Now I’ve come to realize that most of you are getting way too comfortable with where you eat. I want you to step away from the Chipotles, Noodles & Cos and Five Guys of the world to appreciate some of the local fare that College Park has to offer.
If you are looking to step outside your comfort zone, look no further than Sardi’s Pollo a la Brasa. Located in Beltsville, it is literally outside of UMD’s comfort zone, but if you have a ride it’s well worth the 10-minute drive. And if you can’t make the trip don’t sweat it … they deliver.
When you get to Sardi’s, you may notice something off about the store. The shape of that roof, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it somehow reminds me of a fourth rate pizza peddler …
You guessed it: Sardi’s is currently located in what used to be a Pizza Hut. When you step inside Sardi’s the atmosphere is warm, inviting and authentic. The walls are covered in Latin-American knick-knacks and portraits of traditional foods. The fridges at the front of the store carry an assortment of drinks including Inca Kola, a tasty Peruvian soda.
If you’ve never been to Sardi’s the first thing you have to get is the chicken. It’s the best way to get a feel for what Sardi’s is all about. Similar to Boston Market, you can pick from ¼ white, ¼ dark, ½ white, ½ of each or even a whole chicken if you desire. The chicken is then savagely cleaved into pieces right in front of you, just a few minutes out of the rotisserie.
The chicken meal, regardless of size, comes with two sides. This is definitely the hardest part for me. You can pick from coleslaw, rice and beans, fried plantains, a surprisingly good salad, arroz chaufa (Peruvian fried rice), fresh veggies, giant Peruvian corn, French fries (boring) or fried yucca. My short list, after knocking off the boring options like french fries and coleslaw, is yucca, fried rice, plantains or the salad.
Both my dining companion and I decided to go with a half chicken meal, white and dark meat. I got the fried yucca and arroz chaufa, while he got the plantains and beans. The price of a half chicken is $9, about the same as a burrito with guac from Chipotle.
Let’s just look at that chicken for a moment, see that crispy reddish-brown skin? That’s unadulterated Peruvian flavor. And underneath it? Olfactory heaven in the form of perfectly cooked fowl. Every bite is a perfect fistful of succulent meat that can only be made better by one thing: the sauce.
Oh my lord, I can’t begin to describe how great the sauces are. You get a savory, creamy yellow sauce that I have no clue as to how they make (if someone at Sardi’s is reading this, please send me the recipe). Then, there’s a spicy green sauce that takes things up a notch, as if you weren’t already losing your shit. Finally, you’ve got this cool, controlled white sauce that can only be compared to tzatziki minus the dill.
It’s hard to compete with that chicken, but trust me you’ll be paying just as much attention to the sides. Yucca, for those who don’t know, is like a potato on steroids. It comes out of the fryer in these big, flaky, golden chunks that you can tear apart in your hands. It tastes kind of like French fries but a little starchier and devoid of expectation. The plantains were perfect: with a soft, almost creamy texture and just enough sweetness. They make for a great palate cleanser in between fistfuls of chicken, yucca and rice.
I think what’s great about the rice, other than the heaping portions, is that it comes with chicken in it. As if my half chicken meal wasn’t enough, they made sure to sneak some more in my fried rice. What does frustrate me about the rice, however, is that it’s the only thing that required a fork. You learn after about three minutes into eating that it’s best to just give up on being civilized and tear into your food.
If you were wondering, the beans are fine. Well cooked with a sauce that isn’t overpowering. The salad is surprisingly stupendous. The veggies taste fresh and the dressing is just as tasty as the rest of the condiments.
It’s impossible to come away from Sardi’s unsatisfied. While you can get delivery, you should definitely eat a meal at the store in order to get the full experience. The music puts you in a lighthearted mood, the employees are kind and the smell will knock you off your feet. The whole time you’re waiting to get your food (which isn’t long) you’ll find yourself captivated by the char-broiler that slowly roasts dozens of chickens. They actually have a video (that will also give you a sample of their great music taste) on YouTube:
I know I’ve been hyping their chicken, but the menu is surprisingly broad. There is a long list of Peruvian dishes I’ve never heard of that sports shrimp, salmon and even beef hearts. In addition to these, you’ll find some classic options like gyros and cheese steaks on the menu.
For those of you out their that don’t live in College Park/Beltsville, Sardi’s actually has six other locations around Maryland and D.C.
When I first came to Sardi’s, my knowledge of Peruvian culture stopped at Emperor’s New Groove (still relevant). Now I can walk away knowing that the region is not merely defined by llamas and ancient irrigation systems: their food is on point too.
Location: 10433 Baltimore Ave, Beltsville, MD 20705
Hours of Operation: 10:30am-10pm Monday-Thursday, 10:30am-11pm Friday-Saturday, 11am-9:30pm Sunday