Forget the Nashville hot-chicken craze that has LA in its vice grip. Here in OC, we’re experiencing a Korean fried-chicken boom, and the newest purveyors have now far surpassed Bonchon and Kyochon and the fad they ushered in nearly a decade ago. Not only are these new players offering flavors far more nuanced than what’s coming out of Tennessee, but they’re also creating updates and variations that are ready for a mass audience raised on the Colonel.
If there were a how-to-start-a-chicken-chain playbook, Jumping Dak in Buena Park would have checked off every box. It has a cool chicken logo and a catchy name reminiscent of El Pollo Loco. But most of all, it has a finger-licking product that isn’t that much different from KFC, Raising Cane’s and Chick-fil-A—except where it matters most. These are boneless, skinless pieces of deep-fried hen somewhere between a nugget and a strip, cocooned in a coral-like crust not unlike the Colonel’s Extra Tasty Crispy. But as soon as you dig in, you discover that half the pieces are actually dark meat. The base model comes out unsauced, but the best way to have it is pre-lacquered, especially in the Spicy glaze, which has bits of garlic and actual chiles in it. Since Jumping Dak is operating under the assumption that serving fried chicken in this country requires a biscuit, coleslaw, corn and fries, those are included. The corn tastes as though it came straight from the can, the coleslaw is boilerplate, and the fries are crinkle cut. But as far as sides go, all of these options work better than Jumping Dak’s basmati rice. The dry, sand-like grains are miscast for the fried chicken-supporting role that should’ve gone to plain and sticky Calrose. 7550 Orangethorpe Ave., Ste. E100, Buena Park, (714) 739-1999; jumpingdak.com.
Furai Chicken also has a catchy name, though it may or may not be a play on how someone with a Korean accent might pronounce “fried chicken.” The charming man who expedites orders at this takeout counter inside Zion Market in Irvine certainly doesn’t say it that way. He switches from flawless English to Korean faster than you can decide on what to order. And if you stare at his LCD-screen menus looking even halfway indecisive, he’ll tell you that the best sellers are the Nos. 1 and 2, which are definitely what you want. This is Korean fried chicken stripped down to its essentials—all the pieces battered, thrown into the gurgling gut of a Fryolator, then served plain for the No. 1, or finished with a liberal dousing of the sweet and spicy sauce for the No. 2. You could opt for the side sauces such as the lemon garlic, or even a flurry of seasoning powders such as Tapatío and lime. There’s even a spicy stew and braised chicken on the menu, but no one who goes here will want anything other than what he suggests. His counter is all about placing your order, strolling into the supermarket to pick up some supplies, then coming back 15 to 20 minutes later to find your fried chicken packed up and ready to be eaten at home in front of the TV—with plenty of napkins. 4800 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, (714) 508-3988.
The menu at Holdaak in Fullerton is so short you can count all the dishes with two hands and still be left with unused fingers. Its signature item is a spicy chicken sandwich, with a battered patty that’s unbelievably crunchy despite being covered in two kinds of sauce. That patty is then stuffed into a glossy bun and a slaw made of bell peppers, onions and shredded pickled daikon is piled on top, which adds to the crunch factor. Holdaak’s second-most popular item is the three wings for $8, which would sound expensive if you didn’t know that each piece is an entire wing—tip, drum and flat—and so humongous they look as if they came from a turkey. You can ask for each of the wings to be sauced with a different flavor, including a savory garlic-soy and an addictive sweet-and-spicy glaze. If you’re the chicken-strip type, there’s a two-piece combo made with a gigantic slab of breast covered in a light batter that’s served with excellent fries. Neither the chicken nor the fries need any additional saucing, but there’s a self-serve counter with squirt bottles containing a Bloody Mary ketchup and Holdaak’s version of Sriracha—and what’s any restaurant these days without something involving Sriracha? 1201 Euclid St., Ste. B, Fullerton, (714) 519-3433.
Edwin Goei was born on the island of Java, grew up in La Habra, studied in Irvine, and eats everywhere. Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, he went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.