“Of all the animals that you could consume, a chicken seems like it was brought into the world to be eaten,” opines David Simon on David Chang’s Netflix show Ugly Delicious. This is a sound observation; there’s a reason chicken is always served at weddings.
But part of this reliability is owed to its tendency toward mediocrity. The meat can be dry and the breading can be soggy; it can be too salty or too bland. It’s very rarely terrible, but it is often merely okay, and seldom memorable.
Not so at L.A. Chicken, a low-key gem in Richmond, B.C. that churns out the best fried chicken in the Lower Mainland. Each day, droves of devoted fans and curious newcomers make the trek to the restaurant’s single location, waiting their turn to savour the Platonic ideal of fried chicken: a crispy, flavourful breading swaddling juicy, tender meat. Like Darwin’s finches, L.A. Chicken has evolved, in this case to perfectly fill a single niche in the culinary ecosystem. That is to say, there is only one reason to go: fried chicken. Don’t invite your vegetarian friends, unless they’d really enjoy eating your side of coleslaw.
Located on Thorpe Road, just a few minutes from Ikea (convenient!), L.A. Chicken is tucked into a strip mall along with a Panago and a hair salon. From the generic exterior, it’s hard to tell that you’re in the presence of greatness. Inside, it resembles another local hole-in-the-wall treasure, Duffins Donuts, with laminate counters, tile floors, and faded menu signs. But the aesthetics don’t matter anyway—you’re here for chicken, not an Instagram backdrop. Besides, you can always take your order to go.
There are a few other items on the menu besides fried chicken, but I’ve never tried any of them. The chicken comes in spicy and original, and if you can handle even the lightest touch of piquancy, go for the spicy version. From there, the only decision you need to make is quantity (a 20-piece order, for example, will make you a very popular guest at any party). There is often a wait, because it’s made to order, but it’s all worth it.
Combos come with fries, “salad” (it’s coleslaw), and gravy. All of them are fine, but not excellent. The fries are best if you eat them immediately, so whet your appetite with those while you wait for your chicken to cool. Because it’s fresh from the deep-fryer, it’s searing hot when you get it, and you will burn your mouth if you try to bite in too fast. But your patience will be rewarded with a sublime first bite: the breading is crunchy and savoury and the chicken inside is steaming, moist, and fall-off-the-bone tender.
Perhaps one of the most amazing features of this restaurant is that its chicken reheats perfectly. You can take it home, stick it in the fridge, warm it up in the oven, and feel like you’re eating it straight out of the fryer. The breading stays firm and crispy while the meat stays juicy. It defies the logic of most fried foods, which are generally appetizing for 15 minutes and only fit for a seagull’s palate beyond that.
The enigma at the heart of L.A. Chicken is: what makes it so delicious? What’s the secret to taking a tasty-but-usually-unremarkable form of fast food and creating a cult of admiration around it? Is it the freshness? The breading? The spicy seasoning? Some other secret? I’ve eaten dozens of orders of the stuff, and I’m no closer to unravelling the mystery. But you can bet I’ll keep trying.
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