Flushing: A Chicken Fight At Debasaki
I love food fights (as in, debates, though the physical act certainly has its time and place). Few things give me greater joy than to overhear strangers squabbling over which restaurant has the best pizza, the best burger, the best falafel, or the best french fries. The debate over the best Korean fried chicken comes up less frequently, but is discussed with no less ferocity and affection. In the case of Korean fried chicken in New York, the same names tend to be brought up. However, Debasaki in Flushing is a contender that is unfairly omitted from most "Best Korean Fried Chicken in NYC" lists. This dark horse not only has a full package of food and drinks, but beckons with an interesting riff on Korean Fried Chicken—intriguing enough to warrant a visit to Flushing.
The interior is easy on the eyes, despite its location in a relatively sketchy stretch of Flushing. There are large, comfortable, romantic booths usually occupied by younger and hipper residents of the neighborhood. There are clean bathrooms, slick adornments, pretty young waitresses and a soft soundtrack of K-Pop in the background. Tables are equipped with a button to call for service, but an emphatic bleat of "Jeogiyo!" (I'm here!) is enough to summon your waitress, who may ignore you unless beckoned.
Among the eclectic menu of anju, or Korean drinking food, with everything from Japanese style curry to nakji bokkeum (spicy sautéed octopus) and odeng guk (fish cake soup), the restaurant's focus is on fried chicken, which they serve in several creative variations. There's your standard chicken wing ($17.95 - 20 pcs), of course, blissfully meaty with the double-fried exterior for a crunch that is adept, though not quite as crispy as their competition's. And the spicy gloss is enough to snap you to attention, but not enough to overwhelm the interior. Additionally, there's a smattering of toasted sesame seeds to provide additional richness.
But the regular wings are no competition for their 'gyoza' wings ($17.95 - 15 pcs), a polyglot fried chicken which is de-boned and stuffed with either hot peppers, shrimp, corn, or a vegetable medley. These flavors can be ordered individually, but it's much more thrilling to roll the dice and order a combination, provided that no one in your group has shellfish allergies or is particularly squeamish about spice. Will that bite through the shatteringly crisp skin yield a sweet mouthful of corn or a jolt of jalapeño? Half the fun lies in the anticipation. (The other half is the playful tastiness of these gyoza wings.)
There's also life beyond the fried chicken, and one shouldn't play it safe. Spice hunters will want to try the kimchi bokkeumbap ($9.95 + $1 for cheese), a fiercely red (they must surely use red dye #40 to achieve color of this ferocity) and hearty dish of spicy rice meant to be shared. An egg over-easy is applied, the runny yolk providing a welcome accomplice to the vibrant rice.
They'll also want to try the bul dak ($18.95 + $1 for cheese), or 'fire chicken', which can be ordered either mild or spicy. An order of the mild denotes that a hillock of blissfully tender bits of thigh meat, slathered in a red glaze and bound by a creamy tangle of gooey cheese, will have a manageable kindling of heat. The spicy version was strong enough to drive the brawniest and bravest among us to squeal for mercy and plow through piles of napkins as we desperately mopped our glowing brows.
I'll not opine on the argument of which Korean fried chicken is "the best." However, one could see this as an opportunity to order a pitcher of soju cocktail and a plate of those weird and wonderful gyoza stuffed wings and happily bicker away all night.