In a city laden with fried chicken, Mike’s Chicken may strike the most perfect balance of crispy skin and succulent meat. Other chickens are too often spoiled by dryness, but the birds at Mike’s are so moist and juicy, they nearly have the texture of a whitefish but with all the flavor of the world’s most popular fowl. It’s impossible to mention the word “juicy” enough when describing both their on-the-bone cut-up fryers and their best-selling chicken strips.
Like so many of the city’s casual fried chicken joints, Mike’s Chicken stands in a storefront, this one at the end of a laundromat also owned by husband and wife Son and Tram Dao, who moved to Dallas a decade ago for work. The couple’s son Mike is the person we have to thank for Tram Dao’s masterpiece chicken, who perfected it for her picky eater. Mike had became so dissatisfied with restaurant chicken, he rejected any but his mom’s — and with a mom who can cook like she does, we don’t blame him. When Dao had the idea of removing some washers and dryers to make room for a restaurant to serve hungry laundromat customers, she reasoned, “If everyone loves chicken the way my son does, we will be fine.”
Part of Dao’s method is freshness, so all birds are made to order and can take 20 minutes or more. Salivating customers eventually receive piping-hot servings of chicken after having their appetites teased with each slow minute. Another five minute cool-down period is required to prevent blistered tongues. Dao says some customers become visibly and verbally impatient, but all ultimately leave happy after being satiated with her fried chicken. Patience is a virtue richly rewarded here, but orders can be called in advance if time is sparse. Each patron who dines in receives one free fountain drink to help pass the time.
Dao is reluctant to share much of her recipe. We know that she and her staff cut their chickens daily and marinate them overnight in 10 spices that include sage and turmeric. Fresh lemons are also tossed into the marinade because, as Dao explains, “lemon brings out the flavor in everything.” Her spicy chickens get a seasoning mix with ghost peppers and other peppers from India, Thailand and her homeland, Vietnam.
Because her food is fresh, Dao considers it to be health food. Uneaten food is discarded each night. Sides include fresh veggies made daily and a five-cheese mac and cheese that comes in a mini pie tin. It is not health food and can take even longer than the chicken.
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Peanut oil is another important part of Dao’s method. Because peanut oil has a high smoke point, the chicken tastes fresh rather than greasy and burnt. Peanut oil is notably low in saturated fat, so maybe it is health food, when you think about it.
Along with all the other daily prep, Mike’s also makes pillow-soft biscuits brushed with a honey glaze and six interesting and flavorful sauces. Dao wants to carry on her culture’s cuisine and love of peanuts, so she includes peanut butter in the piquant buffalo sauce.
If there’s some way you still have room after a serving of Mike’s chicken, try Dao’s caramel apple bread pudding, which sells out each week, and just keep telling yourself it’s health food.
Mike's Chicken, 4234 Maple Ave.