The shopping center on Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore, just north of Reisterstown Plaza, is one of the most uniquely diverse in town. It’s anchored by a Save-a-Lot and, in addition to a Dollar Tree and America’s Best Wings, there’s a Russian supermarket called Stolichny NY; Russian House, which sells Russian-language magazines, newspapers, and DVDs; Goldman’s Kosher Bakery; and Shabsi’s Judaica Center. Late last year, Peruvian chicken specialist El Gran Pollo II (uno is in Towson) joined, following a trend in the once-thoroughly-Jewish neighborhood that is now a mix of orthodox Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, and Russian and other immigrants.
We have a long, loving attachment to Peruvian chicken, dating back to years spent in New York, where we practically worshipped at the shrine of Brooklyn’s Coco Roco, beloved for its perfectly roasted chickens that were coated with a finger-licking garlicky seasoning and accompanied by two dipping sauces—a creamy one and a spicy green one. El Gran Pollo serves its chicken the exact same way ($6.55/$6.95 for a quarter-chicken dark/white, $8.95 for a half-chicken, each served with two sides), straight from a fiery rotisserie behind the counter, and it’s exquisitely delicious, falling-off-the-bone tender, and full of flavor. The sides, including Arroz Chaufa (Peruvian fried rice—very similar to Chinese fried rice, as it was inspired by Chinese immigrants to Peru), white rice, black or pinto beans, plantains, and yucca fries, are uniformly delicious and served in absurdly large portions. The yucca fries, golden and crispy, are a standout, as are the garlicky black beans.
The chicken is the main draw, but there’s an extensive menu of Peruvian entrees beyond that; we’re partial to the Lomo Saltado ($13.95), which consists of marinated steak with tomatoes and onions served over rice and french fries. There’s also Mexican Coke (i.e., the kind with real sugar), along with Inca Kola, Jarritos, Foco coconut juice, and Kola Ingles (the answer to Mexican Coke?). The décor is fairly elaborate for such a low-priced spot, with a large mural of an Incan settlement painted on a brick wall and cool decorative installations on the walls. If this is the taste of change, we’re all for it.