Drive-through Peruvian in North Long Beach for the L.A. Times:
PHOTO by GARY FRIEDMAN / L.A. TIMES
A voice crackles from the tinny speaker in the kitchen, and the staff at El Pollo Imperial listens closely to someone in a minivan at the drive-through window placing an order — not for pallid hamburgers stacked two patties high or limp fish encased in sheaths of greasy batter, but for stunningly fresh ceviche and impeccable lomo saltado, the Peruvian dish of stir-fried beef and French fries.
El Pollo Imperial inherited its fast-food trappings. Six months ago, partners Oscar Ramirez and Carlos and Alicia Cortez repurposed a shuttered KFC in North Long Beach, adapting even the drive-through to the restaurant’s new Peruvian flavors. It’s a significant transformation for this stretch of Atlantic Avenue, a neighborhood where ship supply companies occupy former Chinese restaurants and a striking Art Deco theater awaits demolition.
There are playful nods to El Pollo Imperial’s Kentucky Fried past: its avian name, its feathered mascot outfitted like Incan royalty. But the restaurant isn’t a mere paean to poultry. Though you certainly will order pollo a la brasa on your initial visit — juicy, well-seasoned rotisserie chicken that demands to be eaten with your hands — the impressive breadth of the restaurant’s menu will compel you to try any of the dozens of other dishes.
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