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Crunch time: Korean fried chicken

Korean fried chicken has been a thing for nearly a decade. With the Birds in the playoffs, let's tackle some newcomers, including one in Chinatown. Also this week, I visit a Vietnamese-inspired BYOB near Montgomeryville, a Middle Eastern experience in Fishtown, and a true "scene" on East Passyunk Avenue. Need food news? Click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.

Everybody needs a little KFC

Manager Leon Li with a drumstick at bbq chicken, 938 Race St.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Manager Leon Li with a drumstick at bbq chicken, 938 Race St.

That crackly crusted, twice-fried treat called Korean fried chicken is seeing a minor resurgence in town, what with the new, South Street West location of Andy's Chicken and — this week — the opening of bbq Chicken at 928 Race St. in Chinatown.

The hook at bbq (which stands for "best of the best quality," and not "barbeque") is that the chicken is fried only once, in olive oil, not peanut oil. The result: crunchy outside, juicy inside, with sauces running the Scoville scale from tame to nuclear, and plastic gloves provided to keep hands clean. One interesting flavor is "cheesling," in which the tenders are dusted with powdered cheese. (There's no website; Facebook refers to its North Wales location.)

Among other KFC favorites are Banh Street (in Spring House, near Ambler) and the region's granddaddy, Cafe Soho in Oak Lane — inspiration for Federal Donuts' celebrated birds.

Also fun: the massive, salt-and-pepper-crusted cutlets called Taiwanese fried chicken at Cheers Cut in Chinatown. For true taste-bud excitement, try the Pakistani fried chicken chargha at Wah-Gi-Wah in West Philly, marinated in spices and yogurt. PFC?

For even more options — including oldtime Southern-style — see this round-up.

What we’re drinking

DanDan PanDan at DanDan.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
DanDan PanDan at DanDan.

DanDan PanDan at DanDan

If you can't wait for Easter and coconut eggs, head to DanDan (126 S. 16th St. in Rittenhouse and 214 Sugartown Rd. in Wayne) for a DanDan PanDan. The sugary combo of Brinley Gold Shipwreck coconut cream rum, pandan extract, and pandan jelly is like drinking a dessert — one sweet way to cool the fires from the Sichuan cooking.

Where we’re eating: Papaya, Suraya, Barcelona

Chicken skewers at Papaya, North Wales.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Chicken skewers at Papaya, North Wales.

You can get Vietnamese staples at Papaya, Patrick Le's modest and mod BYOB in a tiny strip center tucked behind Buckman's Ski Shop off Route 309 near Montgomeryville. And his mom, Thuy, does them well. But don't miss the contemporary dishes —  perhaps the filet mignon carpaccio served with sweet onion, Thai basil, shallots, shrimp Vinaigrette and crushed peanuts, or the chicken skewers, grilled in marinade of lemongrass, garlic and honey.

Fruit, honey, and yogurt at Suraya, Fihtown
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Fruit, honey, and yogurt at Suraya, Fihtown

Fishtown's hottest breakfast/brunch spot is Suraya (say it "sir-AY-ah"), the stunning Middle Eastern-inspired cafe from the owners of Root down the street and Northern Liberties' Cafe La Maude. The morning starts with Stumptown coffee and house-baked pastries, flatbreads, appetizers, and plates such as hummus, and yogurt. Lunch brings sandwiches and salads.  Just wait till March, when the main dining room launches dinner, and a grand outdoor space opens for al fresco fun.

Scallops at Barcelona, East Passyunk.
MICHAEL KLEIN / Staff
Scallops at Barcelona, East Passyunk.

YOU CAN BARELY HEAR YOURSELF THINK at Barcelona, the sizzling Spaniard that's captivated East Passyunk since its summertime opening at the corner of 12th Street. The bar list bursts with 400 wines (many by the glass) and the tapas menu has something for everyone (charcuterie/cheeses, share plates). A reservation, as I learned last Friday night, can be merely a suggestion; you'll put your name on the list, make your way to the bar, and join the party. See Craig LaBan's review here.

Dining Note

Center City District Restaurant Week continues through Jan. 26. Info is here.

This week’s openings

bbq Chicken | Chinatown

Korean fried chicken, in drumstick, wing, and boneless form at 928 Race St.

Illegal Tacos | Avenue of the Arts

Controversial name, yes. This taqueria at Broad and Lombard Streets opens to the public Jan. 20.

This week’s closing

Samwich | Bella Vista

Citing hit-or-miss business, chefs Georgeann Leaming and Angelo Polito have shut down their sandwich shop at Sixth and Catharine Streets.

Your dining questions, answered

Reader: What's right? Do we tip on a check's subtotal or the total including tax?

Mike Klein: So much controversy over such a small matter. Say your subtotal is $100. If you're a 20-percenter tipping on a subtotal, that's a $20 tip. The sales tax in Philadelphia adds $8 to that $100 tab, bringing the bill to $108. A 20-percent tip on $108 is $21.60 – a mere $1.60 difference. "But it's the principle," some will insist. Fine. You have your principles. Servers have bills to pay. If you're not happy with your service, it's entirely appropriate to adjust your tip accordingly. And if you do have problems with your experience, take it up tactfully with management then and there.

Craig LaBan has the week off. Email him here, and join his chat at 2 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month at Philly.com/food