No. 37: Roast Chicken at Limón Rotisserie

Categories: SFoodie's 92
Albert Law/
Half-chicken from Limón Rotisserie, $9.95.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

Pollo a la brasa is ubiquitous in Lima, omnipresent in New York, and rare in San Francisco. Which is why we're so fortunate that Limón Rotisserie's roast chicken is excellent.

The rotating rotisserie was introduced to Peru in the 1950s by a Swiss-Peruvian restaurateur (if you speak Spanish, there's an informative history of pollo a la brasa on YouTube). His restaurant, La Granja Azul, still seasons its pollo a la brasa with salt alone, serving the chicken with thick-cut fried potatoes and a green salad on the side. La Granja Azul's thousands of imitators, who have turned pollo a la brasa into one of Peru's national dishes, have doctored up their rubs with spices such as cumin, garlic, and rocoto chiles.

Whatever Martin Castillo's cooks do to their chicken at Limón ― it's a secret ― the chickens come off the spit with crackly, ruddy skins marked with waves of flame-blackened spice. Lick your fingers and you'll note salt and garlic, perhaps a little lemon; SFoodie suspects, but can't prove, the presence of rocoto chiles.

The cooks have memorized the right moment to take each spit off the flames, and since the restaurant does such a brisk business, the chicken has no time to sit around, growing flabby-skinned and firm. There's no benefit to eating it prettily, either. It's so tender you can easily pluck the pale-pink flesh off with your fingers, your fingertips glistening with juices after a bite or two. The breast is as flavorful as the fattier thigh meat, and wings and drumsticks both end up whittled down to bare bone.

Limón Rotisserie is the rare San Francisco restaurant where you can take a date, have a good meal and a glass of sangria, and only spend $20 a person. That's because each order comes with a choice of two sides and three sauces ― a creamy rocoto mayonnaise, a buzzy aji amarillo sauce, and an herb-and-garlic chimichurri. The sauce we reserve for the yuca fries; the pollo a la brasa needs nothing else.

Limon Peruvian Rotisserie: 1001 South Van Ness (at 21st St.), 821-2134.

Dishes in our series so far:

92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tarts
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots
61: Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffles
60: The Rebel Within from Tell Tale Preserve Co.
59: The Slanted Door's Whiskey Cocktail
58: Carnitas burrito from Taqueria San Francisco
57: Sakura mochi from Benkyodo
56: Birria at Gallardos
55: BBQ pork skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine
54: JapaCurry's katsu curry
53: Vegan flan at Gracias Madre
52: Cinderella Bakery's pelmeni
51: Locavore's maple andouille sausage
50: Lumpia from Hapa SF
49: Moonlight Brewing's Reality Czeck
48: Filetti pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana
47: Pupusas revueltas at La Santaneca
46: Khoresht ghaymeh at Maykadeh
45: Los Muertos at Gitane
44: Sandwich cookies from Sweet Constructions
43: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's square
42: Nopalito's quesadilla roja
41: Croissant from Sandbox Bakery
40: Cultured's burdock kasu-zuke pickles
39: Sticky chewy chocolate ice cream at Swensen's
38: Maverick's warm Brussels sprouts with slow-cooked egg

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

My Voice Nation Help
Julian R.M.
Julian R.M.

This dish would go much higher on my own list! Don't tell so many people about the affordability for food & sangria dinner - it's already hard enough to get a table at this place;-)


21st Street, not Ave. Otherwise great review.

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