What the Cluck? 3 New Korean Fried Chicken Shops to Try on O‘ahu
This kind of KFC is surging and we’re so here for it.
In the past two weeks, three new Korean fried chicken shops opened. Yes, three! I don’t know what the cluck is going on but I’m not mad about it. To be honest, it looked like the trend had died down after Left Wing opened in H Mart Kaka‘ako’s food hall in June 2020, 10 months after Kickin Chick’n in Kapolei. Now Kaka‘ako, Kalihi and Waipahu all have new shops that are worthy of a stop for your next potluck.
Good Chicken, Kaka‘ako
Despite its stop sign-red paint, you’ll miss Good Chicken if you’re not looking for it. Located in the former Ngon Vietnamese Restaurant space behind Asahi Grill, Good Chicken caught my attention as I was leaving the Patagonia store one afternoon. It’s an offshoot of Good Kitchen, a stall that served steak and pasta at Shirokiya’s now-shuttered Japan Village Walk.
Good Chicken’s menu lists four flavors of fried chicken wings, homemade pork and kim chee mandoo, a chicken salad, and katsu plate lunches. Outside, an imo (Korean aunty) confirms whether you’re parking in her stall for chicken or her jjimjilbang spa out back. If this doesn’t scream legit, then your sensors are off.
My friend and I get 10-piece half orders of the garlic chile chicken ($14.95) and original fried chicken ($13.95) with a side of steamed pork mandoo ($12.95) for our pau hana picnic. The boxes are vented with big pukas to allow steam to escape, leaving the chicken’s double-fried crust crisp yet still hot to the touch. The garlic chile sauce isn’t as spicy as you’re led to think, but the sweet, mild heat is welcome. The unsauced fried chicken is deliciously juicy and its seasoning is strangely reminiscent of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets (not exactly a bad thing). The fist-sized steamed pork mandoo, however, seals the deal for me. The supple skins surround a filling made with pork, tofu, chive and glass noodles, making for an ideal soft dumpling that goes well with the crispy wings.
Good Chicken is better than good, it’s great.
Open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 941 Kawaiaha‘o St., (808) 744-7239
Soul Chicken, Kalihi
In contrast to the hidden Good Chicken, Soul Chicken is easy to spot from Dillingham Boulevard. Just look for the giant posters advertising “chrispy” chicken above Club Cleopatra. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
The menu at Soul Chicken goes a bit deeper, with wings and boneless tenders in six flavors covering the spectrum of original fried to wasabi mayo and a spicy sauce called Hell’s Gate. Soul Chicken also offers fried chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, chicken rice bowls and sides like french fries, gimmari fried seaweed rolls, tteokbokki rice cakes and mandoo. While there are a couple of tables outside, most orders are taken to-go.
I place an order for honey garlic wings (six pieces, $8.95) and a fried chicken sandwich ($6.50) because the picture is so enticing. Fifteen minutes later, they’re ready at the window. After a stop for gas at Costco, the wings survive the 30 minutes it takes to get home in a vented box lined with parchment paper. The batter is the craggy type we’ve come to love from places like Vons: Every nook and cranny soaks up the garlicky sweet honey sauce and the chicken is juicy to the bone. The sandwich is as big as its photo suggests with a large, tender chicken breast making up the bulk of it. Despite the dry sesame buns and uninspired cabbage and mayo topping, it’s a decent fried chicken sandwich but I wish it got a dunk in the honey garlic sauce for extra flavor.
I’ll be back to try the wasabi mayo. I’m still on the fence about the scary Hell’s Gate spicy chicken, which comes with a disclaimer that warns of no refunds and “no law sue [sic].”
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1095 Dillingham Blvd., #F1, (808) 800-6599
Choong Man Chicken, Waipahu
Choong Man (CM) Chicken is a KFC chain that gained traction in Virginia; Waipahu’s store is the first franchised location in Hawai‘i. I made the trek from town off a reader tip on the Frolic Instagram. You’ll find CM Chicken among tasty neighbors like Manny’s Bake Shop, Pūpūkea Grindz and Rainbow Drive-In, so it may not be your only reason to visit.
CM Chicken has a diverse offering that sets them far apart from most KFC joints. First, their tikkudak technique of frying then baking in a charcoal oven leaves the chicken with a smoky finish. Second, they offer wings, drumsticks, tenders and whole chickens, so you can really dial in the type of fried bird parts you like. Third, sauce options include garlic soy, hot chile, garlic spicy and golden curry, which intrigues me the most. CM is also famous its “snow onion” topping, a creamy mayo-based sauce under a mountain of finely sliced white onion ringlets. Sides include fried chicken gizzards, mozzarella cheese sticks, french fries and popcorn shrimp.
Overwhelmed by choice, I opt for the budget-conscious lunch special ($9) with curry chicken tenders, rice and coleslaw with an included drink. The glistening golden curry sauce, whose heat slowly rises after a few bites, covers the substantial portion of tenders. Texture-wise, the tenders are just OK, nothing close to Popeyes, but enough to get me visit again. I plan on ordering the snow onion chicken wings and curry drumsticks for my next potluck gathering.
Open Wednesday to Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., 94-226 Leoku St., #13, (808) 437-1214, cmcwaipahu.com
Looking ahead, BB.Q Chicken or Best of the Best Quality Chicken in Kāhala’s Kū‘ono Marketplace looks like it will open sometime this year or in early 2022. BB.Q’s claim to fame is being South Korea’s number one premium fried chicken. We’ll just have to see how it ranks in our market.