Fast Food International: CheoGaJip Chicken
Country of origin: South Korea
Locations worldwide: Over 1,200 in South Korea and the US
NYC locations: One, in Flushing
While bibimbap and bulgogi have yet to be adopted with the same fervor as pad thai or banh mi, Korean fried chicken has managed to capture a borough-spanning audience. CheoGaJip Chicken, however, only resides in Flushing. Perhaps the reason lies in the chain's slogan (and alternate name): "Pizza and chicken love letter." Could it be that Manhattanites aren't ready to fall in love with Korean pizza?
The small storefront with a handful of tables and a flat screen TV tuned into K-pop variety shows does attract families and young couples dining in, but the setting is more perfunctory than clubby like the gleaming chicken palaces near the Empire State Building.
Ordering a combination of hot and spicy and supreme sweet and mild chicken ($16.99) is a good introduction to CheoGaJip's style, which is heavily sauced, sweetish and Wet-Nap messy like American barbecue chicken. The crust, thankfully, is thick and knobby as it should be—but fleeting; the drumsticks and wings won't retain their crackle like BonChon's if you refrigerate leftovers overnight. As with most Korean fried chicken, the spicier version is the stand-out.
You might not think that you'll want the big shredded cabbage salad drizzled with mayonnaise and hot sauce when it's brought to your table, but the coleslaw alternative is much fresher than a throwaway cup of KFC sludge.
The pickled radishes, a traditional Korean fried chicken accompaniment, were expected, but the popcorn was a surprising banchan.
And what about that pizza, which is present in every combo meal ($12.99 by itself)? Let me put it like this; if you're someone who thinks Hawaiian pizza is blasphemous, stop reading now: Korean pizza is not for you. If you can see the charm of pineapple on a cheesy pie with a high school cafeteria crust (I can), it's not that much of a stretch to add a handful of pale yellow Japanese sweet potato cubes into the mix. Combined with ham and sliced peppers, the cross-cultural pizza isn't really that disconcerting (the bulgogi version might be another story). In fact, it's strangely tasty. Shake on a few drops from the provided bottle of Tabasco and enjoy a sweet-spicy effect that mirrors the flavor of the chicken.
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and librarian (who does not work with books). Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.