What do Anthony Bourdain, the Zagat restaurant guide and yours truly have in common? We all love the Korean fried chicken at Bonchon. And we’re not alone. The casual chain eatery boasts legions of devotees across the globe who have fallen hard for the stuff. No wonder their servers wear T-shirts that read “Addicted yet?” across the back. It really is that good.
Bonchon’s fried chicken comes in three styles: wings, drums and strips. (And really, why bother with strips when wings and drums are in the mix?) The company, which has more than 200 locations worldwide, is mum about recipes and cooking techniques, but rumor has it that the secret to the chicken’s parchmentlike skin is that it’s fried twice. This method ensures that the meat has time to cook evenly and stay moist without overbrowning the skin.
After being pulled from the fryer, the chicken is painted with one of two sauces: soy garlic (which is sweeter than the name suggests) or spicy (which, as advertised, is lip-numbingly hot). How they manage to sauce the bird perfectly without creating a soggy skin is one of the culinary world’s great mysteries. Platters of steaming-hot chicken are served with cubes of pickled daikon radish, a cool, briny contrast to the main dish. Pair it with a cold beer and you’re in business.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Bonchon’s menu than fried chicken. The salmon avocado ball—a softball-size mound of avocado, crabmeat, cucumber and fish roe wrapped in seared salmon and drizzled with sauce—is a popular appetizer, judging by how many of our neighbors ordered it. Bonchon also serves Korean standards like bibambap, bulgogi and japchae (a stir-fry of glass noodles, beef and veggies). There are salads, too, but the syruplike dressing is so cloying that this may be one time you can give yourself permission to not eat your veggies. Besides, all of these dishes feel like gustatory sideshows when what you’ve really come here for is the main attraction.
The service at Bonchon’s Elk Grove location was courteous and attentive, and everyone who came to our table showed a genuine enthusiasm for the fried chicken, especially when they learned our table had never tried it before. Indeed, the first time was special.
Bonchon’s beer selection has room for improvement; there’s just a handful of brews on tap, including Track 7 Panic IPA and Firestone 805. But don’t let that deter you from making a trip here if it’s suds and wings you’re after. You can find terrific craft beer all over the city, but fried chicken this good is another story.
8246 Laguna Blvd., Elk Grove;