A fiesta of flavors for area diners

Restaurant review - Pollo Rico

Restaurant review - Pollo Rico

September 30, 2008|By OMNI VORE

Pollo Rico, a Salvadoran restaurant, recently opened two blocks west of the square in downtown Hagerstown with a ribbon-cutting ceremony officiated by Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II. I attended with a friend. Inside the doors was a bright yellow space with three tables. The food was displayed in a glass warmer. The rotisserie chicken held pride of place.

The young owner, Santos Diaz, told us that the chicken was grilled Peruvian style, but seasoned as it would be in El Salvador, a nation in Central America on the Pacific Ocean.

On our first visit to Pollo Rico, we decided to have appetizers. We ordered one empanada and one tamale. We received for the price of one, two empanadas and two tamales. A tamale is filled steamed, cornmeal dough. Pollo Rico's chicken-filled tamales tasted fresh and authentic. An empanada is a savory, fried, dough pocket, filled with meat or vegetables. Pollo Rico's empanadas were filled with chunks of chicken and covered with distinctive cabbage slaw.


One of the serving trays held soup. Curious, we asked the new owner what was in the soup. Santos called the cook, Maria, from the kitchen. She said the soup had small shrimp, imitation crab, salmon, fish, squid, clams, green beans, potatoes and broth.

"Would you like a taste?" Santos asked. When we nodded, he filled a styrofoam container with the soup. It was hot and tasty.

"And what about the mashed potatoes?" I asked, recognizing a familiar dish next to the black beans. Maria came out with a potato masher in her hand to demonstrate how she made the potatoes. Santos told us the secret: "Spanish sour cream."

I returned a few days later because I wanted to try the rotisserie chicken for which the restaurant had been named. Pollo Rico means "the plump chicken." The menu showed a colorful chicken holding the blue and white flag of El Salvador.

I chose the quarter chicken with side dishes of rice and beans. I sat at a minimalist glass table with stainless steel chairs and looked out the window. A steady stream of customers came into the restaurant: workmen, mothers, commuters.

Another customer had read about Pollo Rico and said she was delighted to find the small restaurant. She ordered the same as me, a quarter of chicken with rice and beans.

We agreed the dish was delicious. The chicken was moist and flavorful, easily spiced, salty. It was served with two sauces. One was a green sauce of tomatillos, onions and hot chilis. A yellow sauce was made with mayonnaise, mustard and chilis. Several patrons said they loved the sauce and wanted extra.

The beans and rice also were delicious. The rice was fluffy and nutty and had bits of carrot. The beans were a combination of red beans and black beans with onions and a fine hand with the seasonings. Salvadoran cuisine honors beans and rice. (Also corn, tomatoes, squash and peppers.) The food is a mixture of Mayan and Spanish cultures.

I had ordered a tamarindo to drink. It was very sweet and heavy, a luscious reminder of the tropics. The drink was a brilliant contrast to the barbequed chicken, beans and rice.

And then, I could not resist. The special for this day was camarones (shrimp) cooked with onions, tomatoes and peppers in an oily sauce. I ordered it with two sides - fried plantain and cooked carrots. The shrimp was delicious once I drained the oil. The shrimp had a delicate, smoky, barbecued flavor. The carrots could have been cooked in any cuisine. And the fried plantain let me know again that I was eating foods from a tropical climate.

Pupusas are a traditional Salvadoran food. I returned to Pollo Rico for a third time to try them. For $1.25, Pollo Rico's pupusas are, in my opinion, the best deal in town. They are prepared fresh and served immediately.

Pupusas are cornmeal flatbread stuffed with meat or cheese and topped with a cabbage salad called curtido. The slaw is slightly fermented, made with grated cabbage, carrots, scallions, vinegar and pepper. This particular curtido had a dollop of green salsa as a garnish on top.

My pork and cheese pupusa was very good, but the simple cheese pupusa had me longing for more as soon as I finished it. They were authentic and simply delicious. You do have to ask for them, as they were not in the warmer. To complement my pupusas, I drank a can of young coconut juice with pulp. The combination worked.

Now a stop at Pollo Rico has become a habit. When I am downtown, I hunger for pupusas and go to Pollo Rico for a fix. On my most recent visit, in mid-September, the amount of oil in the food seemed considerably decreased, which I was glad to see. And the increasing number of people of various walks of life and from around the globe was encouraging. The international atmosphere in the small restaurant was congenial and exuberant. There is good energy as well as good food for all.

Pollo Rico serves authentic Salvadoran and central American foods for a reasonable price in a bright happy space. The location is perfect. The owner is friendly and outgoing. The women in the kitchen know how to cook. The cheerful, upbeat restaurant beckons travelers heading west on U.S. 40 for a quick side trip south, to El Salvador.

Restaurant review: Pollo Rico

5 stars (out of 5)

Food: 4 stars
Service: 5 stars
Ambiance: 5 stars
Value: 5 stars

Address: 116 W. Franklin St., Hagerstown.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday.

Phone: 301-791-2333

Style: Latin American, especially Salvadoran.

Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

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