Korean-Fried-Chicken-Palooza: Kyochon vs. Bon Chon vs. Mad For Chicken
The problem with Korean Fried Chicken is that it’s actually so good that you’re willing to go through a lot to get it. I discovered this a couple years ago at Mad For Chicken (a branch of Bon Chon Chicken at the time.) Both patience and the lunch hour were tested as 10, then 20, then 30 minutes went by with neither food served nor drinks refilled. But a year ago, when Zach first posted about the place, it was our only lunchtime option. It cost more than you wanted to spend and often took a lot longer than you really had time for… but oh, that chicken! Crisp, sweet and sticky, it made all the worries of time and work melt away.
That’s why when Kyochon’s ‘coming soon’ sign went up last February, I rejoiced. Korean Fried Chicken without the interminable wait? Yes, please! Or so I thought. If the year-long delay didn’t set me straight, the lines out the door after it opened certainly did. Clearly, waiting for Korean Fried Chicken is just a requirement. It’s the way it is. So, the question becomes, with Kyochon finally here, Mad For Chicken across the street and a Bon Chon a few blocks away (and another opening up on the same block as Kyochon), how do they stack up?
With the alternating hype and dog-piling on Kyochon, a clear, unbiased fried chicken smackdown was in order. I gladly stepped up (arteries be damned.)
At each place, I ordered a mix of hot and mild chicken. With all the complaints about the size of the wings, I also made a point of trying out the drumsticks too.
Mad For Chicken
The Chicken: Hot & Spicy is my favorite here. It starts with a warm tingle and builds up with each bite until my face is sweating and my mouth is on fire. The garlic soy has a milder flavor, which was a bit too subtle for me. Both share a sweet candy-coated shell that provides a satisfying crunch with each bite and tender, juicy flesh underneath.
The wait: At minimum, you’re waiting half an hour for the chicken at MFC. If there are only two occupied tables in the place, the servers are still running around frantically and chances are you won’t see them between ordering and getting your food unless they are serving someone near you. That said, the lounge space is comfortable and if you are partial to the occasional beer with lunch, it is an option. Once, I saw a pair of guys working their way through a table keg at 1pm. I wouldn’t recommend that if you’ve got meetings in the afternoon.
The Chicken: My first bite into a drumstick at Bon Chon, I was mostly surprised at how little MFC had changed anything about their chicken after ‘breaking up’ with the franchise. It’s exactly the same. Morally, that might be sketchy, but practically, it means more good chicken to go around.
The wait: The biggest problem with Bon Chon’s 38th St location is that the space isn’t well organized. Anyone in fast food should know that you need to keep your lines in order. If you walk into Bon Chon when a crowd has accumulated, there’s just a horde of customers milling around, some waiting to order, some waiting to pick up food and very little distinction of who goes where.
Waiting for your order, you can sit or stand in the bar area, just be sure you’re in shouting distance or you may miss your order. When I went, we sat at the bar and waited 25 minutes without an offer of a drink or water or a beer, which I was really contemplating after a while. The staff bantered with a couple guys down the bar from us and occasionally yelled out order numbers. They also sometimes left orders sitting behind the counter until people asked for them.
The Chicken: I loved Kyochon’s garlic soy chicken. It’s profoundly garlicky, which I liked, but I was still tasting it hours later, which may put some off. The coating isn’t as crisp as the Bon Chon recipe but the flavor is the star.
The hot and sweet on the other hand is a bit too over the top. The spiciness overpowers and the sauce is thick and messy. It would probably benefit from being washed down with a cold beer, but I didn’t see that on the lunch menu. As often reported, the wings aren’t huge. Ten will satisfy, but won’t stuff you. A dollar a wing isn’t cheap, so an order of meaty drumsticks is a nice alternative.
The wait: Presumably in response to all the poor reviews in the first week, Kyochon has put a lot of effort into softening the delays. Waiting in line outside, just to get in another line when I got inside was much less annoying after getting free wings to snack on.
The ordering/waiting area is about as poorly put together as Bon Chon’s, but since they give out buzzers that go off when your order is ready, you can go upstairs and wait instead of getting knocked around in the crowd.
Mad For Chicken is the only option where you don’t have to wait in a line. It’s got a relaxed space to wait in and if you’re up for such debauchery, there are always table kegs to pass the time. Bonus: free popcorn! The chicken is as good as it was before they split with Bon Chon. That means if you’re in Koreatown, and don’t want to trek over to 38th btw. 7+8th, you don’t have to to get the magnificent slow burn of the spicy chicken. The menu is made for sharing, so, you’re only hitting the Midtown Lunch price range if you are splitting an order. Still, it’s a big pile of chicken that you are getting. I’ve never walked out of there hungry (unless I had to run because my order took too long).
Bon Chon is the best bet for those on the west side who can’t take the time to get to 5th Avenue just to wait half an hour for their food. The chicken is glorious, but beyond the wait, the service could use some improvement. When the branch of 5th Avenue opens up, it’s biggest pull would be the outdoor seating area in the back of Caprese Cafe (providing they keep it.) Sitting out in the sun eating those spicy morsels is what dreams are made of. Bon Chon’s menu adds a bit more value with the inclusion of sides in each meal. Ultimately, you’re still paying about $1 per wing, plus another $1 for the side.
Kyonchon is solid as far as I’m concerned. Clearly they had some problems the first few weeks, and the wings are shockingly small, but at least they are actively trying to improve things on a daily basis- with a quarter of the staff dedicated to greeting, managing and directing customers. That’s got to be costly, but it makes a difference. The wait to order goes by pretty quickly and as an added tip, be sure to wait upstairs once you’ve put in your order. There’s no reason to stand in the middle of the mess downstairs. Given the size of the wings, the price is a little steep, but I find that the drumsticks make a good alternative. They’re plump and juicy and provide a better value with more meat for your money.
Mad For Chicken, 314 5th Ave (Just south of 32nd Street), 212-221-2222
Kyochon, 319 5th Ave (btwn 32nd and 33rd). 212-696-0150.
Bon Chon, (Two Locations)
- 207 W. 38 St. (btw. 7+8th), 212-221-3339
- Coming Soon to 325 Fifth Ave (btw. 32+33rd)