Cheap Eats

Whirly birds with a Latin spin.

Chicken run: Digging in at Cocina Cuzco in the East Village.
We're still mourning the flight of El Pollo, our favorite source for expertly seasoned Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, from its Upper East Side roost. But birds of a feather do seem to flock together, as we discovered last Memorial Day when the vacant El Pollo space reopened as the first Manhattan branch of Queens-based Pio Pio. The chicken, prominently featured in the gut-busting "matador combo," is as juicy and succulent as its counterparts in Rego Park and Jackson Heights. For $28, a ravenous couple or a threesome of average appetites can ravage a whole bird, plus rice and beans, avocado salad, tostones, and a very kid-friendly plate of French fries adorned with sliced hot dogs that turns out to be a straight-from-Lima street food called salchipapa.

Downtown, we're partial to the exceptional birds at Cocina Cuzco, a friendly Avenue A storefront that won us over with its spectacular two-tone herb dipping sauce, made from huacatay and yerba buena, which adds a subtly spicy kick to everything from the moist, marinated chicken to the freebie bowl of cancha (roasted corn kernels) and plantain chips. Last month, a second Cocina Cuzco opened in Park Slope, a potential threat to the sovereignty of Coco Roco, heretofore the Slope's leading purveyor of Peruvian roasted chicken and a good source for various lime-marinated seviches. For a different Latino take on birds on a spit, try the excellent "pollo rostizado estilo Yucatán" at Gabriela's, the bustling Mexican cantina with two Upper West Side branches. For $8.95, you get half a bird, rubbed with sweet, citrusy spices, a choice of two sides (we love the herby stewed hominy), and three hot corn tortillas. Splurge on all three moles -- a fruity mancha manteles, a peanutty pipian, and a smoky dark mole negro -- for $1.25 each. We can never choose just one.

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· PIO PIO, 1746 First Ave., near 91st St., 212-426-5800
· COCINA CUZCO, 55 Ave. A, 212-529-3469 and 222 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, 718-788-5036
· COCO ROCO, 392 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, 718-965-3376
· GABRIELA'S, 311 Amsterdam Ave., at75th St., 212-875-8532