When Korea-based KyoChon Chicken opened a branch in Koreatown in 2007, the idea of eating at a 1000-link fried chicken chain seemed about as appealing as funneling a quart of Drano. Still, I couldn’t shake Jonathan Gold’s tantalizing description in LA Weekly. Could KyoChon really be serving a dynamic new preparation of fried poultry? Turns out they are.
Kwon Won Kang first opened KyoChon Chicken in Korea in March 1991, and just 12 years later surpassed the 1000 branch benchmark. The company landed Stateside in early 2007, in Queens, followed locally by locations in K-town, Torrance and Rowland Heights. “Kyo” translates from Korean as wisdom or enlightenment and “chon” is a village.
The restaurant’s corner space in Serrano Marketplace is glass fronted and well lit, with high decibel Korean pop music. A single red and orange wall features KyoChon slogans promising “the most friendly and humanly touching chicken franchise for everyone,” “the most upscale taste and service” and a “greater future.” The wall over-promised about the service, but KyoChon certainly delivers upscale taste. As for the future, who knows.
Unlike American fast food restaurants, KyoChon offers table service. While we ate dinner, the flat screen TV showed a puzzling Korean news program that involved raw chickens, live cows and men in HAZMAT suits.
KyoChon fried chicken comes in two flavors: Garlic Soy Sauce and Hot Sweet Sauce. They sell wings and sticks, but the best way to experience KyoChon is by ordering a whole bird ($17.99).[/caption]
The cooks hacked my chicken into two-inch chunks with total disregard for joint placement. Thin, crispy sheathes jacketed the luscious meat. The frying process fused garlic soy sauce into the skin, and since the chicken isn’t battered, melts away the succulent skin’s fat.
Every dish comes with a side of DIY cole slaw, shredded cabbage lashed with a criss-cross pattern of chile sauce and mayo.
Considering KyoChon is so widespread, and that most staff members seem to be in their teens, it’s incredible the chicken’s quality level remains so high. Given the big flavors and steady crowds, I fully expect the concept to multiply throughout Southern California.