Lunch for One: Señor Pollo


[Photographs: Kathy YL Chan]

In September of last year, Robyn Lee did a post on the $6.50 Quarter-Chicken and Two Sides Deal from Señor Pollo. It's one of the best cheap lunch deals in the East Village and most certainly one I never tire of.

After numerous visits to Señor Pollo with the same order every single time (quarter chicken, fried sweet plantains, and mixed rice and beans), I decided to switch things up and poke around unexplored menu territory. The result? The quarter chicken meal is still the best deal, but there are some other gems to be found at this neighborhood chicken spot: gambas al ajillo, quinoa stew, and flan.

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First, what not to eat. There are three sides on the menu, none really worth your time, including the papa à la huancaína ($5), pictured above. A pile of boiled potatoes, one olive, one lettuce leaf, half a boiled egg, and a bath of huancaína sauce. Papa à la huancaína is typically served cold, but this was neither hot nor cold; it was lukewarm. The huancaína sauce, made from yellow peppers and cheese, had hardly any flavor; its main contribution was texture—oozy thick.

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If possible, come on Thursday or Friday, the only two days of the week Señor Pollo turns out Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce). At $10.99, it's the priciest dish at Señor Pollo but worth every penny. When they say "garlic sauce," they are not kidding. The shrimp (I lost count at 15) are bathed in a pungent shower of garlic, both puréed and minced. Chile peppers give the barest touch of spice, making it clear that garlic is the boss here. The dish simply begs for bread (you'll have to sneak in your own or order this dish to go) or rice at the very least. Allowing any of this sauce go to waste is a sin. Be forewarned that your breath will smell horrible (or perhaps wonderful?) post meal, so plan accordingly.

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With the shrimp dish you get any two sides. Aim healthy with steamed vegetables or perhaps a generic house salad. Or you can have fun and indulge your whims with the likes of maduros or tostones. Are you a mayo lover? Don't pass on the Spanish potato salad (which include diced hard-boiled eggs). The french fries are boring, but should you crave rice, take your pick from white, yellow, or mixed rice and beans. Spinach mashed potatoes don't taste of spinach at all, but that's just a slight complaint. New to the line-up of sides is the savory Peruvian quinoa stew, warm and hearty and thick enough to eat with a fork. I detected cumin along with cream—definitely not broth-based like standard Peruvian quinoa stews.

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And if you have room for something sweet, there are house-made fruit shakes ($3.25) or flan ($2). While the shake options are promising (it's not too often you find soursop shakes in the East Village), pass on them all—yes, even the passion fruit, papaya and mango—as they're extremely heavy on the sugar and light on the fruit. The house flan is a better bet, creamy with a pour of caramel syrup. It was a bit too heavy on the vanilla (extract), but for $2, this is a bargain I'd return for.

Señor Pollo

221 First Avenue, New York NY 10003 map) 212-777-0362