Young and Hungry

El Pollo Rico Reopens in Wheaton

I'm driving around Wheaton when I spot what seems like a mirage.

I do one of those cartoon double-takes. Did I just see what I thought I saw?

I pull my best Starsky and Hutch, wheeling back around in a squeal of tires. Sure enough, I saw what I thought I saw: the grand opening of the beloved-and-beleaguered Peruvian chicken joint, El Pollo Rico in Wheaton.

Actually, it is more like the grand re-re-opening, this time in a slick new strip center at the the corner of University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue.

In July 2007, four family members who run the business were arrested for money laundering and employing illegal workers, forcing the rotisserie-chicken eatery to close. A month later, it reopened to great fanfare among its many fans.

The revelry was short-lived. In February, a fire swept through the tiny restaurant with the long lines. It closed again, as owner Francisco Solano and his immediate family faced charges in U.S. District Court. Solano wife's, Ines-Hoyos Solano, was sentenced last month to three years' probation for her role in the crime; her husband's sentencing is set for Dec. 17.

In the meantime, El Pollo Rico's loyal patrons scattered to the several places in the surrounding neighborhood, creating a sort of rotisserie-chicken diaspora. But on Nov. 25, they came home. El Pollo Rico reopened at 2517 University Blvd (301-942-4419).

All but rubbing my eyes in disbelief, I sauntered into the shiny new digs. The old place was a glorious dive of smokiness and rickety tables. This new one gleams with melon-colored walls, hanging modern lamps with—get this—corkscrew-shaped energy efficient light bulbs and incongruous posters showcasing elegant women advertising movies (Breakfast at Tiffany's; huh?), and liquor (Taittinger champagne and absinthe; huh?).

But you still go the counter to order, and you still get your food on a tray. And when you bite into the juicy, flavorful, crisp-skinned chicken, you still feel you have ascended to spit-roasted poultry heaven.

"Ahhh," said an ecstatic Robin Conklin, who came to the former venue once a week from his office in Burtonsville with his Verizon co-workers. "It's the best. We swear they put something in the chicken. It addicts you to it."

  • Lou


  • Joe

    Yup, me and my buds are checking out their new digs tonight!

  • Robin Conklin

    Just got back from El Pollo - the Got my El Pollo Rico Buzz!

  • Dave McCoy

    The drought is over - great to have Pollo Rico back.

  • Carlos Martinez

    This Chicken taste better than even the ones in Peru
    My family and I drive from Baltimore, Md for about 1 hr just to have It. It is Awsome!!!

  • scenic wheaton

    Sorry. It's not the same. The chicken cleaver guy is gone. So is the smoke and the line of customers. Plus, the new (huge) price increase is a little hard to swallow.

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  • Rich S

    Hey scenic wheaton: Happy to say that the cleaver guy *is* back. Still has the Elvis glasses for when opening the rotisseries.

    I've been to El Pollo three times over the past week, I know should take it easy. The crowds seem to be picking up through the week. The chicken is still great and now it's a nice place to eat.

  • Mid-county Resident

    "El Pollo Rico" = "Exploto Para Que Ser Rico"

    EPR is just another overrated chicken shack (with new posh digs now).

    Hey, "ethnic eatery" foodie snobs, why do you continue to enrich labor-exploiting small business owners like the Solanos? These people are unscrupulous and prey on poor people.

    At least the greasy burger franchise joints pay over-the-table wages, for the most part.

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  • Irving Streete

    Embezellers/swindlers/launderers!! I will not eat their chicken

  • Ray Bealer

    I just came back from DC and tried Pollo rico for the first time on a reccomendation from a friend and it was abosolutley delicious. I live in the New Orleans area and would love to either see one come down this way or possibly talk to the owner about franchising one of these myself to bring it to this area. I think it would be a big hit down here.

  • Aaron Chisholm

    That was just the way it used to taste. Glad I made the trip .. now it's your turm .. eat up !