We love big hunks of tender, southern-style fried chicken, brined overnight in buttermilk, seasoned, dredged, and then fried in a cast iron skillet full of Crisco. But more and more, Los Angeles seems to be turning into a Korean-style fried chicken town. The pieces are smaller, the chicken is double-fried, and the final product is a thing with supernaturally crispy skin, bursting with the flavors of garlic, soy, and fowl. For today's food fight, we are taking a look at the wings and drumsticks of two very popular Korean chicken joints — Kyochon and BonChon — to see which one we like better.
We visited the Koreatown location of Kyochon — a small strip mall outpost of the fried chicken chain. Employees were generically friendly, though seemed confused when we asked about the pitcher of beer listed on the menu. Their confusion, it turns out, stemmed from the fact that they do not serve beer. We ordered the garlic soy wings and legs, and after a good ten to fifteen minutes, were rewarded with a plate of chicken. It was as we remembered it — its skin cracking upon tooth-impact, like a spoon into the hardened crust of a crème brûlée. These chicken bits were small, compact hoarders of flavor, begging to be accompanied by a beer and a football game. Though on that day, we had to settle for golf and tap water.
Next up was BonChon, situated a mere ten or so blocks away. While Kyochon does a brisk takeout business, BonChon seems to make it their primary source of income. Tables were empty throughout lunch, yet the lone dining room employee was constantly busied with a steady stream of to-go orders. So why all the takeout? Our best guess is that it has to do with punishingly dreadful atmosphere. Picture a low-res facsimile of a Pinkberry, only with grimy plastic chairs, and grating Korean pop music. Then there is the twenty-five minute wait for the chicken, a pain mitigated only slightly by beer, cabbage salad, and overly sweet chunks of daikon. All together, we began to expect disappointment.
But then, of course, our basket of chicken arrived, and happiness set in. The differences between the two were subtle at first, and many of the main strengths overlapped. Both had that crispy skin, and the deeply satisfying salty, garlicky flavor. BonChon did seem to have a slightly closer kinship to southern fried chicken, with a little more subtlety in the seasoning, and a stronger taste of fowl. But oddly, all chicken pieces were not created equal. Some of the drumsticks were tiny, and actually a tad dry, while others were much bigger. In fact, the large drumsticks were our favorite pieces of the day — thick, moist, and packed full of juice.
Ultimately though, we have to give credit for consistency. While BonChon made our favorite piece, Kyochon made our favorite plate. Obviously, we would be more than happy to eat chicken from either restaurant. But maybe next time we'll follow the crowds and take it to-go. Just please, please stay crispy.