Country of Origin: South Korea
Locations Worldwide: Over 1,850 in Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, the US and Vietnam.
NYC Locations: Two in Flushing, one in Little Neck and one in Sheepshead Bay
When South Korean 'BBQ Chicken' came to NYC in 2007, it took a familiar path and set up on the international fast food row of St. Marks Place, and Chelsea; the chain followed this typical trajectory and eventually shuttered both Manhattan locations. Now, there are two remaining branches walking distance from each other in Flushing, a logical location, and one that makes no sense geographically in Sheepshead Bay.
It's difficult think of a more generic name for a restaurant than BBQ Chicken (supposedly the acronym stands for "Best of the Best Quality Chicken") and maybe that works to its advantage in neighborhoods lacking a substantial Korean population. The clean and modern takeout joint certainly doesn't scream "Korean," even after a quick scan of the menu. There is chicken, all right, in 14 fried and grilled varieties including Cajun, buffalo, and herb-marinated. And don't forget the Col-Pop, a chicken nugget and soda all-in-one takeout contraption.
The restaurant's signature olive chicken ($8.95 for five drumsticks), deep-fried unusually in olive oil and touted as being healthier, is the best place to start. These tender dark meat vehicles may be all you need. The substantial, nubby crust is flaky and greaseless with a barely perceptible hint of chile heat. Though olive oil has a distinct flavor, you wouldn't necessarily guess that the poultry had been been bathed in it.
Those looking for the spicy, Korean-style fried chicken that's become so popular in NYC will prefer the sticky drumsticks of fire ($9.95 for five).
The American sides aren't any more compelling than what you'd find at a KFC; a sweet corn salad ($2.95) dressed in mayonnaise is a step up from standard coleslaw, but not a must-try. The spicy rice sticks ($3.95), though, are different in a good way. The fat tubular noodles are mixed with kimchi and thin flaps of fish cake and coated in a thick chile paste. You will not miss mashed potatoes or mac and cheese.
It's not clear if the number of locations in NYC will continue to shrink or if the restaurant will branch out to more unexpected neighborhoods to compete with Kennedy Fried Chicken, but BBQ Chicken has great potential for crossover appeal.
158-23 Northern Boulevard, Flushing NY 11358 (map) 718-353-3350
251-16 Northern Boulevard, Little Neck, NY 11362 (map) 718-428-0300
3512 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11229 (map) 718-646-3512