In this week’s installment of my series about Korean dining in Lakewood, you’ll read about the other kind of KFC – Korean fried chicken. Two restaurants serving the sticky, spicy dish are in the neighborhood that is the region’s finest concentration of Korean dining. I’ll also take you shopping at three grocery stores with ingredients you can turn into Korean feasts.
Korean fried chicken: A Southern dish exported to Seoul and returned to America fused with Korean flavor
Think of Korean fried chicken as an export-import. It’s a Southern dish transported from the United States to Seoul, remade using Korean spicing, then returned here as bar food. Think of it as something akin to Buffalo wings. It’s served with crunchy, cool vegetables to cool your palate and it pairs well with a universal beverage popular from here to Seoul – beer.
Korean fried chicken can be salty or spicy, but it always is crispy. That’s because of a cooking technique that renders fat from the skin, leaving a crackly, crisp skin encasing juicy chicken. Food writer Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee explained the double fry technique: “You completely fry it, then dry it out, then use cornstarch instead of flour (in the breading) so you get the crispness.” A second trip to the fryer seals the signature crunch.
Kko Kko Chicken Place
Where: 11113 Pacific Highway S.W., Lakewood, 253-584-1865
The scene: Are these tatami rooms or enclaves for clandestine chicken meetings? I couldn’t decide which. Half the restaurant is open seating, the other half is broken into little rooms – private like tatami rooms you’ll find at Japanese restaurants, without the low seating. The curtained rooms seat four or six, each outfitted with a roomy table and flat-panel televisions that blast K-pop (that’s “Korean pop music” for you neophytes). The volume is louder on weekends – consider it a lively bar scene. Service is friendly and helpful.
The menu: You’ll find soup, rice dishes and pancakes, but the specialty is fried chicken in a half dozen versions, available in half orders (about six pieces, $7.99-$8.99) or whole orders (a dozen, $14.99-$15.99).
The eats: We couldn’t decide on sweet and spicy or regular, so we ordered both. The regular chicken arrived as seasoned drumettes and wings in a paper-lined basket. The scorching hot chicken singed my fingertips, but I didn’t care as I bit into crispy skin that broke to salty, moist meat. Spicy special chicken showed up as silky-moist boneless strips in a clingy sauce that stung my lips, the heat a solid medium. The flavor was tiered – hot, sweet, spicy, salty and pleasing. Banchan is a different sort here – fried eggs served on a sizzling hot metal platter, a bowl of crisp daikon and shredded cabbage (the Korean equivalent of celery and blue cheese) to soothe your overheated palate, and a trio of sauces: garlic, sesame and chili.
The spirits: Hite, a pale Korean beer; soju, a distilled Korean spirit that has a high-octane punch
Mo Mo Hof Chicken
Where: 10727 Pacific Highway S.W., Lakewood, 253-582-6405
The scene: Did Korean spring break just happen and we weren’t invited? With soju posters and bottle caps strung everywhere in the dimly lit bar, Mo Mo Hof is solidly after a younger bar clientele, although older patrons won’t feel out of place. Young and old both crave fried chicken, after all.
The menu: A handful of fried chicken styles, priced $8.99 for half orders and as much as $16.99 for full orders. The menu doesn’t clearly specify, but you can tell your server if you want seasoned, spicy or sweet – or a combination. The menu also lists soups, rice dishes, seafood and Korean pancakes. Some of the menu is in Korean, so you might need translation help.
The eats: We asked for a half-and-half order and got a half dozen pieces each of seasoned fried chicken and chicken with a sticky, spicy-sweet glaze. The pieces here were all bone-in. (If I had to pick a winner between the two, my vote goes to Kko Kko Place for a crispier, less greasy chicken.) Bar snacks come with your order – the same daikon and shredded cabbage as Kko Kko Place but also an apple salad and crunchy rice snacks.
The spirits: Hite, Coors, Miller, Budweiser, Corona
Shopping expeditions: Lakewood is home to three Korean grocery stores
Bibimbap, kalbi and bulgogi might sound complicated to cook at home, but they’re just marinated meats and vegetables grilled, simmered or sauteed. You could have a Korean dinner on the table in less than an hour. For adventurous cooks wanting to learn to cook Korean, I recommend “Eating Korean” by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee and “Quick and Easy Korean Cooking for Everyone,” by Ji Sook Choe and Yukiko Moriyama.
Lucky for us, Lakewood is home to three Korean grocery stores with every ingredient you need to create a Korean feast. Here, I look at Pal Do World, Asian Market and Boo Han Market.
Pal Do World
Where: 9601 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-581-7800; open daily.
Consider Pal Do World a comprehensive Korean shopping center with a food court, a sizeable grocery and produce section, and ready-made food for home. (Also, clothing, housewares and a video store.)
Groceries: Dried goods, frozen foods, produce, an extensive selection of the cuts of meat you’ll find in Korean restaurants (short ribs, ribeye, pork belly, etc.), and a large selection of kimchi.
Live seafood: Tanks in the rear sell live fish and shrimp. Also, a frozen seafood section.
Fresh banchan: Sometimes you’ll find someone selling banchan near the front entrance.
Out front: Right now, vegetables garden starts are for sale.
The scene: Loud, bustling and with a soundtrack of K-pop – it’s like the Korean version of a Fred Meyer. Out front, you frequently will find locals handing out church pamphlets.
Tip: As with the other markets featured in this article, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese ingredients are sold here.
Inside restaurants: A food court with two restaurants. Peking Garden serves Chinese with a few Korean dishes (try the job-chae noodle dish, $9.95). Nak Won is a real-deal Korean cafeteria serving soups, bulgogi, kalbi and dumplings. If you get anything, make it dol sot bibimbap ($8.95), a hot stone bowl with rice, vegetables and bulgogi topped with a fried egg and dried seaweed. Use chopsticks to stir it up, adding spicy paste and six kinds of banchan (Korean side dishes). Bulgogi ($8.95) is tender ribeye strips seasoned with a sweet-salty marinade in a large portion. Order at the counter; they’ll bring you banchan, soup and the main dish. There also is a tofu and walnut doughnut counter inside (I’ll write more about the doughnuts next week).
Outside restaurants: On Pal Do’s exterior is Cho Dang Tofu, the tofu soup restaurant I wrote about last week, and Tacoma Szechuan, one of Pierce County’s finest Chinese restaurants. I’ll write about the French-Korean bakery Boulangerie next week.
Where: 11715 Bridgeport Way S.W., Lakewood; 253-582-1158; open daily.
This small grocery store is hidden off Bridgeport, so use the Church’s Chicken sign in front of the market as your landmark. This is one of my favorite grocery stores to find Korean and other Asian ingredients because staffers – namely Angie Cho, daughter of the owners – are knowledgeable and explain Korean ingredients in depth. It has been operated by the same family for a few decades.
Banchan counter: While other Korean markets have a handful of banchan to take home and eat, Asian Market has a mega banchan deli counter. Anywhere between 30-40 banchan are for sale, from kimchi and sauteed greens with sesame oil, to pickled daikon, spicy anchovies and many other pickled vegetables. Sold by the pound, a small container will cost just a few dollars.
Restaurant: To the right of the front entrance, Boon Shik Nara is frequently filled with soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and middle-age Korean women. The specialty is fast-style Korean food: soups, bulgogi, dumplings, noodles and bibimbap. Try the bargain-priced bulgogi combo lunches ($7.95-$8.95) that come in a compartmentalized tray (think: Bento box). We bit into spicy chicken with rice, Korean-style sushi, kimchi, shredded cabbage salad and soup. Dol sot bibimbap ($8.95) is one of the best in the area because of the delicious marinade on the meat. The six kinds of banchan served are as delicious as what you’ll find at any restaurant along South Tacoma Way – full of flavor dimension.
Boo Han Market
Where: 9122 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-588-7300; open daily.
This small grocery store is a straightforward grocer with a wide selection of noodles, rice, sauces, seasonings, marinades, frozen fish, meats and prepared Korean food. This is the grocery for the serious home cook.
Banchan: About a dozen varieties in take-out containers at the rear of the store.
Produce: Sold in bulk bags for a fair price.
Snacks and sweets: There are two snack food aisles, one with salty treats and cookies, another with packaged crunchy rice snacks. Desserts are in the freezer section, as well as on shelving at the front of the store.
Tip: Right now, veggie starts are for sale at the front of the store.
UPDATE 2013: A fourth Korean grocery store opened in March 2013 on South Tacoma Way. Read about HMart in this article.
This is the third installment in a dining series on Korean cuisine along and around South Tacoma Way in Lakewood. The other articles:
April 27: Korean barbecue, a guide for first-timers
May 4: Soup shops of South Tacoma Way
May 11: Sticky, delicious chicken and ingredient expeditions
May 18: The sweeter side of South Tacoma Way
Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune.