Slowly but surely, Orange County is learning the superiority of Korean ways. We've already assimilated kalbi tacos; the Korean spas, where old women in bras and panties scrub naked ladies down to a luminous glow, are already the stuff of legend among the fairer sex; and Korean churches are the liveliest and best-attended in OC Christendom. Eventually, kimchi will be as popular as Sriracha, and we'll all learn to greet one another with the harmonious "Annyong haseo!"(Hint: When you're at a Korean restaurant and the host greets you with this—and he or she always will—repeat it back.)
But the next thing we need to embrace is Korean fried chicken, by far the most spectacular rendition in the genre. Unlike other unnamed KFCs, Koreans view throwing drumsticks and wings into a fryer as reverent a dunking process as a baptism. At KoKo Chicken and BBQ in Buena Park, written in fluorescent marker on a glass wall is a warning to eaters that this process will take time—15 to 20 minutes, minimum—because the owners fry to order, with fresh oil and chicken parts just five days or fewer removed from a breathing, living hen. If this seems like overkill, order some pieces, bite into them and slip into your happy zone.
As at most Korean fried-chicken spots, KoKo fries its chicken twice, a process that not only separates the skin from the meat so you can pull the skin off with a tug that requires all the effort of removing a silk glove, but also creates meat so juicy that rivers of fat glisten on it. The skin is golden, jagged, almost pre-Cambrian in appearance, but the taste is unadulterated fat, making chicharrones seem as rich as chomping on a pencil. Dunking sauces are offered, but they're almost superfluous—that's how brilliant these wings are. Prices are cheap, and beer and soju flow freely, so show up in the evening, when the Korean youth of Buena Park and Fullerton flocks to the place to crunch through an order, along with other Korean pub favorites.
Slowly, more non-Koreans are discovering KoKo. The menu used to be only in Hangul, but it is now also in English. Every once in a while, you'll see a flyboy from the Fullerton Municipal Airport across the street poke his head inside. And the television tends to settle on ESPN instead of florid Korean melodramas or K-pop. In 10 years, Korean fried chicken will be as American as Kogi—oh, happy future!
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This column appeared in print as "The Better KFC."