Chasin' Player in Bogotá

Firing-up traditions of Colombia

(Such a picky editor! Fine, I didn't go to Virginia. I didn't go to Silver Spring, either. But I found a Web listing that says the Fairfax eatery exists, and that "the chicken is excellent." I didn't actually find any Maryland listing, though, so you might want to have our crack team of fact checkers look in on it. They could call the phone number on the card, I guess.)

Whether Brasa Roja honestly has "the best chicken in town," as its business cards boldly proclaim, I can't really verify. Over the last week, I tried to eat at every single metro-Phoenix place serving chicken, but may have missed a few. (Oh, whatever! So I actually just ate Brasa's poultry in three different versions, but each time it was topnotch.) The rotisserie broiled bird came out a bit parched in the classic arroz con pollo, a mountain of tomato-garlic absorbed rice spiked with breast meat, peas, onion and green pepper alongside yucca, a sweet-toned root vegetable prepared like French fries. Yet it was moist and juicy in lomo saltado, a sort of rice casserole with pretty much the same ingredients as arroz con pollo, but a lot more gravy. When the chicken's on its own -- whole, halves or quartered and served with salad plus French fries, rice, beans or yucca -- the Spanish seasoning marinade shines through.

Note to copy desk: Our spell-checker is going to kick back this word: patacón. But that is the correct spelling -- I double-checked in the National Library of Colombia Bogotá (er, okay, actually a South American cookbook I have in my back bedroom). Patacón is a delightful appetizer of green plantains, sliced and gorgeously greasy-crisp deep-fried. The chips are sprinkled with salt, and then dipped in zingy green aji chile salsa, or Dijon-mayo sauce sparked with jalapeño. The guacamole, though, is even better, bringing a big platter of chips fanned out like a starburst, and layered with lots of remarkably fresh, smooth, chunky fruit coarsely chopped with tomato and onion. They're a real treat to eat with one of Brasa Roja's outstanding, not-too-sweet margaritas, perhaps on a weekend night when the live Latin American music plays. One evening, the margaritas were just $1.99 for a huge glass, so don't be surprised, my editor, when I submit expenses for about two dozen of the beauties, in a rainbow of flavors like lime, blue, peach and strawberry. For professional reasons, I sampled them all.

Fowl territory: The Pardos (from left), Gabriel, Sandra and German, serve up a fine plate of chicken.
Jackie Mercandetti
Fowl territory: The Pardos (from left), Gabriel, Sandra and German, serve up a fine plate of chicken.

Details

Bandeja paisa: $12.95
Arroz con pollo: $9.95
Lomo saltado: $9.95
Patacón: $2.95
Brasa Roja platter: $12.95
Mojarra: $9.95

Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

1835 East Guadalupe, Tempe, 480-838-3651

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Wow, those Colombians like their meat. It's everywhere there -- or at least it is on Brasa Roja's menu. They've got carne asada (10 ounces expertly broiled, with rice, beans, plantains and a tossed green salad), a 12-ounce New York steak, carne encebollada with grilled onions, and meaty charcoal-broiled ribs. Then there's a monster platter called the Brasa Roja, which is a feast of eight ounces of grilled beef, shrimp, a quarter chicken, rice and beans. I didn't find a single dish I didn't like, though I'll say that my favorite, during these hot summer months, is the mojarra, a whole tilapia fish deep-fried to juicy perfection.

(One more thing, ed.: Because I'm such a team player, I won't be asking for reimbursement for the expenses I incurred doing all this legwork. Don't want to bog down my rapid ascent to the top. I know you'll overlook some of my indiscretions. You wouldn't want to throw obstacles in the way of a young woman on the rise, would you? How would that make the paper look?)

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