This week on Dueling Dishes, we compare and contrast the golden fried birds from BBQ Chicken versus that from Pizza & Chicken Love Letter, the two preeminent Korean fried chicken chains in Orange County. Why these two? Well because they're also the only the two remaining Korean fried chicken chains in Orange County. Kyochon's Stanton branch flew the coop a while ago and BonChon never bothered to come .
Among all brands of Korean fried chicken, there are inherent commonalities. The Korean way of frying poultry distinguishes itself from that other KFC. Theirs is a double-fry method that melts all of the subcutaneous fat and renders all skin to the thinness of film, the crispness of burnt parchment. The two fried chickens we profile today share this feature.
BBQ Chicken and Pizza & Chicken Love Letter are competitors playing on the same turf. They are literally across the yard from each other at Diamond Jamboree in Irvine.
From both I took the most basic model, without any of that sticky, sugary glaze that both chains use on their other menu items.
BBQ Chicken's "Olive Crispy Chicken" ($17.99 for a whole bird) is golden, and as its title suggests, fried in olive oil. You wouldn't be able to tell it is, nor should you count on it being health food because of it. It's still fried chicken. The crust is akin to coral, similar in consistency as the Colonel's Extra Crispy, except it's light and ebullient when KFC's is leadened and greasy.
Because it follows the Korean method, the skin has none of the residual chewiness that its American cousins do. The skin disappears into the breading. Beneath it all, the meat is unseasoned. The crust carries all the flavor, a subtle saltiness and a hint of garlic that goes perfect with rice. As all Korean fried chickens meals go, cubed radish pickles come as palate cleansers and BBQ Chicken's is on the sweet side.
Pizza & Chicken Lover Letter's "Crispy Fried Chicken" ($13.99 for a whole bird) wears a crust more akin to batter than breading. But even here, the skin is thoroughly rendered to wisps, thoroughly absorbed and fused into the batter. The flavor is concentrated to the coating here also. This time a light touch of soy sauce can be detected in its darker crust. Like BBQ Chicken, the meat tastes of pure poultry-ness. Neither BBQ Chicken or Love Letter seems to brine their birds, letting the meat become the platform on which the flavored crust and pickles build upon. Love Letter's radish pickles, by the way, are on the tart side.
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Both restaurants cook their chickens well and juicy, even the white meat. The breast pieces are cut up into smaller segments so that no one person hogs it all.
So who's the winner this week? A close call, since I like both. It's a matter of preference really: are you a fan of a thicker crust or a whisper-thin one. While I favor the pickled radish at BBQ Chicken, this blogger, at this point in time, prefers the latter kind of bird, so Love Letter wins this one for now. And, yes, it's also cheaper.
BBQ Chicken, 2750 Alton Pkwy # 111, Irvine, CA 92606, (949) 752-2001
Pizza & Chicken Love Letter, 2600 Alton Parkway, Irvine, CA 92606, (949) 852-2900