Señor Pollo Peppers Its Chicken

There are hot sauces, and then there's the marvel called ají de rocoto that Señor Pollo in Garden Grove presents to every table in a squeeze bottle. You don't think much of it because it's served along with a bottle of green ají, the Peruvian condiment that's more refreshing than spicy. So you tend to discount the ají de rocoto as you spray it all over your meal, dismissing the orange color as more indicative of pumpkin than habanero. The rocoto, though, is an almost-mystical pepper in Peru, a metaphor for the nation itself: seemingly polite and nice, but ready to crack knuckles when needed.

You have to ask for rocoto at most Peruvian places, and the majority don't stock it. But it's one of the many highlights at Señor Pollo, perfect to put on its namesake chicken. This hen has a skin that looks, tastes and crackles as if it were toffee, encasing soft flesh soaking with a soy-based marinade that brings out flavors tart and sweet, hearty, yet light. The chicken also appears in the hefty saltado, on top of fried rice and enwrapped by spaghetti strands in the tallarín. But the best way to enjoy the pollo is with a half-order: At just less than $9, with a cargo container of French fries, it's the greatest chicken special since the one at Zankou's.

Señor Pollo sells more than just bird, of course. There are more seafood platters here, everything from fine ceviches to an epic bouillabaisse called parihuela to poached fish covered in ají panca, yet another Peruvian pepper that doesn't get enough acclaim (this one is less scorching than the rocoto, but no less delicious). Tacu tacu is the equivalent of a Hungry-Man dinner, a gargantuan stir-fry topped with eggs and surrounded by fried plantains. And weekends bring anticuchos, chewy beef-heart skewers served with a side of rocoto-lime sauce. With all the focus on heating your taste buds, you'd think Señor Pollo was run by Mexicans. But pay attention to the charango on the soundtrack, listen to the soft Spanish spoken by most customers, and drown yourself with the rocoto, OC's finest hot sauce since Gringo Bandito.

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