Though it's still in its soft-opening phase, I dropped by Dak & Bop last week with some coworkers to check out the first Inner Loop spot specializing in Korean fried chicken. I was thrilled with what landed on our table: beautiful, bountiful baskets of expertly fried chicken. My own wings and drumsticks were coated in a spicy-sweet chile sauce that was instantly addictive—even more so than the twice-fried fries with spicy mayonnaise that accompanied our order—and I overate to the point of misery.
Later, when I'd recovered a bit, I posted a photo of the masterful chicken to Instagram and Twitter, prompting a friend to ask a crucial question: "What differentiates it from American fried chicken?" The answer is simple: Korean chicken is typically fried twice, which gives the crust a crispier crunch and leaves the pieces virtually greaseless (though no better for you than any other fried chicken). I answered and sat back satisfied, and still full of chicken.
But my friend prompted me further on Twitter: "Do they use spices? Do you put any sauce on it? Or is it just the double fry that makes it special?" All good questions, and all questions my food haze had made me too slow and sluggish to anticipate.
Korean fried chicken only started making inroads into Houston around 2008, when the new Toreore fried chicken stand in the food court of Korean grocery store Super H Mart began entering the collective foodie consciousness. Seven years or so of KFC in a food court isn't enough time to seriously compete with the traditional Southern fried chicken that dominates Houston's landscape from Frenchy's to the original KFC: Kentucky Fried Chicken, which counts 19 locations around the city. So it stands to reason that most folks aren't yet familiar with the twice-fried, spicy-sweet, ultra-crispy treat, even as it crops up on restaurant menus at places like Dosi and Fat Bao, which offers Korean fried chicken night weekly specials.
At these spots, you'll notice that the chicken—which is often marinated in a simple salt and garlic rub—is served with sauces: gochujang (a Korean spicy fermented chile paste) and honey vinegar at Dosi; sweet and spicy or garlic-basil at Fat Bao; and an assortment at Dak & Bop, where chef/owner Jason Cho offers that spicy-sweet chile sauce I loved so much as well as soy-garlic, a half-and-half option that mixes the two, and plain jane un-sauced chicken (which is still terrific on its own). Instead of the typical two-piece-and-a-biscuit from Popeye's, think of Korean fried chicken as a better version of buffalo wings and you're on the right track.
Those wishing to directly compare American and Korean styles could always fly to New York City and visit chef David Chang's temple of Korean fried chicken, Momofuku, where the restaurant offers a group meal of two whole-fried Southern and Korean chickens to feed between four and eight people for $125. It's only a matter of time before that dinner idea emerges somewhere here in Houston, however, so I'd advise hanging tight for now—or making your own group meal out of a short, two-stop food crawl. The original Frenchy's is only seven minutes away from Dak & Bop, after all...