L.A.’s many immigrants may well have been lured here by our Mediterranean-like climes, and, if so, one of their greatest gifts to us has to be the proliferation of that underlooked SoCal staple, the rotisserie chicken. Lebanese, Armenians and Greeks scarf down much of the slow-turning fowl on a spit, and that specialty now forms as big a part of the local (and protein-heavy) diet as the more visible enchilada.
From the sturdy if unspectacular birds of California Chicken and KooKooRoo, to the exotic mom-and-pops extolled below, rotisserie chicken truly is a local phenom. Residencies and trips to San Fran, Boston and other points inland have reminded me how their local variations lack the crispiness and flavor found in our homegrown restaurants. My last sojourn to New England revealed that their version was more like dry wall than white meat. Sure, there are gyro joints and shawarma places and kebab palaces everywhere there are immigrants from lower Europe and Asia Minor, but somehow, these greasy and gloomy joints seem to belong to the rainy parts of the map. The L.A. chicken shack is clean and lean and not too mean — just as we’d like to imagine ourselves.
There are too many to name, so I have to stick with those that are at the top of my list — that is, the ones currently draining my wallet/slaking my palate.
First and foremost is Al Wazir(6051 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323-856-0660), a pit stop midway between my home and workplace, lauded by me many years ago as the dopest of falafel joints extant. Forget the chickpeas (for the time being) and grab a whole bird plus extra garlic sauce, pink turnip pickles and brain-frying green peppers. Because of the foot traffic from the Gower/Paramount studios, these birds don’t sit long enough on their vertical perch to dry out. Simply unbeatable for goodness, convenience and price. (A whole chick plus a tub of hummus as dip or side dish is under 13 bucks.)
My second favorite, TiGeorges Chicken(309 N. Glendale Blvd., Filipinotown, 213-353-9994), is an anomaly. Not Middle Eastern but of Haiti born, this chicken is marinade-laden, deeply smoky from wood-chip smoke and an avocado-lime brining process, and fall-off-the-bone amazing. Not of the crisp variety, but served in their own sauce plus ti malis(a particularly brutal Caribbean hot sauce), the birds of this unassuming joint have a positively Pavlovian effect as you approach Glendale Boulevard.
This being L.A., one must bow to the O.G., the little old Zankou chain, the first most famously at the corner of Sunset and Normandie. The old L.A. Weekly, ensconced in deep Silver Lake, might never have made a printing deadline without its staff chowing down on the fast ’n’ potent bird and garlic-sauce combo. Now there are at least five of these in L.A., with a sixth in the O.C. The place’s chicken is so deeply embedded in the Angeleno consciousness that an anguished fellow traveler, having spotted me wearing Zankou’s trademark yellow T-shirt outside Boston’s Copley Square, told me he’d been craving it all day, thanks a lot! 5065 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 665-7842. Call for other locations.
Forget the taco ’n’ burrito stand — rotisserie chicken is the real mish-mosh nosh, the true definer. Chicken removed from its metal stick and served with exotica — that’s the taste of L.A. I always come back to, whenever I’m gone too long. And only we know this, so let’s keep it that way, okay?