Hainan chicken is a ubiquitous dish with roots in Wenchang City in Hainan, a Southeastern province in China. It has, however, spread well past its Chinese sphere of influence and is famous all throughout Southeast Asia — particularly in Singapore, where it's the national dish.
Hainanese chicken over rice is an expert take on steamed free-range chicken with scallions, fresh ginger and sesame oil as the base. The long-grain rice, which is cooked with chicken broth, is just as aromatic as the chicken. It comes out with a glossy sheen and has a hint of peanut oil and shallots in the mix. As for the sauces, there are different variations depending on the restaurant. Most commonly is a dark, sweet soy sauce, a minced garlic with scallions dip and in some places, a garlic-soy sauce with chili oil.
Even if you're reading this in China or Singapore, for most of us the SGV — also Hollywood and Downtown L.A. — is a bit easier to get to, so we've rounded up our 10 local favorites. Turn the page.
Yazmin is a Malaysian restaurant that's been a Los Angeles staple for over 15 years. The dish is available two ways: steamed with bones or fried without bones. We prefer the former, but either way the dish comes with a helping of chicken-infused rice. The two complimentary dipping sauces: a chili-garlic based one with ginger, vinegar, sugar and a dark soy sauce. And while you're at it, don't forget to grab one of Yazmin's signature Malaysian roti canais. 27 E Main St., Alhambra; 626-308-2036.
9. Tasty Garden:
Tasty Garden is a Hong Kong-owned café with a simple Hainanese chicken dish bursting with flavor. The chicken is served glistening with a sheen of garlic oil — skin and bones all intact. To the side is a helping of minced garlic and scallions. Smear that sauce all over the chicken — or better yet, over a bowl of plain white rice. 1212 S Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; 626-445-9388.
8. Nha Trang:
Nha Trang may be a cult-favorite for their pho, but their Vietnamese spin on Hainan chicken over rice is just as solid. It's the same chicken they use for their famous pho ga, but note that it's is a weekend-only dish — with an occasional appearance on their specials board during the week. The Hainan chicken is loaded over a scoop of well-oiled rice and served with a spicy fish sauce. 742 E Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626-288-8825.
7. Sticky Rice:
From the owners of Soi7 and Spirit House, Sticky Rice is a newcomer to the Hainan chicken scene — but they've already been making waves among foodists. They specialize in the Thai version of the dish, called khao mun gai. It comes with a soybean and garlic-based dipping sauce, the white meat and dark meat are deboned and served side-to-side, and a Thai papaya salad is thrown into the mix for contrast. 317 Broadway, Stall C-4-5, Los Angeles; 626-872-0353.
Labeled as “cow-man-kai,” on their menu, Jitlada also offers a Thai take on the classic Hainan chicken dish. It's an all-white-meat chicken paired with garlic rice and a chili-garlic-ginger sauce. The entrée is also served with a side of broth and is garnished with a happily appropriate amount of cilantro. 5233 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-667-9809.
5. Siam Sunset:
There's only one dipping sauce for the Thai take on Hainan chicken at Siam Sunset: It's a thick garlic-ginger paste. But the selling point and main attraction of this joint is the quality of the chicken. The poultry is served skin-on, with a light sheen of oil. 5265 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-467-8935.
4. Tasty Choice:
The restaurant's top menu item is the Hainan chicken — and there's a very good reason why. The serving size is huge, the rice has been slightly yellowed with chicken broth, the chicken is stripped of bones and they're generous with their pickled vegetables (an even medley of carrots and daikon). They even throw a braised egg into the mix. 200 S San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-286-3338.
3. Dong Nguyen:
Located in a rather worn-down strip mall, the Vietnamese joint Dong Nguyen has servers who pass out plates of Hainan chicken like they're dealing out cards. The most addictive component of this dish is the ginger-chili sauce. It's slightly sweet, with a hint of garlic, and it'll probably have you mopping up the plate with all the chicken pieces. 1433 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; 626-300-8618.
2. Green Zone:
Green Zone wins the prize for the best-looking Hainan chicken in Los Angeles. The organic Asian fusion restaurant serves up hundreds of these plates each day, beautifully plated organic boneless chicken, all-dark-meat and positioned over lemongrass-flavored rice. The sauces are three-fold: a ginger scallion paste, a dark soy and a garlic chili sauce. 534 E Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-288-9300.
1. Savoy Kitchen:
The constant lines out the door here are a daily tribute to Savoy's long-time reign as the king of Hainan chicken. It's a Singaporean place — which says a lot, because the dish is heralded as a national symbol in that country. There are only a couple of tables at Savoy, but if you've managed to squeeze in, you'll be handed a platter of their famous bone-on chicken, served with three dipping sauces (ginger-scallion, garlic-chili and dark soy) over a large serving of oily rice. It's two dollars extra for dark meat, but most people are so thankful they've made it in the doors that they don't care. 138 E Valley Blvd., Alhambra; 626-308-9535.
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