When it comes to dining in Los Angeles, there are can be paths of predictability. Depending on the craving, there are areas where nearly every other restaurant is a safe bet and others where we should have known better. But then there is fried chicken, one dish that defies regionality.
The South Bay has Flossies for Southern Fried and the Westside Indo Café's Javanese style. FuRaiBo serves their fried wings from Sawtelle Boulevard to Colima Road. It seems like regardless of where we find ourselves in Los Angeles, when chicken hits the fryer, we want some. Recently we headed to Jasmine Market, Back Home in Lahania and @Bangkok Thai.
We've spoken very highly of Culver City's Jasmine Market and their flavorful Burmese lamb samusas in the past. Nevertheless, whenever we find ourselves there at lunch, we often order the chicken version. More delicate in flavor than the lamb and less dense than the potato, the chicken filling with its occasional bite from a sprinkling of onion, chiles and cilantro is almost demure. This way, the filling doesn't overshadow the best part of any fried chicken dish: the crust.
In the case of the samusa though, the crust is a thin almost pastry like wrapper that Jasmine Market fries to the point of being almost blistery. As the super crisp crust gives away to steamy tender chicken filling, the whole bundle stays remarkably intact and neat. So unlike some fried chicken where much of the crust tends to fall off in-between bites, each bite of samusa is exactly like that first bite.
Before K(orean)FC and L(udo)FC hit Los Angeles there was HFC, the Hawaiian fried chicken at Back Home in Lahaina in Carson and Manhattan Beach. At first glace, their Lahaina fried chicken appears to be just hefty chicken nuggets. The crust is thin and often sparse, congregating in clusters of crispy nibs atop glossy chicken.
With its high gloss shine, it might appear that the chicken is overcooked and possibly dry, but that gleam is a sign of something else: caramelization. Back Home in Lahaina marinates the chicken until it is completely permeated with a complex teriyaki flavor. This infusion of sticky marinade not only insolates the chicken, keeping it remarkably moist, but it creates the same meaty combination of sweet, savory and crunch that has birthed L.A. landmark fried chicken restaurants. Except here you can forgo the knife, fork and maple syrup because its all condensed down to one package.
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We call it combo angst. Do we order the dark meat and not get a wing? Or order the white meat and miss out on the leg. For those times we cannot deal with even our own indecisiveness, we go to a Thai restaurant for stuffed chicken wings. We recently stumbled upon Harbor City's @Bangkok Thai Cuisine, where they stuff their chicken wings with a fine mixture of chicken, shrimp and glass noodles. Unlike other stuffed chicken wing fillings that are more like sausage, their filling is so smooth it fuses with the wing meat.
Another point of differentiation is that instead of the panko-like breading used by most Thai restaurants, @Bangkok Thai Cuisine coats their wings in a fluffy batter reminiscent of Southern fried establishments like Honey's Kettle. What arrives at the table has the appearance and juicy taste of a drumstick but the firm meatiness and crispy tip of a wing. The creation of our two favorite fried chicken pieces into one is perhaps the best proof that fried chicken, despite its variety of forms and different places making it, is the dish that can bring the region together.