disappoint. In fact, of the three places I will say that the Peruvian chicken at El Pollo Kiki Riki is the best I've had anywhere. I've had it three times and it is extremely moist, deeply flavored, and the skin is crispy, brown perfection. Unlike their competitors, they have a real heated food chest to hold the cooked birds. (I'm assuming that it maintains moisture, but doesn't soggy up the skin.)
Secondly, sides are much, much better than the other two places. The salad is fresher, well cut, and they don't just stuff it in a small styrofoam cup. The fried sides are cooked in smaller batches, less oily, and perfectly browned. Both, their fries and yuca are better than those found at the neighboring places. Notably, their yuca is so well-trimmed and cut into nice, uniform planks. Amazingly, I did not find a single string, or knarly piece in the orders I've had. Also, their black beans are head-and-shoulders above the competition. The other guys cook them into gloppy, lumpy mush. These were perfectly cooked, clean, and gorgeously appetizing. I haven't had the other sides, but they looked far fresher and better prepared than those from El Pollo Rico and Super Chicken Pio Pio.
Thirdly (and possibly most important to many people who avoid the usual hole-in-the-wall Peruvian chicken places), this place is CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN! The small restaurant is brightly lit and the signage is much more clear and understandable than the other places. Even when you look back in the kitchen, everything looks cleaner. Unlike the other places, there is no loud, obnoxious music blaring out of a bad boombox.
Fourthly, the prices at Kiki Riki are unbeatable and the portions are generous! A basic two-piece (1/4 chicken) platter with two sides is about $4.50. The four biece (half-chicken) platter is only $6.99. I also had entree called the "Chopped Chicken" which was a generous platter of rice with a lovely stew of diced white Peruvian chicken, served with a generous amount of salad and black beans. It was delicious and cost only $5.99. In comparison to the other places, the portions are equal or better and the prices appear to be equal, or lower.
El Pollo Rico just moved to a brand new, shiny shopping center a block west on University Blvd West and I've eaten at this new location. My feeling? El Pollo Kiki Riki is far better.
If you're in the mood for an unexpected pleasure, give this place a try.