With the opening of Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken, one of the most popular brands from Taiwan’s bustling Shilin Night Market has arrived in Los Angeles.
Originating under another name in the west-central city of Taichung in the early 1990s, Hot-Star set up a stall in Taipei’s famed Shilin Night Market in 1999. One of the world's great street-food destinations, the night market has more than 500 vendors of everything from Taiwanese favorites such as fried stinky tofu and oyster omelettes to just about any food that can be placed on a skewer. In this setting, Hot-Star became wildly popular, reportedly selling as many as 3,000 chicken cutlets in a night. Franchising led to locations throughout Asia and eventually to Australia and Canada. As is usually the case with expanding Asian chains, the first U.S. locations have turned up in the San Gabriel Valley, home to a large Taiwanese population.
Taiwan has a great tradition of fried foods. Like the many countries around the world that have their own take on fried chicken, Hot-Star's Taiwanese version has its secret recipe of herbs and spices. The signature menu item is a large chicken breast, pounded flat, coated with flour (traditionally sweet potato flour) and then fried. On the menu it's called large fried chicken.
When it comes to said menu, Hot-Star keeps it remarkably simple. There are three chicken breasts to choose from: regular; crispy or BBQ. The appetizer menu is five strong: wings, either fried or with Korean chili sauce, popcorn chicken (known here as Taiwan fried chicken) and either sweet potato fries dusted with plum powder or potato fries with cheese sauce. There is a 12-item beverage selection of soft drinks, teas and slushes. That’s it. When placing an order, simply select a spiciness level and wait. It can take a bit, since your chicken is being made to order instead of sitting under a heat lamp. It will arrive very hot. Also, note that it is served bone-in.
For now, there are two locations, in Rowland Heights and Rosemead, each offering a vastly different experience. The tiny Rowland Heights location most replicates the night-market ethos by being to-go only, with no seating. During the crowded opening period, patrons eating their large chicken breasts from a paper bag were propped up against any available nearby outside space. At the Rosemead location, a small space that previously housed a family medical clinic, one can dine in. Your chicken breast will arrive at your tabletop, atop a tray, with multiple pairs of disposable clear plastic gloves provided for your benefit. This is something you’ll quickly appreciate. There has been indication of possible future expansion to Pasadena.
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Fried chicken cutlets have been served for years at Taiwanese diners and snack shops such as the venerable Old Country Café — usually served on a plate, over rice with pickled vegetables and half a tea egg — for many years, so this isn’t anything new in that regard. Hot-Star wasn’t even the first Taiwanese fried chicken breast chain to open in the SGV, as Buddy Chicken opened last summer in Arcadia’s Westfield Santa Anita Mall. But it is the first time a place with a direct link to the Shilin Night Market has hit our shores. The arrival of Hot-Star, plus the night market–themed food court in that same Westfield Santa Anita Mall, are further evidence of the ongoing changes in the SGV food scene, bringing familiar names to expats eager for a taste from home, while providing new tastes for those unfamiliar with them.