Feasting on Peruvian fare from Chicken Rico

TAKEOUT

September 22, 2004|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Peruvian charcoal-broiled chicken trend is wending its way from Washington to Baltimore. Chicken Rico, recently expanded from three D.C.-area locations to a fourth in Highlandtown, sets a high standard for the genre.

Chicken Rico has a sunny atmosphere, enhanced by tapestries depicting life and landscapes in Peru, as well as traditional Peruvian flutes arranged on the wall. Artificial flowers decorate each table and music in Spanish blares from the speakers. Inca Kola shares space with Pepsi in the soda case.

My good feeling about the place escalated when a customer asked to borrow the house phone so she could tell her mother not to bother with dinner: She was bringing home a feast from Chicken Rico.

We stuck to Peruvian items on Chicken Rico's menu. A whole chicken ($11.40), cooked over glowing coals, came quartered. Its peppery skin was irresistible, and the meat moist. A mayonnaise-based sauce and a fiery green sauce complemented the chicken, but were hardly necessary.

We also ordered a beef burrito ($4.99), which came overstuffed with a savory mix of meat, onions, rice and sour cream, and served with potato chips and pickles.

Fries ($1.65) were fat and fine, and the deep-fried yuca ($1.75) had a crunchy outside and a pleasingly starchy inside.

An ample side order of plantains ($1.75), sliced into coins that were cooked until sweet and blackened, would make a full-course vegetarian meal. Tortillas ($1.25) were true to form, while the coleslaw ($1.50), alas, was unspectacular.

We had two desserts, both pastries that departed delightfully from basic American bakery fare. The alfajor ($1.25), a biscuit made of condensed milk and a hint of anise seed, resembled a buttery, subtly flavored cookie. Mil hojas ($1.99), a torte concoction with layers of pastry and filling, was also a sweet, but not too sweet, finale to a solid meal.

Besides Peruvian food, Chicken Rico also offers hamburgers, tuna melts, Cajun fish and other common carryout commodities.

But go for the chicken, the plantains and the lovely desserts. And tell your mom not to cook dinner.

Chicken Rico

Food: ***

Service: ***1/2

Waiting area: ***

Parking: **1/2

Where: 3728 Eastern Ave., Highlandtown

Phone: 410-522-2950

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Prices: Peruvian-style chicken, burgers, salads, burritos and subs, from $4.25 to $11.40; credit cards accepted

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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