The last time I saw this big a crowd at a fast-food joint on Roosevelt Avenue was back when Pollo Campero opened in Corona. So many people have been lining up outside the new Jollibee in Woodside that I'm convinced the boxes of Chickenjoy come with stimulus checks. Either that or Filipinos have a deep-seated love for the fast-food of their youth.
I went to Jollibee the other night in the rain and it was closed by 7:30 p.m., so I wound up eating Korean fried chicken at Unidentified Flying Chickens. The next afternoon I returned to Jollibee. It would be quite a long wait, so I fortified myself with a Dominican empanada on the walk over. As I rounded the corner the aroma of fried chicken hung in the air. At 3:15 p.m. I joined the line that snaked down 63rd Street. After about 45 minutes of waiting I had decided what to order and changed my mind three times. The mostly Filipino crowd took the wait in stride except for a kid in front of me who said, "This is the first and last time I go to Jollibee."
Once inside there was more waiting to be done, but at least Jollibee's commercials were entertaining, like the one where a guy looks comically surprised when he bites into a piece of spicy fried chicken. When the kid who was taking orders on the line came to me, I asked for chicharron bulaklak (deep fried pork omentum) and he laughed. Then I read out my real order: two pieces of spicy Chickenjoy, one piece of Chickenjoy with palabok, a small buttered corn, a peach mango pie, and a Mountain Dew. By the time 5:00 p.m. rolled around and I got my food I was hungry enough to eat my left arm.
Chickenjoy looks and smells like really good fast-food chicken. And it is. The manager told me they’ve been frying some 2,500 pieces a day. Based on the lines I think he underestimated.
The golden-battered bird lives up to the Jollibee advertising buzzword—it is indeed "Crispylicious and Juicylicious." My one complaint: The spicy version wasn't hot enough for me to react with comic surprise.
I've never had palabok before, but with its topping of pork cracklins, dried fish, and shrimp, Jollibee's version of this Filipino noodle dish is one of the more interesting fast-food items out there. It could have used some more dried fish. The buttered corn is simply that—no more, no less.
The kid sitting next to me asked if I was Pinoy. I answered no, and he looked at me like, "Duh, I knew that." He let me take a picture of his Jollibee Spaghetti. I would have ordered my own, but I thought it might be too much to eat along with everything else. Actually, I was scared at the prospect of pasta topped with sweet sauce, hot dogs, and cheddar cheese, but I must admit his looked pretty tasty. The two-piece burger steak and rice meal he ate before that looked good too.
For dessert there was one only choice: peach mango pie. It was good in a Mickey D's apple pie sorta way, although it was cold by the time I got to it. Speaking of cold, the city's first Jollibee should really add some of the bizarre Ice Craze Desserts. Mais con hielo, anyone?
So was it worth waiting two hours for? Well, let's just say I'd eat there again, but I'd prefer for the wait to be more like a normal fast-food place rather than a nostalgia-fueled food pilgrimage. And it could be a little cheaper—my foray into the world of Filipino fast food came to $20. I can't wait to see what the AHT posse has to say about Jollibee's burgers.
62-29 Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside NY 11377 (map)