The South Bay is long on restaurants that have picturesque ethnic names but don’t reflect the gritty reality. For the most part, this is a good thing. The Baja-style places in our town have palm fronds but not the mice that find this sort of architecture a pleasant home and our Southern roadhouses have air conditioning and an exceedingly low chance of finding stray reptiles in the restrooms.

Some local eateries have evocative names but don’t even bother with the décor. An example is The Chicken Shack, a distinctly un-shack like little place on Aviation in Hermosa. The classic southern establishments of this appellation are usually bright, loud dives with the wall patina you only get from years of humidity and deep fat frying, the décor a colorful chaos of local newspaper articles and pictures of favored customers. This Chicken Shack is decidedly upscale, the lighting modern and muted, the paintings on the wall moody and romantic. As for deep-frying, they obviously do have a fryer, because they serve French fries, but the chicken here is cooked on a rotisserie. It’s still home cooking, but home was in Peru, and this fast food has a touch of South American elegance.

The menu is short – rotisserie chicken, chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken sandwiches, chicken fried rice– you see a pattern here? There is one non-chicken item on the menu, a sautéed beef sandwich, so I ordered it while my companions ordered roasted and chicken soup, with a chicken quesadilla to start.

The chicken quesadilla was pleasingly different; the tortilla and plentiful chicken and cheese were there, but instead of the usual Mexican salsa, there were chopped tomatoes and a spicy kick of Peruvian yellow pepper sauce. One person at our table thought it was mustard, a reasonable mistake since both the dark yellow color and the slightly vinegary hotness are common to both. As quesadillas go, this one was very good, a definite break from the usual.

Our entrees arrived just about the time that the last of the quesadilla disappeared. The soup was the Peruvian “Aguadito,” chicken simmered with peas, corn, cilantro, potatoes, and carrots in a broth that has a slight citrus tang. It’s warming comfort food with a refreshing twist thanks to the cilantro, perfect as a cold day pick-me-up.

We had decided on the half chicken, which is served with a choice of two side orders. Garlic rice and tropical potato salad are offered, as well as the ones we actually got – French fries and salad. The fries were excellent, hot, crisp, and golden, but the salad was just a mix of lettuce and corn, though served with a good Italian dressing. As for the chicken, it was exceptional, the spice-rubbed skin peppery and crisp, the meat inside juicy and savory. You can choose any two of three sauces to accompany your order, a mild yogurt sauce, green jalapeno pepper sauce, or the yellow sauce that had so enlivened the quesadilla. We picked the two pepper sauces, and used them almost exclusively for dipping the fries since the chicken was fine by itself.

After this parade of chicken, the steak sandwich (called lomito) was almost a novelty. The meat had been marinated with soy sauce, cumin, and garlic, then sliced thin and grilled, and it was quite good. The counterman had described it as similar to gyros, and in a way, it was. Add in the flavors of vinegar-marinated red onion and the crisp French roll and you have the makings of a very good sandwich.

The Chicken Shack has only canned and bottled beverages, alas, but they carry mango juice and the Peruvian purple corn punch called chicha, as well as bottled waters, so there are some healthy choices instead of just soda.

We were comfortably replete by the time we finished everything, and we had spent less that fifteen dollars a person. For uncommonly good and healthy fast food, it was a very reasonable price, and we’ll be back.

The Chicken Shack is at 1030 Aviation Boulevard in Hermosa, three blocks south of the intersection with Sepulveda. Open daily for lunch and dinner, free delivery in the evening between 6 and 8 PM. Small parking lot, wheelchair access OK. Call 310-372-1522 for take-out.


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