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Y&H thought he would engage in a little warm-up battle before taking on the ultimate pollo a la brasa challenge later this winter. (Scroll to the comments section of that link to get an eye-ful.) So here are today’s challengers: El Pollo Rico in Wheaton vs. Super Chicken in Falls Church.

I’ll tell you one thing that I don’t like about Super Chicken right away: its crowd flow. Take a look at the picture after the jump. There’s only a narrow space between the ordering counter and beverage cooler through which customers must enter and exit. For those of us who like our personal space undisturbed, this choke zone seems like one potential groping area.

But you don’t really give a damn about my personal space, do you? You want to know about the chicken.

I like Super Chicken’s birds, but they’re altogether different from those at El Pollo Rico. For starters, SC’s birds are deeply charred — you could almost call them blackened — and they’re saturated with moisture. Just look at your Styrofoam container when you’re done eating. It runs heavy with juices.

These characteristics make me think that Super Chicken brines and charbroils its birds longer than they do at EPR. That may be SC’s signature or it may be an anomaly. More tastings can only prove that theory. But SC’s birds also are significantly more salty than those at El Pollo Rico, which also may be part of the restaurant’s signature. Super Chicken’s brine could, by design, include a ton more sodium.

Put this all together, and you have a fine example of pollo a la brasa. Super Chicken’s birds are wonderfully moist and salty, with a pronounced herby flavor, perhaps thyme. They’re also quite smoky from that thick coating of char. All of these characteristics make me a fan of Super Chicken. Hell, I’m a fan of just standing there in the restaurant and smelling the aroma of those smoked birds.

But do I think Super Chicken is better than El Pollo Rico? No. I think I still prefer El Pollo Rico’s approach to rotisserie chicken. I taste more aromatics and more complexity in EPR’s birds; I also don’t feel so beat over the head with salt and brining solution.

Yet the bigger question for me is this: Can you even really compare the two and say one is better than the other? They’re so different that it seems more a matter of taste than a matter of technical or flavor superiority. When two Peruvian chicken outlets reach this level of craft, it’s like picking between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. You’re good either way.

Next up: El Pollo Rico vs. Super Pollo!

There’s a real family vibe at Super Chicken

The potential grope zone

You’re so close to the fire and smoke you could get high from it

The delightfully odd mural in the Super Chicken parking lot