First bite: Our reviewer shares some thoughts on a new restaurant after an informal visit.
It’s Monday night and Bap and Chicken’s karaoke room is buzzing.
A man in a polo shirt spells Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” as the screen plays a Korean music video. Ten feet away, a group of people split a tray of the biggest chicken drumsticks I’ve ever seen. The legs are fried in tempura batter and covered in radioactive red chili sauce, which runs down the table and their hands as they try to take a bite.
On a night when many restaurants in the valley are choosing to close, Bap and Chicken has cultivated a following by hosting free, unlimited karaoke. There’s a different draw every night of the week at this Korean fast food restaurant, which opened in the old Habit Burger Grill on Ray Road and Interstate 10: Kids Eat Free Tuesday, Wednesday is K-Pop night and on Thursdays they bring out Korean corn dogs, coated in sugar and drizzled with gochujang hot sauce.
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The menu is innovative enough that you don’t really need the gimmicks to have an interesting time.
Bap and Chicken founder John Gleason was born in Korea but grew up in Minnesota after being adopted by American parents. (You’ll see her story on a plaque near the karaoke room next to an “adoption wall” that features Polaroid photos of patrons who are also adopted.) Chandler’s location is her second Bap and Chicken, it opened the first in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The menu is a hodgepodge of iconic Korean foods combined with the flavors of American suburbs. It’s an aesthetic popularized by celebrity chefs like David Chang and local James Beard semi-finalist Donald Hawk, who draws inspiration from suburban staples like Panda Express in his gourmet dishes at Valentine.
Keeping up with the latest trend for fast-casual bibimbap restaurants, Bap and Chicken offers customizable Korean rice bowls with cool additions like jackfruit, pineapple, and salmon. Health-conscious eaters can replace the white rice with quinoa or spring greens. And fixed menu options include bibimbaps sprinkled with fresh kiwi and brie cheese.
The restaurant’s signature item, the Bap and Chicken, arrived in a paper bowl with a fluffy poached egg hidden under the mixture of fried chicken, sautéed mushrooms and pickled daikon radish.
While the bibimbaps offer an interesting mix of traditional dishes served with capitalistic convenience, it’s the bar snacks and junk food that you’ll really want to come back for. (Even though there’s no actual alcohol on the menu.)
Bap and Chicken may be Arizona’s first fast food restaurant specializing in Korean Fried Chicken, or KFC, and it’s the only place I’ve seen that makes chicken like this.
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Order Monster-Sized Korean Fried Chicken to Win
Drummies come in customizable sauces like gochujang and kimchi crema (my favorite).
A marvel of modern science, monster-sized chicken thighs are smothered in sweet chili sauce. The battered tempura skin crackles as you dig into the juicy meat underneath. Our tray came with a single plastic glove, but the whole thing was still a delicious mess.
Next time I will have to try the boneless thighs or a whole Korean fried chicken, which I regret not seeing. Any chicken can be ordered Gangnam Style for an additional $25 and will be wrapped in edible gold foil.
Solid entrees include green-colored fried vegetable balls and tater tot-shaped fried rice nuggets. They also serve sandwiches and a burger known as “handy”. The double kimchi cheeseburger is basically Jack in the Box meets fermented cabbage, with two mass-produced patties of meat sandwiched between American cheese and a few big slaps of kimchi.
Best of all is the Buffalo Brie Sandwich, a fried chicken sammy with torched brie cheese and a handful of greens in a zesty buffalo sauce. Chic, creative and super crispy, this is a great chicken sandwich.
With such an original fast food concept, there is no need for another type of KFC.
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Bap and Chicken
Or: 960 N. 54th St., Chandler.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
Price: Bibimbap bowls $13 to $16; Korean fried chicken $12 to $29 for a whole chicken, $25 more if you want to add gold foil; sandwiches $11 to $12; Korean snacks from $6 to $7.77.
Details: 480-306-3324, bapandchicken.com/chandler-az.
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