Discover Peruvian chicken at El Pollo Perucho

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

In our strip mall-laden city, hidden-gem eateries are tucked all over town. Here's one more to add to the list: El Pollo Perucho, a Peruvian rotisserie that's been quietly operating on the city's West Side since October 2013.

Run by a Peruvian family, the specialty here is traditional pollo a la brasa-whole chickens that are slathered with a paste that includes garlic, cumin, paprika and vinegar, and then marinated overnight before roasting slowly on a spit over a glowing coal fire. The result is juicy chicken with a taut, crisp skin that crackles as you stick a fork into it and the kind of smoky-savory results that come only after hours over a fire.

With all the time and care it takes to make this dish, it's no surprise the chicken is the standout on the menu. Order it by the quarter ($6.99), half ($12.99) or whole ($24.99). Each order comes with fries and an iceberg salad-sides that are nice, but lackluster next to the meaty star of the plate. Spend an extra 50 cents and swap regular fries for yuca fritas. The starchy root veg (yuca also goes by the name cassava) has a slightly frayed texture that gives it weight and a creamier consistency than white potatoes. The accompanying sauce, aji amarillo, is flecked with cilantro and jalapeno and is mildly hot and a little fruity.

Ceviche de Pescado ($8.99) is another good choice. Every order is made fresh, so expect to wait about 20 minutes for a mix of tender slices of tilapia, shaved red onion, a mix of boiled corn and cancha (purple corn) for crunch, and soft sweet potato. There is a subtle, and wonderful, hint of bitter citrus, like grapefruit. It's a pleasant taste achieved by mixing lime with bright orange aji amarillo peppers.

"Do you like spicy?" the cook asked me as she plated my ceviche. The cool ceviche, she told me, is best with their house hot sauce made with rocoto chilies-a pepper that can reach upwards of 200,000 (aka very hot) on the Scoville scale. Knowing what I was in for, I dabbed the bright red sauce sparingly on my ceviche. It added a sweet, citrusy flavor at first, and I was a few bites in before a warm sensation crept up my face. The cool and spicy combo was worth every second of burn.

The setting at El Pollo Perucho is nothing fancy. Diners walk up to a counter framed in faux bricks, and the cash register is practically in the kitchen. The staff is friendly and happy to answer questions and give advice on what to order. In addition to chicken a la brasa, the kitchen prepares a handful of Peruvian specialty dishes like Lomo Saltado ($9.99), akin to a stir-fry with sliced beef, onions and tomatoes, Arroz Chaufa ($7.99) Peruvian-style fried rice, and Ocopa ($3.99) potatoes with a sauce made with peanuts, cheese and huacatay, an herb also known as black mint.

To drink, order the Chicha Morada ($1.75) a traditional beverage made from purple corn and pineapple and seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and sugar. The result is a refreshing drink heavier on spice than sweetness.