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The owners of the small Crisp & Juicy chain are living the dream. They’ve taken a once foreign dish—-seriously, who knew about Peruvian chicken 20 years ago?—-and introduced it to Washingtonians in the most American of ways: via shopping malls like Westfield Wheaton and strip centers like the Blair Shops in Silver Spring. But if they’ve learned that expansion is the key to empire-building, they’ve also learned that mass success relies on appealing to the lowest common denominator, much like every other fast-food chain in this country.
The birds at the Silver Spring outlet of C&P live up to at least half their promise: The meat, encased under a loose, soft layer of golden skin, is moist to the bone; it’s also as salty as the Gulf of Mexico. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (trust me, though, you will be downing a glass or two of water an hour later), but you’ll find Crisp & Juicy’s birds satisfying only if you haven’t sampled the chicken at superior pollo a la brasa outlets, like El Pollo Rico, where the winged specimens are dusted with a far more complex spice blend.
Unlike its competitors, Crisp & Juicy sports a more expansive menu, both with sides and entrees, including a rather underwhelming Argentine-style steak sandwich on a hoagie roll. But I think the biggest problem with the chain is that some of its outlets feel neither down-home ethnic—-you know, like one of those smoky holes-in-the-wall frequented by transplants—-nor corporate pristine. The chain straddles this awkward line, in which some locations feel both dingy like an ethnic dive and bright, severe, and uninviting like a fast-food chain. Hell, even the sign at the Silver Spring location was out of kilter during a recent visit.