Ask any Latino what sound a baby chick makes and “chirp, chirp” will not be the answer you’ll get. Inspired by a popular Latino children’s song “pio pio,” the fast growing Peruvian rotisserie chicken restaurant, seeks to capture the taste of Peru. And guessing from the success of their seven restaurants located in three boroughs, people appear to agree that Peru is alive and well in New York.
Pio first opened on Woodhaven Boulevard in 1994 after the Peruvian owner noticed a lack of Peruvian restaurants in Queens. The manager of the Northern Boulevard location and brother-in-law of the restaurant owner, Rodolfo Mayor, explained that Peruvians love their pollo a la brasa, that is rotisserie chicken, and that’s how Pio Pio came to be.
No one at the Jackson Heights restaurant, which opened in 1997 and is located at 84-13 Northern Boulevard, would squawk about what makes the chicken at Pio Pio special, except to say that “it’s about the sauce.” After a bit more coaxing, Mayor revealed that the chicken is cooked with beer - they use the Peruvian beers Cuzquena or Cristal at Pio Pio - and cumin.
Whatever the recipe, as soon as the bronze and slightly burnt whole chicken arrived, there was no question that it’s the kind of chicken you want to eat. The meat is juicy and easily falls off the bone. Neither salty nor tangy, the chicken is packed with flavor easily satisfying the critical palate of the pickiest eaters. In the Peruvian Combo platter, the chicken usually comes with healthy portions of sides like plantains, ripe or green, yucca chips or French fries. The Matador Combo comes with rice and beans, avocado salad, salchipapas - a side of sausage and French fries - and fried green plantains.
However, though Pio Pio became famous for their chicken, the most classic of Peruvian dishes - the ceviche is a must try at Pio Pio. This tangy sushi-like raw dish consists of corvine white fleshed fish marinated in lime, onion and salt and is served with sweet potatoes and corn. The lime juice pickles the fish and makes it safe to eat. The ceviche also comes with a native Peruvian rocoto pepper hot sauce, which less-intrepid people should ask for on the side.
A pleasant surprise at Pio Pio was the pionono dessert. The pionono has slices of homemade vanilla and chocolate cake rolls filled with dulce de leche and the star of the dish is the lucuma fruit ice cream. The lucuma is a native Peruvian fruit shaped like an avocado, with an orange center and a large seed in the middle.
According to the manager, the Northern Boulevard Pio Pio is the largest of all the restaurants with a capacity of close to 300. And despite all that space, lines of people still form outside to wait for tables. Celebrity sightings have included actress Cameron Diaz and salsa singer, La India.
For the amount of food served, the prices are reasonable. Appetizers range from $4 to $14 and entrees from $9 to $28.
To accommodate their growing business, another storefront was opened on the corner of 85th Street to fill the fast food orders. The best day to come is on Wednesdays, when Peruvian folk music band Huayno performs. Reservations are required for Wednesdays.
62-30 Woodhaven Boulevard
Rego Park, NY 11374
84-13 Northern Boulevard
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
84-21 Northern Boulevard
Jackson Heights, NY 11372