Pollo a la brasa, or rotisserie chicken, has its own celebration in Peru. The dish is so central to the country's culture that the third Sunday in July is set aside to celebrate it, and its price is used as an index to measure inflation.
Though the spices used for marinating will vary, pollo a la brasa is grilled on a rotating spit over hardwood charcoal. The resulting chicken is tender, flavorful, juicy, and far better than any grocery store rotisserie chicken. Served with spicy green aji sauce, or cooler mayonnaise- or cheese-based sauces, it's an inexpensive meal that easily can serve as healthy takeout for the family. Here are some choice locations:
Chicken Fiesta clearly has found a formula to appeal to the masses. With two locations and frequent long lines, this is the most well-known and popular place to find pollo a la brasa and a host of Tex-Mex options.
Fiesta uses a nontraditional hybrid oven, combining gas flames and charcoal. The result is quite possibly the juiciest chicken I've ever had. Fiesta doesn't spice its chicken as heavily as most, which may disappoint some, but there's no arguing that its chicken is delicious. Standout sides include fried yucca, beans with plenty of cilantro, and the tamal de elote ($2.75), a sweet corn cake served with sour cream.
7568 W. Broad St.
Also: 7748 Midlothian Turnpike, 320-1112
10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily
$14 (whole), $7.75 (half), $5.75 (quarter), includes two sides
Rocoto is located inside of El Jardin Latino market and is a little difficult to find. But persistence will pay off with excellent food. With the slogan, "Finally in Richmond the authentic Peruvian rotisserie chicken," Rocoto offers something unique and, as its staff will tell you, more authentic than many competitors.
A special oven uses only indirect, charcoal heat, resulting in a moist and flavorful chicken in which the spice is allowed to shine instead of smoke or char. Flavors of cumin and a slight citrusy tang permeate the meat. The chicken, which is "100% natural, free farmed, hormone and antibiotic free," is cooked twice daily, at noon and 5, though if some is left you can buy it any time of day. Don't miss the pupusas ($1.90), a Salvadoran dish prepared by Rocoto's cook from that country using an old family recipe. Homemade corn tortillas surround a delicious filling of cheese, beans and cheese or pork and cheese.
8046 W. Broad St.
11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily
$15.99, $8.65, $6.65 (with 2 sides) whole chicken only $9.99
Panchito's is a Mexican restaurant, and a good one. But when you walk in the door you're greeted by bags of hardwood charcoal, and you can't miss the rotisserie oven just behind the counter.
Pollo a la brasa isn't on the menu, but the friendly staff is happy to help me through my confusion. Panchito's grills over traditional charcoal, but the char overwhelms the marinade flavors. On my visits, the chicken also is on the dry side. The sides of beans, rice and corn tortillas are excellent, however, and making my own chicken tacos with the three freshly made house salsas makes up for the somewhat disappointing chicken. Panchito's does many things well, but needs to improve the execution on this dish.
Restaurante Taqueria Panchito
6531 Midlothian Turnpike
Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 a.m.
$8, half chicken with two sides
A primarily Peruvian menu at Chicken Mania, a family-owned restaurant on Forest Hill Avenue, complements the staple offering of rotisserie chicken, though with all the others it veers into pan-Latin and Tex-Mex offerings such as burritos and wraps. The large charcoal oven and friendly staff greet you as soon as you walk in the door.
Chicken Mania's is the most heavily spiced of all the chicken I sample, so lovers of bold, flavorful marinades should head here. Cumin dominates the flavor profile and permeates every bite. The sides are unremarkable but it doesn't matter. The chicken is the star here.
7524 Forest Hill Ave.
10 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily
$13.99, $6.99, $4.99, with two sides. Whole chicken only, $9.99