I moved into D.C. just over a month ago. There’s been a ton to get used to — the culture, the people, the spread of things to do, and everything else I’m yet to discover.
But it’s also a lot to get used to, personally, because my hometown is, well, quaint. I could go days without seeing another soul outside my home. That’s not so much the case here.
Another thing to get used to is the food, for similar reasons. At home, we have about three restaurants in a consistent rotation for big events, birthdays and general outings. In D.C., well, I can see more than three restaurants from my front window alone. I’m overwhelmed by the culinary opportunity.
I’m no enthusiast when it comes to exploration, either — I’m a hardcore homebody. I want to find comfort, and find it ASAP. So when I stumbled upon El Pollo Sabroso, a Peruvian chicken spot, there I was — home.
And not just home in my hometown sense. Yes, it’s a quaint, intimate restaurant in a quaint, intimate part of town — but it mostly reminds me of Perú. My dad’s side of the family is from Lima, and I used to go all the time as a kid. My grandma’s home was right next-door to a chicken place, Donal’s, adorned with to-go ketchup in plastic bags and a kitschy graphically-designed chicken on the welcome sign.
When I saw El Pollo Sabroso, I was a kid again.
I spoke with Gerson Sanchez, the current manager of the restaurant. He’s been at El Pollo Sabroso for about 15 years now — he’s the son of the founder, Alfredo Sanchez.
“Our restaurant was started in 2001, so we just recently reached our 20 years anniversary,” Sanchez says. “The restaurant was started by an immigrant dreamer who had the vision of sharing his family recipes and food with the rest of the community.”
What a blessing it is to be a part of that community. My order was like second nature, even though I’d never been old enough to order for myself when I’d visit Perú. A half chicken, rice and yucca — ají verde on the side. No plastic ketchup bags, but a man can dream.
“Our restaurant preserves our authentic Peruvian culture through our recipes and spices — we pride ourselves in all our menu items being made from scratch in-home,” Sanchez says. “We believe in our roots, from when Alfredo was a little boy and his mom would make everything right at home.”
The food was exactly what I needed it to be — delicious, satiating, comfortable. The ají verde was rich and creamy, the yucca was crisp and fresh, the chicken was just the right level of juicy, just the right level of salty. By the end, my hands were filthy, in the way they were meant to be.
Being a 20-something in a new city, it would’ve been easy for me to order take-out, and veg out in the comfort of my own apartment. And especially after a year and a half of isolation, that option reigns supreme in my mind.
But I decided to sit down, by myself, and allow myself to be enraptured. The Spanish CNN warbling above me, the chatter of the mingling patrons, the sounds of the kitchen — a cacophony of familial familiarity.
I found myself experiencing a rare moment when a plate goes beyond what’s plated — when, for just a moment, I was where I wasn’t.
My curiosity provoked by this local gem and the rush of memories, I asked Sanchez about the regulars they get at the restaurant.
“We have a very strong Peruvian community and we are very lucky that we are in such a location,” he explains. “We see a lot of our customers everyday, [or] at least two times a week. We are so fortunate to have such support from the community.”
I asked about what he thinks brings people back, but I felt I knew the answer.
“[The regulars] comment that it reminds them of their childhood or brings up memories that bring them joy,” he says. “For me, it means a place of warmth and happiness, every time I take a bite it takes me back to the simple days when I was a little kid.”
Inside that El Pollo Sabroso, I felt the charm of the Perú I know — the Perú off Av. Las Palmeras, a few blocks down from the Plaza Vea, with chaufas and bakeries lining the streets. I know why I want to come back.
El Pollo Sabroso: 3153 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC; elpollosabrosodc.com
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