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El Pollo Rico’s bird, not to be confused with Pollo Wow!’s
The strip mall on New Hampshire Avenue, just south of University Boulevard, feels stuck in some parody of ’70s-era urban/suburban life. If you walk the full length of the strip, you won’t find a single Starbucks or T-Mobile or any other corporate storefront. Instead, you’ll stumble upon a wig shop, a “fabrics” outlet, and a liquor store that has the air of servicing emergency alcohol needs.
One storefront, however, sticks out. It’s the overly enthusiastic Peruvian chicken outlet named Pollo Wow! There’s a banner that hangs out front, saying “Best Charcoal Chicken in MD.” Or something like that. I didn’t have a note pad with me. What I do know about the place comes from Don Rockwell, who accidentally got caught in the middle of some sort of name infringement battle between El Pollo Rico and Pollo Wow!, which used to be called Pollo Rico (minus the article) before it adopted the gushing interjection. (Of marginal note, Pollo Wow! is still listed as Pollo Rico in the 411 directory.)
El Pollo Rico, naturally, doesn’t want any pretender trading on its good — or semi-good — name and reputation. But based only on the quality of each’s rotisserie chicken, I’d say there’s not much drop off between EPR and Pollo Wow!
Pollo Wow!’s birds are far moister than EPR’s. No matter what section of bird I sampled at Pollo Wow!, it was juicy all the way to the bone, even that notoriously arid wasteland of poultry flesh known as the breast. I’d argue, in fact, that some of the dark meat bordered on watery. I asked the woman behind the counter at Pollo Wow! how long she brined her birds before sticking them on the rotisserie. I was not at all shocked when she said two to three days. Them chickens are practically swimming in solution.
Like at EPR, Pollo Wow!’s birds come dusted with a pungent amount of cumin and boast just enough salt to emphasize flavor. If PW’s signature dish lacks anything, it’s smoke. While noticeable, the bird’s smokiness level doesn’t quite reach the charcoal highs you find at El Pollo Rico. All in all, though, I’m pleased with the pollo a la brasa here. I’m not sure I’d label it a Wow! But Tasty! is good enough, isn’t it?
The Wow! factor, however, kicks in with one of the eatery’s side dishes, the chicken rice. It’s sort of like Chinese fried rice, just without the soy. The side comes with well-cooked rice, bits of fried egg, scallions, and generous pieces of shredded rotisserie chicken. I swear to God that I could get two orders of this stuff and be satisfied with it as a meal.
Pollo Wow!, 7643 New Hampshire Ave., (301) 408-4707.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery