Ask certain customers of David Chang's trendy fried bird concept Fuku whether the chicken or the egg came first ... and they might just pelt you with a couple of large eggs.
Fuku, originating in New York and blossoming nationwide with a delivery-only model—with food like fried chicken sandwiches being produced in local ghost facilities run by Reef Kitchens—launched April 7 in Houston on platforms like DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats. But the rollout had hiccups: Customers reported receiving their food hours—and even a day—after ordering, while some criticized the look and taste of their items.
All of this underscores the problems inherent in the ghost kitchen revolution. Among them: Where is the food coming from? Who is preparing it? Can we rely on delivery drivers with no tie to the brand? Should we expect something tasty if it's going to take 90 minutes to get to us? How much should we pay for any of this? And, in regards to this circumstance, should we simply kowtow to a celebrity chef trying to sell trendy food in a location he doesn't otherwise do business in (Fuku's first-day Houston profits did go to the Southern Smoke Foundation, which Chang has, uh, given to in the past)? Is this just one big capitalistic ploy? (Yes, probably.)
With all of these questions in mind, and with angry reviews fresh on my computer screen, I visited the Fuku website to place a delivery order on Monday. I wanted to order from the West Houston neighborhood kitchen at 12520 Westheimer Rd, which is somewhere in a shopping center by Dairy Ashford, but only DoorDash was allowing me to do so. When I tried, I was told my Westbury address was too far.
Okay. I then tried the Downtown Houston neighborhood kitchen at 401 W Dallas St, which is ... a parking lot across from One Allen Center. Only UberEats allowed me to order from here. Fine. Cool.
I wanted the "new" spicy fried chicken sando. The website described it as "crispy habanero brined chicken breast, pickles, fuku mayo, and butter on a Martins potato roll." It came with a side of sweet jalapeño-seasoned waffle fries, a side of pickles, and a drink of my choice. My choice was Diet Coke.
I clicked to check out and ... $38.20. Seriously.
The sandwich meal was $14.50, which maybe seemed a tad high but understandable. Tax was $1.20. The service fee was $2.50. The delivery fee was $20. This is likely because I was making the driver travel from Downtown to Westbury, but again, it was my only option if I wanted this food. I tipped $7.64 because that was 20 percent, so $38.20 became $45.84. For a chicken sandwich and fries (and Diet Coke).
I approved my ridiculously priced order at 11:45 a.m. and was told the food would reach me between 12:55 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. That's a long time, up to 90 minutes, in fact, which jibes with customer reports. So, I was prepared for 1:30 and slightly worried it might take longer.
It didn't! I followed the UberEats map of Houston and watched my driver crawl toward my home. Then I stepped outside and met him at 12:45 p.m., an hour after I placed my order. Honestly, that wasn't bad at all.
"I've been getting a bunch of notifications," said my driver about Fuku orders, but this was his first Fuku delivery as he had just figured out where he was picking up food. Apparently there's a Reef Kitchens truck at that West Dallas Street parking lot.
I opened the stapled-shut brown paper bag to reveal a Fuku-branded box and what looked like a can of Diet Coke fully wrapped in aluminum foil. The sandwich was also wrapped in foil, and that helped keep it warm to eat. The sandwich looked just fine—crispy seasoned chicken on a potato bun, and four pickles smushed into the bottom half of the bun, just as advertised. I asked for my sauces on the side because after ordering so much takeout over the last year, I figured sauce might slime up the sandwich. A small order of waffle fries were packed next to the sandwich. All good.
As for taste? Eh, it's a spicy chicken sandwich. Maybe my senses have dulled because I didn't get habanero heat out of the chicken, though it had a lingering and fruity bite. (The knockout sauce, probably something of a comeback sauce, did have a spicy kick.) The pickles were just there with a little tangy edge. Really, I could've spent 30 percent of what I did for this and be much happier with Mico's or Bird Haus or really any of Houston's great spicy chicken sandwiches.
Also, I was told the fries had a jalapeño kick, but I couldn't detect that at all. Finally, when I unwrapped my can of Diet Coke ... it was a can of Coca-Cola Classic. Now that's just a rookie mistake.
To sum it up, I didn't have the terrible experience that others may have had with Fuku. I did pay far too much for it, though am I to blame because I live where I live? No, I'm not to blame; I blame capitalism. Honestly, the sandwich was just fine, but it's a pretty annoying rollout taking advantage of how we're getting food these days, and some of us are glad to pay the price because of FOMO or something.
Ultimately, I will not order Fuku again. I can have a better sandwich at a much cheaper price at a number of places in Houston. You may be different, and I won't blame you. Again, I blame capitalism.