Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs.
Country of origin: South Korea
Locations worldwide: Over 1,000 in China, South Korea, and the US
NYC locations: One in Manhattan and two in Queens
"Chicken like you've never had before" is a bold claim considering that Kyochon makes up one-third of the Korean fried chicken trinity that's concentrated in a tight, one-block radius in K-Town. Diners can choose among Mad For Chicken, the former Bon Chon, the new Bon Chon and Kyochon, the chain that's often credited with creating the popular double-fried, sauce-lacquered style in 1991. Frankly, I haven't been able to detect wild differences in any of these three restaurants' core offering; what sets them apart from each other is the atmosphere.
Kyochon had a bit of a split personality. The glass-encased corner spot sells less expensive take-out on the ground floor. Past the hostess podium and up the curving spiral staircase you'll find a red-and-white lounge bathed in lights that cycle through the spectrum of the rainbow and a massive wall-sized TV screen playing pop videos. Oddly, each table bears a bottle of wine as a tantalizing physical advertisement. (I'd still stick with a pitcher of Korean Hite.)
Unlike at Bon Chon, you can't mix soy garlic and hot and sweet in the same order, and it's easy to get distracted because they also offer a zillion poultry options beyond the standard fried wings and drumsticks. I opted for Sampler #4 ($26.99) to fully experience Kyochon's chicken universe.
This large oval plate showcased fried chicken with three different sauces: soy garlic, hot and sweet, and straight honey. The crunchy tubes that look like breadsticks are Sal Sal Strips (chicken fingers) and the stubbier cylinders are croquettes, which are only recommended if you like your chicken with the soft consistency of mousse. Both formed items can be dipped in honey mustard, "jambalaya" and garlic sauces. The clear standout is anything coated in the truly fiery, barely sweet ruddy glaze.
The sampler also includes a skillet containing grilled chicken in the same flavors and a chicken "steak" served with fried onions, peppers, a pineapple ring and a miniature glass pitcher of a teriyaki-ish sauce. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but the fried hot wings are all you really need.
After the chicken overload, I was given a free salad (the only other vegetable on the menu is a broccoli-raisin-bacon mélange). It wasn't clear if this was an attempt to right a vegetable deficiency, because the kitchen had made a mistake and had an extra floating around, or if it was intended to butter me up (it was obvious I was taking photos). It will take more than iceberg lettuce to bribe me, but I appreciated the gesture.
156-50 Northern Boulevard, Flushing NY 11354 (map) 718-939-9292
6102 Springfield Boulevard, Bayside NY 11364 (map) 718-224-9292