Kyochon Chicken, a Korean Fried Chicken chain, has been on my list to try for awhile now. With thoughts of hot and spicy, double-fried chicken constantly running through my head, it was getting harder and harder to resist making the drive to Koreatown just to see what the fuss was all about. However, when I heard that Bon Chon, whose specialty is also Korean Fried Chicken, opened down the road, I knew it was time for a Korean Fried Chicken Smackdown! Oh yeah!
So with a few hardy souls from my dining group, we spent an afternoon checking out both restaurants, one after another. Our first stop was at Kyochon. The first thing that surprised me was that I was expecting to order at the counter, but instead, we were seated and given menus. Even more surprising? A call box. I was definitely not anywhere near Kentucky Fried Chicken
At Kyochon, there are two kinds of chicken: garlic soy sauce chicken and their hot chicken. Chicken options also included ordering them just as wings, drumsticks (referred to as sticks) or as a whole cut-up chicken. We opted for the garlic soy sauce chicken wings and the Hot Sticks as well as rice, pickled radish and french fries.
While the sides came first, the chicken with a side of coleslaw that was topped with mayonnaise and ketchup, soon followed. In front of me was dream to reality so I was more than ready to dig in. I sampled the garlic soy sauce chicken first. Oh my! It was absolutely delicious. The crispiness and crunchiness of the chicken was out of this world. Thank goodness for double-frying! What I liked about this chicken were the subtle seasoning nuances, when combined really made for a flavorful chicken. Yes, I could taste the garlic and the soy sauce, but there were other flavors tripping along my palate that I couldn't quite identify. According to the menu, the garlic soy sauce chicken was made with 20 ingredients. Perhaps they meant seasonings or spices? All in all, it was pretty tasty.
Now let's talk about the Hot Sticks, which are basically drumsticks with the hot sauce. When I took my first couple of bites, I thought it was hot, but not overwhelmingly so. However, the more I ate into my Hot Stick, the heat slowly started spreading from the tip of my tongue towards the back of my throat and then kind of lingered there for awhile. What appealed to me about the hot chicken was the counter balance of sweetness to the chicken's spiciness because that interplay of sweet and hot gave Kyochon's hot chicken a fullness of flavor that I found appealing.
After a satisfying starter meal at Kyochon, let's jump to Bon Chon. Like Kyochon, there is tableside service. We were seated and given menus. Also like Kyochon, they had a soy sauce garlic chicken and a hot chicken on the menu and of course, we ordered both. Now comes the differences. First, at Bon Chon, we were served complimentary iced barley tea and pickled radishes Pickled radishes were $1 at Kyochon. Their coleslaw came out separately from the chicken and was topped with Thousand Island dressing. Also, while our chicken came out fairly quickly at Kyochon, we were specifically told at Bon Chon that our order would take 30 minutes to make and they were definitely right about that.
Half an hour later, our chicken wings arrived and when they arrived, we couldn't tell which ones were the soy garlic and which ones were the hot chicken. They looked absolutely the same. The only difference was the basket liner. One was green and white and the other was orange and white. So we went by the maxim that orange meant hot, which equated to hot chicken and it turns out we were right. Of course, for all we know, the liners weren't specific to the chicken and we were just lucky.
Since it's better to go from mild to hot, I tried their soy garlic chicken first. Like Kyochon, it was crispy and crunchy, but unlike Kyochon, it had a little bit of glaze to it. As for flavors, I actually felt that the soy sauce and garlic flavors were more prominent in the Bon Chon version and being a garlic lover, I couldn't help but applaud that.
As for Bon Chon's hot chicken, I can safely say that it was much hotter than when I experienced at Kyochon. My first bite of Bon Chon's hot chicken reminded me of tabasco sauce and a lot of it. In fact, my lips were even tingling a little bit. Like wildfire, the heat quickly spread from tip of the tongue to the front of my mouth to all over my palate. The spiciness itself was something I could handle, but food shouldn't be spicy just for the sake of being spicy. Bon Chon's hot chicken just seemed one note to me and I didn't really want to play along. By the way, if you have a palate that doesn't handle heat very well, be sure to partake of the pickled radishes that come with your meal, because that will help tame the beast for you.
Overall, what I truly appreciated about both Kyochon and Bon Chon was that their chicken wasn't greasy and also that that the chicken skin was fried to a thin, crackly goodness as opposed to having that flabby layer of skin remaining intact, when chicken is deep-fried, the traditional American way, with batter.
So what are the smackdown results? In regards to the soy sauce garlic chicken, while I enjoyed both, I'm giving a slight edge to the Kyochon version because I enjoyed the different flavor nuances, but I'd also be just as happy with the garlicky goodness that I experienced at Bon Chon. When it came to the hot chicken version, hands down, Kyochon does it for me. Bon Chon's hot chicken just wasn't a hit for me. In regards to the rest of my dining group, the overall consensus seemed to go by way of Kyochon Chicken.
By the way, with all these myriad of spicy, garlicky, savory flavors in our mouth, we ended our foray with Korean Fried Chicken with the refreshing Korean shaved ice desserts at Ice Kiss, right next door to Bon Chon. Fire followed by ice in Koreatown. What a perfect ending!
By the way, to get more detailed info about the Korean Fried Chicken method, click the link below:
3833 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA, 90020
Bon Chon Chicken
3407 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA, 90020
ADDENDUM: Since having visited the two places above, I also had a chance to visit the Rowland Heights location of Kyochon Chicken. At this location, it's more of a food court atmosphere You order at the counter and either eat at the outside tables or take the food to go. What I found interesting is although they're part of the same chain, the chicken tasted different. At the Rowland Heights location, their hot chicken was actually even hotter than Bon Chon's hot chicken. and their soy sauce garlic chicken was a little saltier and lacked the depth of flavor I found at the Koreatown location. So although the Rowland Heights location is a bit closer to me, I'd rather make the trek to Koreatown.