Leaving the D.C. Coop
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 00:02
The culture and food lovers that we are, we couldn’t help but notice a sign in Manhattan’s Koreatown that proclaimed Bonchon Chicken to be the victor in some type of fried chicken showdown. Our friends had also been raving about the cuisine served at one of Bonchon’s two northern Virginia locations, which made us even more anxious to try this Korean take on the American classic made popular by Popeye’s and KFC. Hearing rumors of this perfectly crunchy chicken with a double-fried outer shell dipped in a sweet soy-and-garlic glaze continued to tease our taste buds and have us longing for sweet and savory satisfaction. And reading food blogs that described the cutthroat competition among Korean fried chicken restaurants made us realize how awesome Bonchon had to be if it won, and we immediately set a date to venture out to Fairfax with our friends to try this superior international chain. Hailing from the port town of Busan, South Korea, Bonchon Chicken ("original village" in Korean) opened its first U.S. branch in 2006, expanding to 18 stores currently and 56 locations worldwide. It wasn’t long after its U.S. expansion that Bonchon was identified as the world’s preeminent Korean fried chicken joint.
Finding Bonchon Chicken in Fairfax might have been just as irritating and difficult as our journey in a dinky little Smartcar was uncomfortable and crowded. This did not dampen our spirits, however, and our anticipation continued to grow as we drove outside of the District in pursuit of this apparently legendary chicken.
Upon entering the establishment, we noticed the sports bar-like decor, but honestly, we were not all that concerned about it. We were not there for the ambiance or the atmosphere, but for the food — specifically baskets of sweet and spicy, double-fried chicken legs. The server told us that our order might take 30 to 40 minutes, but we had no complaints because all the chicken is prepared upon ordering to ensure maximum crunchiness and deliciousness.
As we chowed down on some surprisingly kimchi rice, the baskets of chicken approached our table. Our great anticipation and hunger may have clouded our perception, but these delights seemed to float toward us in slow motion. Here came the boss of all chickens, the heavyweight champion of the fried world. We picked up some of the sweet legs and took a long-awaited bite. The skin was shockingly thin yet crispy. Much less greasy than the boneless Wingo’s chicken we’ve come to know, we appreciated the heavenly sweet fragrance left over even after the first bite. Having cleansed our palates, we turned to the spicy wings and immediately identified the hot taste of sriracha in the chicken’s sauce. Sriracha, without a doubt, is the key to our hearts, and at that moment, we absolutely fell in love with the place. Even as our stomachs approached capacity, it was difficult to put down the legs. It took a great deal of willpower and motivation to stop the pace of consumption. At this point, we finally realized how painfully hot our lips were and quickly cooled them down with a few cubes of sweet pickled radishes — crunchy, relieving and cool. We knew now what that sign about the fried chicken wars in New York meant; we could taste the competition and constant improvement in seasonings and sauces that gave birth to Bonchon fried chicken. Judging by the warrior chicken’s casualties on our table, it certainly beat us in an overtly tasty manner. Our lowdown: If you want awesomely sweet, crispy and downright mind-blowing fried chicken like you’ve never tasted before, find a ride and make your way down to Bonchon Chicken in Fairfax. You won’t regret it.
Helen Guo is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Jacob Richey is a sophomore in the College. THE DINING DUO appears every other Friday in the guide.