Bon Chon Chicken is a Korean chicken restaurant that opened last month right across from Cakes by Happy Eatery in Centreville Square shopping center in Centreville. Bon Chon is not a fast food chicken joint, although their web site gives you the impression it is. They have a full-service bar, lots of flat-screen TVs, table service, and an eclectic menu that combines Korean traditional specialties with good, old-fashioned fried chicken and coleslaw. Well, maybe not that old-fashioned, but it certainly is good. This isn’t the colonel’s fried chicken, that’s for sure.
Bon Chon is a growing chain that originated in Pusan, South Korea in 2002. It bills itself as a local chicken place known for its “healthy, crispy, juicy, yet not greasy fried chicken with an astounding soy garlic or spicy soy garlic flavor.” The website claims that the special sauce brings out the full, delicious flavor and also “helps extract excessive oils from the finished dish to create a lean and crisp taste.” I don’t know how adding a sauce can extract oils, so I’m not buying that. But one taste of this lightly fried chicken and you won’t be worrying about oil.
Appetizers at Bon Chon range from folded pork buns (not the whole, steamed type), calamari, seasoned fries, onion rings, zucchini fries, mandoo (Korean dumplings) or french fries. We opted for the calamari, because I had heard they were good here. I guess I heard wrong. These were quite large breaded calamari that resembled processed onion rings because of their uniformity. The heavy breading was sprinkled with parmesan cheese and served with ketchup. The Italian spices made me feel like I was in an Italian restaurant, and pairing them with ketchup made for an odd combination. They tasted frozen and I wished we hadn’t ordered them.
We also tried the pork buns because our waitress told us they had been sold out almost continuously since they opened. For $8 you got two pretty large sized buns. The buns featured pork belly tucked in a steamed bun and filled with sprouts, cucumber, shredded carrot and cabbage, shredded radish, and other vegetables, piled high. I didn’t like them. The pork belly should have been velvety smooth, but was rather chewy. They looked wonderful, and I do love beautifully dressed fresh veggies, but somehow they weren’t my cup of tea. The other type of dumpling, mandoo (or mandu) may have been more to my liking. A dinner order of mandoo costs $8, and features a steamed pork dumpling with all the flavors that you may be familiar with from Chinese restaurants.
Ordering the main event, the chicken, took a little menu deciphering and more than a couple of questions of the waitress. Basically, you can order wings or drumsticks or a mix of wings and drumsticks, (not to be confused with wing drumettes.) Or, you can order white meat. The white meat chicken is thickly sliced and batter fried boneless breast meat. Choose from a small, medium, or large order (see the menu for exact counts) and then you must choose soy garlic or hot soy garlic. We ordered a little bit of everything plus coleslaw and rice on the side.
The chicken is fabulous. The coating is a cross between what you’d expect from a batter and crumb coating, with the slightly toothy crunch of a delicately thin layer of sugar that hardens in the frying process. The soy garlic sauce is truly delectable. The hot version is great too, and perfectly hot (not too hot and not too wimpy.) Whether you are enjoying it on wings, drumsticks, or white meat chicken, it’s really delicious and non-greasy.
This fantastic chicken has propelled this chain’s growth from one U.S. store in 2006 to six restaurants by the end of 2007. Today, Bon Chon has 18 locations all over the U.S., including Los Angeles, Boston, New York, and several here in the Washington D.C. area. But it’s not cheap. A small order of wings is 6 pieces for $7.50, medium is 10 pieces for $12 and you get 20 pieces in a large order for $20.
Bon Chon also offers other entrees, including Bulgogi Saam as a wrap or rice bowl, or Dduk-bo-ki. Sides include classic coleslaw or kimchi coleslaw, or white or brown rice. The coleslaw is ordinary, but fresh. You can also order the chicken on a huge “creamy Italian” salad or Caesar salad. Someone did while we were there and it looked wonderful. Centreville’s Bon Chon also has a frozen yogurt bar, and our waitress gave us a taste of the yogurt when we finished our meal. It was tangy, not too sweet, and very good.
If you’re curious about what all the fuss is about for Bon Chon chicken, try it. Stick with the chicken or perhaps a salad with chicken on it. Tread carefully around the appetizers, though, or order them at your own risk.