The aroma of roasting chicken hits you before you reach the storefront of Chicken Rico at 3728 Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown. Inside, a big, welcoming room full of tables greets you. This is a one-of-a-kind place, you think. And you are almost right.
Pedro Giordano, manager of Chicken Rico, has three brothers and a sister who own restaurants. They all use the secret family recipes. At Chicken Rico, the second your tongue presses a piece of Pedro Giordano’s chicken against the roof of your mouth, you taste something exotic. Delicious. Satisfying.
It was so good; I picked the meat to the bone.
Walter Flores has come to Chicken Rico from New Jersey several times. The day I was there, he ate roasted chicken with his wife, Jenny, and his cousin’s husband, Francis, and Francis’ young son, Fred. “The chicken is as good as anything I could ever make. Actually it is much better,” Walter reported.
Pedro told me that “rico” means delicious. “Many people call me Mr. Rico, they do not know what the word means,” he laughed. Pedro named the restaurant with his brother-in-law, Fernando Sanchez, who owns Chicken Rico with Pedro’s sister, Mirian Giordano.
Chicken Rico, which is open seven days a week 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., serves more than two hundred chickens on week days and more than three hundred on Saturdays and Sundays. The night before I ate there, Pedro prepared and had fifty chickens delivered to cater an affair in Parkville. “I’m looking for a location there to open another roasted chicken restaurant,” he added.
A native of Peru, Pedro has been running Chicken Rico on Eastern Avenue for six and a half years. The secret ingredient that Pedro uses in the chicken has been in the family for more than forty years. He learned it from his mother. “I was eleven years old when I started to help my mother with the cooking,” he said.
I had a fourth of a roasted chicken with two sides: baked beans and coleslaw. The meal is served with a can of soda for $4.99. Add French fries for $1.99. I chose a Peruvian soda, Inca Kola. It tasted like ginger ale with vanilla. Good! The chicken, as I have already described, is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The fries: hot and tasty. The beans were in a good, creamy sauce with pieces of bacon and the coleslaw was crisp, not too sweet; excellent.
My companion tried the lomo saltado for $8.99. It is described as stir fried tender strips of sautéed beef with tomato, red onion and spring onion over potatoes. He had white rice on the side. “The steak is very tender, good,” my companion said. He added that the rice was “tasty” and he tried the Peruvian Sidral Mundet soda which he said was “like a sparkling apple cider.”
Additional Peruvian selections at Chicken Rico include carne asada, a grilled, seasoned steak that is served with two sides for $10.50; pescado frito: fried, marinated trout with two sides for $8.50 and bisteck a lo pobre: grilled, marinated steak with two sunny side up eggs, French fries, rice and plantains for $10.99.
Chicken Rico also serves eight inch subs – chicken, chicken and steak, steak and cheese, tuna, Cajun fish — with chips and a pickle for $5.50. Add two sides and a can of soda for $6.99. You can get a chicken breast burger, marinated in a secret sauce with French fries and a can of soda for $6.50, a hamburger (with fries) for $4.99 or a cheeseburger (also with fries) for $5.50. Sides include tortillas for $1.99, yucca or plantains for $2.99, and salad, coleslaw, rice, French fries or beans for $2.75.
Carlos Carranza was wielding the butcher knife on the roasted chicken while I was there. But Pedro Giordano’s entire family works at Chicken Rico. Well, almost everyone. Pedro’s wife, Maria and his twenty-two year old daughter, Carla and twenty-three year old son, Angelo all work with him. Pedro’s youngest daughter, Valerie, is only nine. It’s a good bet that she will keep the family recipe secret if she joins them at Chicken Rico in a few years.