Whoa Nelly’s!

Centerville’s Nelly’s Taste of Bolivia is hands down the best rotisserie chicken around

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Pique Macho at Nelly’s Taste of Bolivia; photos: Paula Johnson

A few years ago, I began flirting with the idea of moving to Dayton. My now-husband PIP (Palate In Progress) knew that food was the center of my universe. Good dining and restaurants are my passion, not his. On a weekend visit to town, he said, “I’m going to take you to this amazing place for something you’re gonna love—rotisserie chicken!” To say I was less than enthused is an understatement. I even recall scoffing at the idea that rotisserie chicken could be anything other than, well, good, but not much more. “Just you wait” was his response, as we drove to Nelly’s former location, a casual order-at-the-counter place in Miamisburg. We took two half-chicken dinners with rice to go and ate them picnic style at the edge of nearby lake. I won’t say that Nelly’s chicken sealed the deal for my move; I will say it made the list of pros and cons when I was deliberating the idea. Not bad for what I formerly assumed was lowly rotisserie chicken. Nelly’s chicken is anything but.

Top Secret

Nelly’s has grown from a original fast-casual eatery to a full service sit-down restaurant in Centerville, with a full bar and expanded menu offerings. (The location has housed several short-lived restaurants over the years.) What hasn’t changed is Nelly’s Bolivian-style chicken, and that’s what we came for, PIP and I, on our most recent visit. What makes this chicken so noteworthy? It’s cooked over charcoal, rotisserie-style, and that’s about all I can tell you, dear readers. Over the years I have asked a host of different servers, hoping to catch one off guard—and even one of the owners. The answer is always the same, delivered with a shake of the head and a wry, knowing smile: “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you.” I doubt the nuclear codes are guarded with this much diligence.

Rice Required

There is a surface rub, and there is smoke, and the result is a caramelized sticky, crispy skin with interior meat that exudes a deeply flavored juice. Chicken can be ordered by the quarter ($8.99) or by the half ($11.99). It should be required to order your chicken with the rice, not the thick-cut fries. No disrespect to the spuds, they’re quite good, but the meat’s robust juice flavors the perfectly done, firmly textured rice and sends it way out of the realm of a mere side starch. Nelly’s, in an admirable effort to present an attractive plate, serves the rice molded neatly alongside the chicken. I would suggest abandoning aesthetics and plunking it right on top for full effect. (Pro tip: when ordering the chicken, request some of Nelly’s hot pepper condiment. It’s a thick serrano paste served in an eensy-teensy plastic cup, so small that my initial reaction was to assume stinginess. I understood the portion after one dunk. The potency is inversely proportional to the serving size. This is some of the most powerful heat I’ve ever tasted.)

Nelly’s continues to offer appetizer options to begin, such as Rellenos, Empanadas, Yucca Chips, and Plantains, both the sweet, dulce, or the salty, tostones ($4.99). I love the sweet plantains, caramelized and delicious, with a mouth feel of a sweet potato crossed with a banana. The Rellenos and Empanadas (each $3.99) are offered with chicken or cheese filling for the empanadas, or beef, chicken, or cheese for the relllenos, and each are worth trying. The relleno is a thick-coated mashed potato ball stuffed with an interior core of flavorful chopped meat or cheese. The empanada, a tender, tasty, stuffed pastry pocket served with a dipping sauce, is a favorite. We liked both dipping sauces, one a peanut salsa and the other, salsa golf, a mix of mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. The menu doesn’t specify a salsa accompaniment with the relleno, but I’d recommend one.

Think Outside the Coop

Of course, I always order the chicken, but I wanted to try another entree option, the Pique Macho ($14.99). Very popular in Bolivia, this dish is a heaping skillet of bite-sized, grilled beef strips and sausage slices served atop thick cut fries and layers of sliced raw onion, peppers, and a hard boiled egg. A thin, mild white sauce dressing is served alongside. Though this dish is somewhat plain, and the vegetables a bit of a surprise, I liked it. The sausage was savory, the meat had a nice grilled taste, and I already mentioned the fries. In the past, I have tried another entree I am particularly fond of, the Silpancho ($13.99). This platter of schnitzel-style seasoned, breaded fried beef is accentuated with pico de gallo, and served over fries and rice. The crowning glory of this dish is the fried egg, which tops the platter.

We finished with two South American favorites, Flan ($4.49) and Pastel de Tres Leches  ($4.99). Nelly’s version of flan is not the creamy style, but has a more dense and rigid texture. The serving is a rectangular slab soaked with a sweet caramel syrup. One of the only dissonant notes of the evening, for me, came with these desserts. Both were drizzled unnecessarily with chocolate sauce. I would order both again, particularly the Tres Leches cake, but will ask for the detracting chocolate to be omitted. One of my dining companions mentioned a small thing that bothered him: the use of plastic cups for condiments and dressings. A minor thing perhaps, but he has a point. The use of these seems “old Nelly’s” and inconsistent with the new white-table-cloth establishment the new Nelly’s has become.

Nelly’s has been and continues to be, in my estimation, one of Dayton’s best restaurants, and one I am often dragging uninitiated friends to.  I say to them as PIP once said to me: “I’m taking you to this place with this amazing rotisserie chicken you’re gonna love!”

Nelly’s Taste of Bolivia is located at 79 S. Main St. in Centerville. For more information, please visit NellysBolivia.com or call 937.859.5555.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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