Human-chicken relations have always been something of an oddity. To many, chicken is a mere protein vehicle, purchased boneless and skinless, then overcooked for fear of salmonella. To others it a thing meant to be fried, whether that style be Korean or Buffalo. In the end though, it is a malleable bird, and one that can take on many styles, techniques and flavors. But to truly appreciate this oft under-appreciated fowl, a simple roast is probably best. Today, we take on one of the tastiest styles of roast chicken-- Peruvian.
Pollo a la Brasa is longstanding L.A. favorite, stabbed haphazardly into the heart of Koreatown where it excretes some of the most delicious smelling smoke you'll ever find in a busy city intersection. They use real wood there, and walking through the front door and finding crackling birds roasting over flames will immediately cause you to salivate. The chicken is moist and the skin is crispy, but it's the smokiness that really takes it to another level. Well, that and the spicy, green Peruvian sauce staple, aji. The restaurant is also, to me anyway, a quintessential representation of Los Angeles; a Korean woman behind the counter, standing by a Japanese Maneki Neko, serving delicious Peruvian food to what seems to be a primarily Mexican clientele.
I had always assumed that, with Pollo a la Brasa, I'd found the holy grail of Peruvian chicken in Los Angeles. Then I got a tip from Josh Lurie of Food GPS, who told me to head out to Bonano's Chicken in Northridge. There, you see large trays of whole chickens, surrounded by and covered with french fries, where they're served to big, hungry families. But you don't need to go that route, and can easily sit down to a half chicken with rice and beans that will seduce you into a state of helpless bliss. While they can't match the smokiness of Pollo a la Brasa, the meat at Bonano's is juicier, the skin crispier and the flavor deeper. It's a chicken I want to take away with me for the weekend-- the kind you fly with to Honolulu, then go the whole trip without ever leaving the hotel room. It is a bird that, at the very least, makes you start looking for excuses to drive to Northridge. I still love Pollo a la Brasa, but not as deeply. My heart, alas, has been stolen by another.
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Pollo a la Brasa, 764 S. Western Ave. L.A., (213) 382-4090., Bonano's Chicken, 8363 Reseda Boulevard, Northridge, (818) 775-1373.