I pan-fried 75 pieces of chicken the other day, legs and thighs from sustainably raised chickens that I had brined in salted buttermilk, dusted with flour and fresh herbs, and sizzled in the unholy brew of lard, butter and country-ham drippings prescribed by the late Edna Lewis, except for the few batches I fried in olive oil for my more squeamish friends. In the middle of summer, fried chicken is the most desirable food in the world, girded with crunch, spurting juices, laced with the mellow sweetness that tastes like the season itself. Fried chicken tastes equally good hot or cold, with beer or with lemonade, in an elegant restaurant or eaten out of a bucket. And as I rediscover in the heat of every summer, the job of frying it is not a thing that one should be afraid to outsource.
Los Angeles is rich in places to eat fried chicken, from the crisp coffeeshop chicken at Pann’s in Westchester to the Mississippi fried chicken at Flossie’s in Torrance, from the soulful birds at the original M&M down on Avalon to the sturdy drumsticks at Bertha’s on Century. On Sawtelle, the Japanese pub FuRaiBo specializes not just in chicken wings, but in that spindly middle segment of the chicken wing in which thin bones bend into a frame protecting an oblate nugget of meat.
The best Chinese fried chicken in town, at the late Sam Woo Seafood Restaurant in San Gabriel Square, may no longer be with us, but the paper-skinned fried chicken with fermented tofu at Mission 261 in San Gabriel is still pretty great. There is super-crisp Indonesian fried chicken at Simpang Asia in Palms, fried chicken with attitude at Cynthia’s on Third, and irresistible chicharrones de pollo — chopped, marinated chicken fried until it resembles delicious strips of leather — at Mario’s Peruvian Seafood in Hollywood.
At any hour of the day or night, crowds line up at the new Hollywood Boulevard Pollo Campero, an outlet of the massive Guatemalan-based chain, for buckets of the peppery deep-fried chicken, sort of halfway between Popeye’s and KFC, that may be Central America’s most important cultural import since the marimba band — the garlicky, fruity smell of Pollo Campero is unmistakable, and will remain under your fingernails for days.
But the current fried-chicken mecca in Los Angeles may be the new Kyochon, a gleaming, sterile, mostly takeout joint in a Koreatown mall, an early local outpost of a thousand-restaurant chain that prepares chicken with an intense precision more commonly associated with brain surgery or microchips, at deliberate, glacial speed. In the Korean fashion, a glassed-in dining room open to the outside is designated a smoking room, although I have never seen a cigarette.
What do you eat at Kyochon? Fried chicken — a whole tiny chicken chopped into tiny pieces, dismembered wings, disembodied drumsticks — steeped in a garlicky marinade that supposedly contains 23 ingredients, double-fried to a glassy, thin-skinned crunch, meat rendered of most of its fat, that is similar to what you might find in a good Cantonese restaurant, only juicier. While you wait for your chicken, you are given a bowl of crunchy, sweet-and-sour pickled radish cubes, the classic Korean accompaniment, which is slightly less penitential than it may sound, and as much Coke and Sprite as you can drink. (Cold soju, for which this chicken was designed, awaits a pending beer-and-wine license.) And you will wait. Kyochon, which calls itself a Slow Food restaurant, cooks its chicken to order, and the walls are peppered by Korean-language posters emblazoned with annotated clock faces.
If you insist, there are also deep-fried mozzarella sticks, a spicy Korean stir-fry of chicken and rice cakes, and really bad French fries, but most people seem to end up getting a side of fried wings with their whole chicken, possibly in the sweeter, spicier style glazed with vermilion sauce — which is to say chicken with a side of chicken. There has been Korean-style chicken in Los Angeles before, not least at well-lubricated Koreatown pubs like OB Bear and Rosen Brewery, but Kyochon may be the most chicken-intensive restaurant on the planet, especially when the sticky Korean pop pauses just long enough to allow the playing of a Kyochon radio commercial, whose clucks and scratchings can be understood in any language.
Kyochon, 3833 W. Sixth St., L.A., (213) 739-9292. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V accepted. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12-$18. Recommended: fried chicken. Also at 2515 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, (310) 320-9299.