La Choza Grill
8558 Lee Hwy., Fairfax
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Prices: $1.25 to $9.99.
Cards: Cash only.
No nonsmoking area.
Maybe someday Elsa and Francisco Puebla will be running their own chain of chicken restaurants like the colonel's, but for the moment, their first foray into the restaurant world is barely two months old and still in search of customers. I predict, however, that satisfied patrons will begin showing up in greater numbers for the terrific marinated, rotisserie-grilled chicken and other standouts on the short, Latin American-inspired menu.
Rotisserie chicken places have been popping up in Northern Virginia with increasing regularity over the past two years, the majority of them run by Peruvians. La Choza's owners are from Ecuador, and in their country's version of this charcoal-grilled chicken, the seasonings are more aromatic and less spicy. These perfectly cooked birds are a good value at $9.99 for a whole, $5.25 for a half and $3.25 for a quarter.
In contrast to the friendliness of the Pueblas and the home-style cooking, the stark interior, with a hard tile floor and laminated tabletops, resembles a fast-food restaurant. And, as in fast-food restaurants, you order at a counter and take your food back to the table.
Start with the refreshing shrimp ceviche ($6.95). Mexican and Peruvian versions are traditionally bathed in a marinade of lime juice, onion and fresh coriander, and stoked with hot peppers. But in Ecuadorean-style ceviche, the peppers are reserved for a killer hot sauce served on the side, and pureed fresh tomatoes and orange juice are added to the medium shrimp to give them a bright sweet-sour flavor.
Chunks of fried plantains or yuca, the white, faintly sweet tuber, are good snacks, and one evening we were offered a complimentary dish of tostados, large roasted kernels of corn to munch on.
The lunch and dinner selections are the same but on weekends there are specials, such as a wonderfully homey chicken rice soup that arrives in a big bowl with a large piece of chicken and potato.
As for light fare, there are hamburgers, cheeseburgers and sandwiches on pita bread (a remnant from the former Greek-owned deli at this location). Sometimes there is a Hispanic influence, such as the pita fajita ($3.99), thin slices of slightly chewy beef, green pepper, onion and a tasty sauce. Better was the pita filled with pernil ($3.49), an Ecuadorean preparation of lean, well-seasoned roasted pork, chopped tomato and lettuce.
For an entree, don't miss a similar preparation with pork slices on a platter accompanied by a slab of fresh avocado and, the highlight, two Ecuadorean tortillas -- fried patties of real mashed potatoes flecked with onions and parsley and filled with cheese ($6.99).
Another good choice is the Milanesa ($4.99 lunch, $6.99 dinner), a tasty, thin beef cutlet served with rice. The lomo saltado, stir-fried beef strips with onions, sweet green peppers and fresh tomatoes tossed with french fries, was terrific except for the cardboard-like fries ($4.99 lunch, $6.99 dinner).
For dessert, there is some decent, not-too-sweet baklava (kept because customers like it), and a variety of cakes are in the refrigerator case near the counter. Drinks include domestic, imported and nonalcoholic beer; fruit drinks; and sodas, such as the golden Inca Kola.