Sorry, Kentucky. In Dallas, KFC stands for Korean Fried Chicken. If you've never tried this deliciousness, we're here to help.
What should a first-timer expect from Korea’s distinctive, delicious style of fried chicken? Pieces are not dredged in flour, American-style, but rather in a different starch, often from potatoes, sometimes from rice. The flavor is therefore slightly different, and the consistency very different: the exterior is crispier, usually a bit thicker, with a satisfying crunch. It also forms a sort of wall keeping the meat inside moist and preventing greasiness.
Once cooked, chicken pieces are either served or immediately tossed in a bowl with a sauce; if the chef goes the latter route, the sauce caramelizes when it contacts the ultra-hot chicken, so the batter stays crispy rather than turning to mush.
The best way to order Korean fried chicken is to bring a friend and make an important decision: no sauce, sweet and sour sauce or spicy barbecue sauce. Then order a pitcher of cheap light beer — Coors Light will never, ever taste better than after a big bite of spicy fried chicken — and dig in.
Here are six Korean fried chicken mainstays in metro Dallas, ranked.
1. Rice Chicken
2558 Royal Lane, Dallas
If you don’t want fried chicken, don’t come to Rice Chicken, the first American location of a popular Korean chain. True, there are some other menu items, but they’re still fried pieces of chicken: chicken feet and, yes, a chicken amniote.
Settle into a high-walled booth, push the call button and a waiter will ask if you want your chicken regular or spicy. Our top rating is for the spicy chicken — at first bite, Rice’s fried chicken tastes a little undersalted, but then the full spice blend kicks in like a glorious sunrise of heat. Go for #6, a whole chicken divided between regular fried and pieces dunked in a sweet and spicy sauce. Both will be gloriously juicy underneath extra-crispy crusts.
The sauced chicken is good, but our regular fried chicken was even spicier and frankly stacks up to some of the best fried chicken anywhere in Dallas, from any tradition.
11407 Emerald St. or 2540 Old Denton Road, Carrollton
Though DanSungSa is a legend for its massive karaoke nights, both the Carrollton and Dallas locations are also first-rate fried chicken joints. The Dallas spot, just north of Royal Lane, is outfitted in an old-fashioned wooden-slat interior that evokes Korean country taverns and gives each table a remarkable sense of privacy. There are posters of K-pop stars advertising soju and a constant, joyous soundtrack of Korean hip hop.
With a couple side dishes, the fried chicken platter here ($22) is enough to feed a family of four. It comes loaded with dark meat, including eight legs, all in an unusually thick, crisp batter. On the side there’s a quick cabbage salad. Need a smaller serving? Go for the cheaper plates of wings in various sauces.
Bonus tip: DanSungSa has delicious bulgogi quesadillas.
3. No. 1 Plus Chicken
2240 Royal Lane
With cheap pitchers of Coors Light, an iPhone charging station and little light-up buttons at every booth to request a waiter, No. 1 Plus Chicken fits the Koreatown template. So does the food; both plain chicken and sweet-and-spicy are expertly fried, with juicy meat and batter that holds together even under a coating of sauce. The sweet-and-spicy, however, is more sweet than spicy, our only real complaint.
Worried about messy fingers? No. 1 Plus Chicken has boxes of rubber gloves at every booth.
4. Tto Tto Wa
2625 Old Denton Road, Carrollton
Order the “half-and-half” special at Tto Tto Wa — which, like most of the menu, is not listed or explained in English — and a server will bring you, instead, a clearly uneven division between a few unsauced pieces of fried chicken and at least a dozen pieces doused in spicy barbecue sauce. There’s a reason: the barbecue sauce, a peppery glaze reduced to sublime stickiness, is terrific; even 18th and Vine would be proud.
The chicken, by contrast, tends to be cooked into borderline dry territory, and in the plain fried pieces that’s impossible to ignore. Service, without the call buttons the top three restaurants offer, can be seriously slow. But Tto Tto Wa is worth a stop for the awesome hot barbecue fried chicken alone, and for the cozy, indisputably charming ambiance of the small dining room.
5. Manna Fried Chicken
14530 Josey Lane, Farmers Branch
Manna Fried Chicken looks like a location from Breaking Bad. The lurid colors, the empty parking lot, the silent dining room with its cheap chairs and bubble gum machines — Manna is the perfect place for crime-world overlords to arrange a clandestine business meeting. Managed by a Korean couple, the kitchen puts out fried chicken with either french fries or, yes, fried rice.
The fried rice is adequate takeout fare, worth dousing in Manna’s hot sauce, which tastes an awful lot like something from Louisiana. But the fried chicken is very good. Served as fresh as physically possible, the pieces are ultra-juicy and the batter is well seasoned, if a little thinner than others on this list. There’s not much grease; the only danger is burning your mouth, or perhaps running into Gus Fring.
6. Gang Jung Chicken
2680 Old Denton Road, Carrollton
Across from H Mart in Carrollton, Gang Jung serves fried chicken and nothing but fried chicken, battered with rice flour. For smaller orders, the only options are wings and tenders; the rest of the bird requires ordering a family-size platter.
Unfortunately, the plain chicken here is undersalted, underspiced and not very flavorful. The sides, like celery sticks and underwhelming coleslaw, aren’t exactly attractions either, and, unlike the top four spots on this list, Gang Jung currently doesn’t offer cheap pitchers of draft beer. Hotter sauces like “Crazy Spicy” are outstanding, however, which makes this a terrific spot for a diner who wants hot wings, only hot wings and nothing but hot wings.