By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by Matt OttoThe folks at Caravana Chicken, a Huntington Beach Peruvian rotisserie shack, don't dumb it down for the city's bros at all. Consider the anticuchos: two skewers of beef hearts, a Peruvian bar standard comparable to our Buffalo wings, a treat common to county Peruvian restaurants—but in a fast-food joint? My friend and I ordered. "It's going to take a bit longer than the chicken," the Caravana worker half-apologized in soft Spanish. He took out some bloody chunks, pierced them with a wooden stick and lit the stove.
As he grilled, another worker walked to a steel chamber near Caravana's entrance and opened it. A fragrant poof of mesquite smoke floated across the narrow, well-lit restaurant. Whole chickens twirled like a roller coaster inside the chamber, black but moist. The worker pulled one out, pounded cleaver through bone, placed our requested parts on a plastic plate, and threw in a yam and fried rice alongside French fries strewn with hot dog slices.
My friend and I sliced, but knife and fork were quickly replaced by the utilitarian hand. This chicken deserves a spot on that proverbial deserted isle: buttered, dense, the skin charred but also succulent, the meat plump and unadorned save for the smoky juices that seeped in after so much tumbling. Two accompanying ají sauces wriggled out further flavors as a good salsa should—the green one burned, the cream-colored ají piqued.
Caravana's sides initially seemed wastebasket-worthy but weren't. The fried rice, adorned with raisins, carrots and corn, pleased with a steamed sweetness. Sturdy French fries with snappy hot dog slices were a revelation that ballparks across the country should heed. But the yam . . . the yam! We originally thought they mistook our order for a baked potato, since the workers wrapped the yam in foil and had toasted its skin a crispy brown. Inside, though, this tuber glowed with a Caltrans-orange tint and featured a thick, slightly melted sugariness. Chicken and yam: there hasn't been a better off-kilter pairing since Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder
Dinner was done, but we ordered another round of freshly brewed maracuya (passion fruit) and clove-laced chicha morada as we awaited those beef hearts. They arrived: two skewers of dark-brown meat glazed with garlic. The anticuchos were chewy, intensely meaty, the best offal in the county. "From hell's heart I stab at thee," I uttered in mock glee as a siren wailed outside on Beach Boulevard. We gnawed off the last morsels from those burned sticks and left for the nearby sea.
CARAVANA CHICKEN, 17552 BEACH BLVD., HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 847-7555.