If the perky little red rooster on the sign at Su Pollo doesn’t clue you in, the smell of roasting chicken as you drive north from Woodlawn on Route 1 surely will. The clean and bright spot was a go-to for my family when my daughter was taking riding lessons at Woodlawn Stables. We couldn’t resist that delectable aroma of chicken fat flaming up on the hardwood charcoal fire. Even writing about it now is making my stomach growl.
Pollo a la brasa is a Peruvian style of preparing chicken by roasting it on a rotating spit over hardwood charcoal fire. Its Peruvian origins do not trace back to Macchu Pichu, however. It was a pair of Swiss men living in Lima, in fact, who in 1950 rigged up a machine with chains and gears that was the grandfather of today's rotisserie. The method proved extremely popular, and pollerias became ubiquitous throughout Peru in the 1970s. Lucky for us, the trend spread to the US, and we now have a number of outlets for charcoal chicken in the DC area, and a stellar one here in our neighborhood.
Step inside Su Pollo and you’ll find a bright and open space with booths and tables for eating in, though they do a brisk take-out business as well. Open since 2003, and under new management since 2007, the Peruvian owner comes from a family of restaurateurs, and has brought many Peruvian dishes with him.
Manager Janet Ries says the most popular item on the menu is, of course, the chicken. The birds slowly twirl on the rotisserie to allow the dripping fat and juices to marinate the birds below for an extra moist and flavorful meat. Along with the chicken come two sauces, a mayonnaise and a fresh and spicy jalapeno sauce. A whole chicken alone costs $14.25, or get a Family Menu for $24, which includes 4 small salads, 4 sides, and a 2-liter soda.
Although it seems sacrilegious to order anything but chicken here, there are a few standouts on the rest of the menu. Anticuchos, which is marinated beef heart on a skewer, and tri tip steak (available in portions or as a sandwich), are spiced and tender and grilled to perfection. Also popular are the lomo saltado, a Peruvian dish of steak strips with tomatoes and onions, and two kinds of ceviche, a marinated seafood dish, here served with sweet potato and Peruvian corn on the side.
Peruvian corn has massive kernels, and may be a bit shocking to those who only know the tiny kernels of American sweet corn. You can order a side of corn and cheese, a common dish in Peru. Many people rave about the fries at Su Pollo, which are double fried ripple cut potatoes. My kids love the fried yucca and plantains almost as much as the fries, which is saying a lot.
Kids will love the chicha morada, a Peruvian purple corn drink that without artificial color is an impossibly deep purple, sweetened with sugar cane and other fruit juices. Get one to go along with Salchipapa - sliced hot dogs and fries – from the Kids’ Menu.
The desserts at Su Pollo are made in-house and available as they are made (which is to say, they are not all always available). Alfajores, a pastry of two cookies sandwiched around a dulce de leche center and dusted with sugar, is the clear winner, but flan, tres leches, and tiramisu do not disappoint.
Su Pollo is located at 8741 Richmond Highway, and is open daily from 11am to 9pm (10pm on weekends).