Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

THE GASTRO ECONOMIST

Korean fried chicken: Call it the new KFC

May 15, 2008|Cynthia Dea

These days, one doesn't have to look much farther than Koreatown to spot the next trendy eating obsession. The neighborhood has already revived a dubiously guilt-free dessert (with frozen yogurt establishments like L.A.'s own Pinkberry and Red Mango) and persuaded customers it's perfectly reasonable to pay to barbecue meat themselves (at Soot Bull Jeep or any of the infinite Korean barbecue spots in the neighborhood).

After pulling off these two major feats, what's the latest thing coming from the Korean American food scene? Addictive, extra-crispy fried chicken.

Signs have already been pointing to crispy chicken being the latest before-you-know-it-everyone's-eating-it phenomenon. Whole chicken, or tongdak, has been an open secret for a while now -- it's as ubiquitous at Korean pubs like O B Bear (3002 W. 7th St., L.A., [213] 480-4910) or the Prince (3198 W. 7th St., L.A., [213] 389-2007) as an ice-cold pitcher of Hite.

But when a singular craving for crunchy chicken hits, sometimes you can't be bothered with the often dark and sometimes cigarette smoke-filled watering holes off Wilshire Boulevard. Thankfully, the recent arrivals of two establishments have given Koreatown -- a community that takes even its fried food seriously -- bright and cheerful spots at which to munch on crispy bird.

The first specialty chicken shop to open in L.A. last year was KyoChon, with locations in Koreatown (3833 W. 6th St., L.A., [213] 739-9292), the South Bay (2515 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, [310] 320-9299) and the San Gabriel Valley (18180 E. Colima Road., Unit A, Rowland Heights, [626] 965-2449). Ordering off the LCD menu board at the counter is pretty straightforward, with three chicken options: whole fried chicken ($17.99), wings or drumsticks flavored with either the mild "garlic soy" or super-spicy "hot sweet" sauce. After the first couple of bites of a hot wing, a slow-burning fire ignites in your mouth, the flames never consumed because you can't resist having another intense bite. And another. And another. Which could explain why you can order 100 pieces at a time ($79.99).

The concept may be reminiscent of fast food fried chicken, but all similarities end there. The double frying method of cooking a piece of batter-less chicken in oil, letting it rest for several minutes, then submerging it in oil again to achieve perfect crispiness, inspires such devotion among fans in these parts that KyoChon and its rival BonChon Chicken (3407 W. 6th St., L.A., [213] 487-7878) are able to thrive within several blocks of each other.

At BonChon, the newer but more established franchise (it originated in Korea and already has 12 outposts on the East Coast), it's normal to wait for at least half an hour for the chicken. The menu is nearly identical to KyoChon's: drumsticks or wings are lightly flavored with "soy garlic" and "hot" sauces ($8.99-$15.99).

Once you've ordered, a plate of pickled radishes and shredded cabbage dressed with Thousand Island dressing arrives and does a decent job of distracting you from the anticipated event. The restaurant's pastel-colored furniture and sterile white walls eerily resemble a certain froyo chain, but the cool, airy space manages to make eating artery-clogging deep-fry feel like spa food.

The KFC-goes-kawaii decor back at KyoChon is not as Zen, but sill moves you to ponder some big questions. Written on the walls is the Orwellian statement: "We strive to make the most friendly and humanly touching chicken franchise for everyone. Always giving the best, we are preparing for our greater future." Is our world ready for the second coming of fried chicken? As long as the future tastes good, I say why not.

--

-- Cynthia.Dea@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|