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The L.A. Taco Guide to the Juiciest, Crispiest Korean Fried Chicken in Koreatown, and a Brief History

2:19 PM PST on January 23, 2020

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[dropcap size=big]H[/dropcap]ot chicken sandwiches come and go, but Korean fried chicken is forever. 

A passionate cadre of poultry fryers grew a Koreatown phenomenon in the ‘00s swiftly after Korean franchises Kyochon and BonChon incited the Korean fried chicken (KFC) craze in the United States. By the time a new flutter of L.A.’s food-obsessed was wandering into taverns and strip malls, these cooks were ready to serve the bird with frying finesse.

The Korean mastery of the crispy poultry delicacy began several decades ago; prior to its current popular form, South Koreans were deep-frying then serving whole birds with pickled white radish since the 1970s. This form of fried chicken then evolved into the plates of sweet, garlicky wings and drumsticks that are more commonly seen today. 

When the last major wave of Korean immigrants settled into the United States by the 1980s, many of them decided to start selling fried chicken. Cooking them was an easy, transferrable skill, one that had wings (sorry) for anyone who was looking for economic stability in their new American lives. 

As the demand for gourmet fried chicken in Los Angeles spikes, Korean businesses find ways to stay afloat. It’s difficult to thrive since much of local reporting favors trends, but the ones that survive do so because of their unique twists to the conventional ways that Korean chicken has been fried or prepared. 

From the bubbling, noisy frying oil surfaces a truth: No fried fowl fads have lasted longer in Los Angeles as long as Korean fried chicken. That’s because KFC has history here. 

Here is L.A. Taco’s guide to Korean fried chicken in all of its forms.

The KFC at Gol Tong comes with avocado, pineapple, persimmon, and sweet potatoes.
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Inside Gol Tong.
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Gol Tong

Gol Tong Chicken has the closest thing in town to the contemporary form of dakgangjeong, which is deep-fried, boneless chicken glazed in a sweet and spicy sauce. The restaurant is a one-man operation, named eponymously after the owner who worked in the South Korean film industry under the Gol Tong moniker. The soy garlic option arrives splashed with accouterments of sliced avocadoes, persimmons, sweet potatoes, peppers, and pineapples. The chili chicken glows an earthy red hue from the gochujang (chili paste). Order them both and get a painter’s palette of vibrant, distinctly Korean bites.

If you’re big on sauces, Gol Tong delivers. All of his are homemade and experimental; he even makes a beer honey-mustard one for the American tastebuds. Gol Tong’s signature spicy sauce, subtly sweetened with golden honey, will tingle the lips with its distinctly piquant Korean kick. 

“Chicken was my second life,” said Gol Tong about becoming a restauranteur to overcome his financial burdens as a movie director. Feeling the weight of his economic collapse, he moved to America to try his hand at poultry. One of the oldest chicken spots in Koreatown, Gol Tong has proven itself a big contender with the sauciest dakgangjeong in town. 

361 S Western Ave #101, Los Angeles, CA 90020

Papa's Kitchen chicken is battered with rice flour.
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Papa’s Chicken

Papa’s Chicken secret to golden, crispy skin is rice flour. It is finer and more granular in texture than all-purpose or wheat flour, which keeps the skin brittle in the fryer. Rice flour also has a neutral flavor to it, which makes Papa’s glazes sing. One of their most popular offerings is the honey soy sauce chicken. The flavor dances between sweet and savory as it seeps into every crevice of the cooked bird.

If you want to appreciate the art of frying in its simplest form, get to Papa’s Chicken. Rice flour does wonders for signature fried chicken because of its muted nature, which puts all the focus on the tender, glistening meat underneath. We can confirm: Papa’s attention to the process is meticulous and rewarding. 

Account for the double frying process in the kitchen, for it can take 30 to 40 minutes to prepare larger orders. Papa’s Chicken makes the most of its relatively small space; dine-in to mingle with the crackles, the crunches, and the murmurs of the nearby tables speaking of the magic crisp. No need to be gingerly about it. The plates come with disposable plastic gloves, so dig in! 

3003 W Olympic Blvd #103, Los Angeles, CA 90006

HoHo chicken is served soaking in tender garlic cloves, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and thinly sliced serrano peppers.
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HoHo Chicken

For five years, HoHo Chicken has been sitting on the edge of MacArthur Park sandwiched between a MetroPCS and a lavanderia; this strip mall is the most L.A. backdrop around. As if its locale could not be more legit, HoHo Chicken has also mastered the crackle. Gaze into the skin to find deep-set ridges coating the chicken like mouthwatering marbling. 

For its sauces, HoHo turns to simple household ingredients. Get a takeout of the soy garlic chicken to behold the glaze that pools in the to-go box. The poultry comes soaking in tender garlic cloves, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and thinly sliced serrano peppers. Meanwhile, the skin itself stays crispy even after swimming in zingy soy garlic sauce.

Sink your teeth into HoHo Chicken ultimately for its juicy, soft poultry insides. As the skin flakes off, the steam from the freshly fried bird will remind you that often the best dishes come from very simple recipes.

2625 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90057

The Prince's iconic KFC.
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Rice sheets and pickles at The Prince.
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The Prince

For proto-Korean fried chicken, The Prince has its impeccable version of tongdak. Traditionally, tongdak is served as a whole chicken that had been cooking in a rotisserie. The dish is ready when the skin looks buttery and tender. However, The Prince takes the whole bird and deep-fries it instead. Out comes a plate of gleaming chicken with paper-thin skin that flakes away with one swift scrape of the fork. 

Bring a friend or two to tear away at the meal. The dappled skin, crinkled to perfection, is ideal for pulling apart and dipping into the restaurant’s soy pickled jalapeño or sweet chili sauce. The deep-fried chicken dishes also come with slices of dduk bossam (rice paper sheets with which to wrap bites of chicken) and a hearty serving of cold pickled radish as digestive. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the dish, but the highlight remains the tenderly cooked meat. 

An ode to casual Korean dining, The Prince is a great place for chimaek, a portmanteau of chicken and maekju (beer). Leave it to the restaurant that operated under Korean owners since 1991 to serve traditional KFC with the swagger of Old Hollywood.

3198 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90005

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