A recommendation for the Annandale City Council: it should not be legal to operate a car with two pounds of Korean fried chicken in the backseat.
As I drove along Little River Turnpike recently, the shapes of the traffic around me were just a blurry blackground, what with my eyes undressing the chicken in the rearview mirror. Not to mention the sweet smells of kochujang that were busily invading the neurons of my brain responsible for hand-eye coordination. So I swerved to the side of the road. The only way to stop my distraction from consuming me was to consume it.
In one corner of my backseat, weighing a pound and hailing from Annandale by way of Manhattan, was Bon Chon. With a steady following and multiple franchises along the East Coast including the NYC flagship, most people think this restaurant dons the championship belt when it comes to crunchy, moist Kofricken.
Bon Chon is so good someone took a bite out of the C
Bon Chon locations
And in the opposite corner was a pound of the other chicken stud of Annandale, a place called Cheogajip - not quite as successful as Bon Chon, but a respected challenger. It arrived to Virginia in October 2005.
Cheogajip, aka Pizza & Chicken Love Letter
Consensus is that these are the two best places for Korean fried chicken in the DelMarVa region. When you become a diehard fan of one place, you swear a Samurai's oath against the other.
Which to-go bag do you like better - classy Bon Chon or sexy see-through Cheogajip?
Sorry, Hamburglar - these happy meals are much cooler looking than Mickey D's
Did you just roll your eyes at how seriously some people take Korean chicken? Well, you've got to try a bite. As I enjoyed my roadside feast, the skin was so crunchy that the noises legitimately threatened to wake up the guy sleeping in the car behind me. Plus, the chicken of both restaurants isn't as greasy as the Colonel Sanders' version because Koreans double fry their wings, and much of the fat bubbles out.
Bon Chon on the left, Cheogajip on the right
And the flavor of the kochujang sauce, mixed with honey, vinegar, and soy sauce, beats the closest relative, KFC's sweet n' spicy sauce, by a DMZ length, maybe two.
Kentucky Fried Chicken sweet n' spicy (n' subpar compared to Korean wings)
Now, as much as I liked Bon Chon and Cheogajip, there are more drawbacks than just the crumbs underneath your floormat.
1. If Jimmy jumps off a building, do you do it too? These places have similar strengths - the great taste of the chicken - and weaknesses - pretty much everything else. I don't know which restaurant is the original and which is the copy-chicken, but Bon Chon and Cheogajip share at least one weakness that doesn't track anything you'll see in Seoul: a goupy side of coleslaw. It's an awkward, unappetizing sellout to American tastebuds.
Plus, each place seems to have picked up its customer service skills from a Comcast employee traning video - they don't speak English and make you wait at least half an hour for everything.
How similar are these two rivals? Their happy meals come with the exact same sides
Cheogajip: American friendly
2. Save yourself the Cheogatrip.
Specializing in the art of Korean chicken has its pros and cons. You can become a master at your specialty, and Bon Chon and Cheogajip have achieved just that. The downside? Customers just need to learn how to prepare that one dish in their own kitchens, and any motivation for returning to the restaurant vanishes like a wing into the deep fryer.
A few months ago, Saveur published this recipe for Korean fried chicken, and it's as good if not better than anything that gets plated down in Annandale. Prep time and frying only require 25 minutes, which is about half the time it takes me for a roudtrip to Virginia.
I played the fried chicken version of around the world: Bon Chon (top), Cheogajip (right), and my very own Kofricken (left)
My own creation was just as crispy as the pros!
Bon Chon and Cheogajip might be upset with you for staying home, but the motorists of Annandale thank you.