This Hole-in-the-Wall-Life

Poor Garden Grove. The city fathers are currently debating whether to allow an Indian casino in the city, the latest in a decade of snake-oil schemes that have involved everyone from Steve Wynn to Jordan's King Hussein. Meanwhile, the city's immigrant masses have revitalized Garbage Grove fine, blessing the 'burb with treasures such as MR. POLLO.

This small restaurant specializes in pollo à la brasa: Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. But these gals aren't like your Armenian or Mexican pals' much-heralded take. Mr. Pollo's chefs prep their chickens by slathering a marinade—some secret concoction with hints of citrus, soy sauce and garlic—until it seeps to the very bone. They then spit the hen and put it over flames you can see from outside. Around and around the chicken twirls until someone orders it. Meanwhile, the marinade cooks the skin beyond crispiness and into the realm of the deep-fried.

That extraordinary skin is what makes Mr. Pollo the best chicken restaurant outside San Clemente's Surfin' Chicken. As brittle as a chicharrón, but without the cloying fatty taste, Mr. Pollo's poultry is sweet and earthy, with a sharpness borne from the holy duo of garlic and soy sauce. I now understand why 19th-century Americans killed buffaloes just for their tongues and threw away the rest: This skin unleashes the same mad yen. But the pollo à la brasa's meat is even better, being the recipient of the draining, dripping marinade. It's tender enough to spoon into your mouth and and as sweet as prosciutto. Add some ají (a creamy, Key lime-toned Peruvian salsa that's more prickly than spicy), and you'll never want to eat anywhere else again. And the best part: A quarter-chicken—along with thick French fries and a choice of salad or rice—goes for a measly 6 bucks; the whole hen is $13.

Mr. Pollo could make a fortune just selling its rotisserie chicken, and it seems it is—every table hosts at least one bird while patrons wait patiently for takeout orders whenever I visit. Nevertheless, there are other Peruvian favorites on the menu. The papa à la huancaina—slabs of boiled potato smothered with a Velveeta-like cheese sauce and bizarrely placed on lettuce—is an Incan take on Cheddar-cheese Ruffles. After that, though, everything else is delicious but not too varied: Most of the plates are readily available at the county's many Peruvian restaurants and are either fried, served with tallarín (the Andean version of spaghetti), or feature enough seafood to stock a tributary. Stick with the pollo à la brasa: There's a reason why the restaurant is called Mr. Pollo, and it ain't the ceviche.

MR. POLLO, 12653 HARBOR BLVD., GARDEN GROVE, (714) 638-8896.


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