Sometimes having a great restaurant next door to yours is a good thing, sometimes it’s not. I’m uncertain whether being located next to the superb Peruvian joint Rincón Limeño has helped Pollos a la Brasa El Chalan, another Peruvian place with a similarly broad menu but, as the name indicates, a distinct specialty in rotisserie chicken roasted over charcoal. Rincón is nice-looking by the standards of Eastie Latino restaurants, and as previously reviewed here, a sure thing. El Chalan, with its distinctly more modest, two-level, 34-seat dining room, has a smaller reputation, so I bypassed it for years. No more.
You could order nothing but the specialty here and be very, very happy. Pollo a la brasa ($6.93/quarter, $9.01/half, $15.74/whole) is simply extraordinary: juicy throughout, even the breast, with beguiling flavor from a complex, tangy/sweet , chili-accented and herb-rich wet rub. The skin is magnificently crisp and mahogany-toned. This chicken is terrific by itself, better smeared with a little of the accompanying aji, a smooth sauce of yellow peppers with a hint of capsicum fire. Even the accompanying fries are rather good. There’s a reason they do a steady takeout business here into the wee hours of the morning. Rich offal flavor and texture informs anticuchos ($5.75), an appetizer of char-grilled chunks of beef heart. Other Peruvian standbys are solid if less memorable than the neighbor’s: lomo saltado ($10), a salty, satisfying stir-fry of steak tips, onions, tomatoes, and French fries served with rice; jalea de mariscos ($15.09), a mound of skillfully batter-fried shrimp, squid, and fish (usually cod or grouper); and ceviche mixto ($14.18), raw shrimp and fish fillets denatured in a lemon-juice marinade with onions.
Mexican and Central American dishes like tacos ($2) and pupusas ($2) are respectable concessions to local demographics. Drink options includes Inca Kola ($1.70), like bubble-gum-flavored cream soda, chicha morada ($2), an inky, sweet Peruvian purple-corn punch, and excellent licuados ($2.95), fresh fruit/milk/ice smoothies in flavors like mango and papaya. The pleasant house-made desserts include crema volteada ($3.39), a flan-like caramel custard, and alfajores ($4.29), almond sandwich cookies filled with anise-scented dulce de leche. The counter staff (which also delivers orders tableside) is super-friendly and speaks excellent English; menus are also well-translated. El Chalan offers yet another lesson in the value of keeping your eyes peeled, another Eastie venue serving tremendous food at great prices in humble digs.
Pollos a la Brasa El Chalan, located at 405 Chelsea Street in East Boston, is open from Monday to Thursday from 10 am-11 pm, Friday and Saturday from 10 am-3 am, and Sunday from 10 am-2 am. Call 617.567.9452.