Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Eating ABQ: Pollito con Papas
Please see the update for Pollito's new location and other changes!
When we opened the screen door of the little building on the corner of Broadway and Cesar Chavez, I almost turned around and walked away. The no-frills dining room of Pollito con Papas was broiling - not just in the AC-is-expensive way one must expect from mom & pop restaurants in the summer, but in full-on, the-AC-is-totally-busted heat.
Still, I'd been reading about this place - Pollito con Papas, a Peruvian chicken joint - for months; it had an unheard-of 99% rating on Urbanspoon; and my first attempt to visit had been foiled by the fact that they are closed on Wednesdays. So I squared my shoulders and led Arne to a table right in front of a fan.
As soon as we sat down, an incredibly cheerful and welcoming woman - Monica, who owns the place with her husband Rene - appeared with a silver tray covered in little white cookies. We each took one and swooned. I've had alfajores before - small, melt-in-your mouth cookies sandwiching a dulce de leche caramel filling - but none as good as these. I immediately asked Monica if she sold these little wonders or just gave them away, and she pointed out the little plastic containers in the drink fridge: six cookies for $6. If you think $1 for a half-dollar-sized cookie sounds spendy, you've never tasted these. Compared with $2 and up for trendy, and similarly sized, macarons, they're a bargain.
When we finished exulting about the alfajores, we ordered. The menu is simple - if you can read a little Spanish, you already know what they serve: chicken and potatoes. There are five items on the menu, served in various combinations. All feature chicken and/or potatoes. They have whole or halved rotisserie chickens; grilled boneless skinless chicken thighs; French fries; chimichangas stuffed with chopped chicken and onions; and papas rellenos, which are kind of like the good part of a twice-baked potato stuffed with chicken and deep-fried.
Arne and I chose two combinations that, combined, featured everything on the menu except the rotisserie-style chicken. My 1/2 chimichanga came out first, with a side of creamy green garlic sauce. After my first bite, it was really, really hard to share. The tortilla was perfectly crisp, but not greasy, and it was very plumply stuffed with a mixture of delicious chicken and onions.
And it came with my first taste of THE SAUCE.
I don't know exactly what's in this sauce. The online menu calls it "our exclusive creamy sauce"; the in-house menu calls it "aji." I know it has lots of garlic, something creamy, and something green. And something addictive. This is one of the tastiest sauces I've ever had, so good that I put the lid back on the leftovers (we devoured three of our four little cups, but had one left) and took it out in my purse, risking a very messy aji disaster. (The cup made it home without incident and turned some leftover tacos into leftover taco heaven.)
It took about ten minutes for the rest of our lunch to arrive, since everything was cooked to order. During that time we sweated, chatted pleasantly with Monica and Rene, watched the bustling take-out business, and (mostly) resisted the urge to lick the remaining aji sauce from the cup that had come with my chimi.
Finally our plates arrived. We each had a long-marinated grilled chicken thigh; I had French fries and more aji (yay!), and Arne had a papa relleno (pictured at top), more aji (yay!), pink pickled onions, and another delicious sauce - also creamy, but purply-pink from Peruvian olives.
The chicken thighs were outstanding: intensely savory, juicy, and tender enough that our plastic knives glided through them with almost no resistance. The fries were quite good - maybe not standouts compared to the rest of the menu, but more than adequate as carriers for creamy sauces. The papa relleno was phenomenal - crisp outside, soft inside, and stuffed with a different yummy filling than the one in the chimichanga.
Rene was anxious to know what we thought of everything, and admitted that only Monica had the touch to make the scrumptious papas rellenos; he could stand next to her as she patted them out and do what seemed like the exact same thing, but his fell apart the minute they hit the deep fryer.
There's skill in all this food. The owners of Pollito con Papas have chosen, very wisely, to maintain laser focus on what they do very, very well - chicken. And creamy garlic sauce. As I mentioned before, their Urbanspoon rating is 99% likes, many calling their chicken the best ever, or at least the best in the state - a fact Rene is well aware of. He laments that the one or two people who chose "don't like" didn't leave reviews, so he can't fix whatever it was they had a problem with. That's real dedication and well-earned pride.
Pollito con Papas is quite inexpensive - two whole chickens, fries, and that awesome sauce will only set you back 20 bucks. That said, remember to bring cash, because they don't take credit. And don't go on Wednesday. But do go. Even if the A/C is on the fritz, the charming owners and delicious food will make you glad you stopped by.