Bonchon Chicken has locations across the globe, and in this little corner of the world its Korean-style fried delights are renowned. The Washington, D.C. area is home to a handful of the chain’s locations. Since its Annandale location closed earlier this year, however, Beltway-dwellers have had to travel out to Rockville or Fairfax to get their fried-chicken fix – but no longer. This summer, the owners of the chain’s Centreville spot opened up shop in Arlington, giving D.C.-area denizens a golden opportunity to sample the restaurant’s golden-fried chicken.
The new location, on Pershing Drive off of Route 50, has sharp digs in a newer building in the Lyon Park neighborhood. The dark wood décor – in tables, chairs, floors, and even the walls and ceiling – is brilliantly lit, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows that make up the long face of the restaurant. The dining space curves to the left around a small cutaway where takeout orders are collected and the bar from which ample craft brews are dispensed. The space has a streamlined, modern look. And typically, diners would have a longer time to admire it before digging into their food.
With tales of the impossibly crispy twice-fried chicken come reports of the infamous wait time, upwards of half an hour. But the Arlington location seems to get the chicken swiftly to the table, leaving a reasonable pause between appetizer and entrée.
The Bonchon Mandoo ($9 for eight pieces) are an excellent introduction to the meal. The shell of the dumplings – so thin that one can make out the edges of its contents – is, like the chicken, incredibly crispy. Within each dumpling is a mix of beef, pork, tofu, shallots, chunks of shiitake mushrooms and little strands of vermicelli noodles. The potstickers are served with a helping of the house soy-garlic sauce, the milder of the two flavor options for the chicken.
And with that taste of soy-garlic on the tongue, and the restaurant perfumed by the smell of chicken frying in the kitchen, the desire for the house fried chicken is supremely stoked.
The chicken is served in small ($8), medium ($12.50), and large ($22) portions, and the number of pieces varies depending on what the diner orders – a small could amount to six wings, six strips, three drumsticks, or four wings and a drumstick for a mixed plate. Each order comes with the diner’s choice of soy-garlic sauce or hot sauce (with a half-and-half option for the indecisive), both lightly applied. The soy-garlic is pleasantly salty, with a hint of the garlic’s earthy sweetness. The red-chili hot sauce adds a nice flavor while still producing that lingering burn that heat-seekers are looking for (and, by request, pickled radish cubes are offered to cool an overheated mouth). The sauces are great accents to the chicken, but the chicken here is prized for its texture. The fried shell is thin and crispy throughout, not doughy and soft as one might discover beneath the surface of poorly fried chicken. And the chicken is very tender and juicy.
Each order of the chicken comes with a side dish, either brown or white rice or coleslaw, which comes in a standard and spicy kimchi variety. There are other entrées available, as well – the popular Korean marinated beef dish bulgogi, chicken fried rice, and the spicy Dduk-bok-ki with tiny, chewy rice dumplings and fish cake in vermicelli, and more – but the chicken is what brings diners to Bonchon.
It’s surprising that such a simple dish can amass such a following, but the chicken at Bonchon really has. And it’s because this chain knows the value in simplicity, and in taking the time to fry chicken right.
Bonchon Chicken is located at 2209 N. Pershing Drive, Arlington. For more information, call 703-528-1011 or visit bonchon.com. Restaurant hours are Sunday – Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – midnight; and Friday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.