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Posted on Mar 6, 2012 in Food | 21 comments

Adventures in West Korea

So in addition to book clubbin’ and the insane number of hours I have already sunk into playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 (nerd alert!), I did do a little culinary exploring over the weekend. While looking for a place to eat Saturday night, Sean and I stumbled across Bon Chon Chicken, which has incredible reviews on Yelp. A chain that started in New York (I think…?), Bon Chon is a Korean fast-casual joint that serves what Yelpers refer to as “crack chicken”. As in, the chicken is so good it’s like crack. With rave reviews like that, we knew we had to try it!

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Because the reviews also said that the wait is ridiculously long (right on the menu it states that the chicken takes 35 – 40 minutes to cook, and reviews all said to call and place your chicken order ahead of time), we decided to defer our chicken craving until the next day. We didn’t bother calling ahead since this was our very first time going, and didn’t really know what to expect. There are three Bon Chon locations in Virginia: one in Fairfax, one out in Centreville, and the one that we visited, which was in Annandale (also known as West Korea due to the insane number of Korean restaurants and businesses in this area). It’s clearly quite the local little gem, since even in all our mutually Whasian glory (he’s half-Korean and I, as you know, wave my half-Chinese flag high and proud), Sean and I were still the whitest people in there, haha.

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The restaurant is tucked away in a little strip mall off of Little River Turnpike (just like everything else in that area, haha). Reviews had said that the service was really bad and inattentive, but I didn’t find that to be the case. Of course, we went at noon on a Sunday, so I imagine that things get a little crazier on Friday and Saturday nights. We were seated in a booth immediately and put in our order. The chicken comes in two flavors — soy garlic or hot — and two cuts — wings or drumsticks. We ordered a combination so we got both wings and drumsticks in both flavors. Apparently, in other locations you can also get chicken tenders but the Annandale locale didn’t offer this.

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Now, I’ll be honest, it did take about 45 minutes for the chicken to come out. I’m not sure what cooking technique takes so long for, you know, fried chicken, but I will tell you that it is SO worth it. They’re not quite the same as traditional wings. They’re a little bit sweet, almost caramelized on the outside, but insanely good. The chicken is super crisp on the outside but incredibly moist inside. The hot flavor is really pretty hot (they’re not blazing, set-fire-to-your-nostrils-hot, but it builds!) and had me sniffling pretty quickly, but very delicious. And the soy garlic? NOM. I liked the wings slightly better than the drumsticks in terms of cut.

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We speculated that they must have some sort of air-injection technique or something that separates the skin from the meat for extra crispness, which would explain why it takes so long to prepare. And if you need proof, just look at the amount of space between the two in the picture above!

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Each order of chicken is served with a bowl of pickled radish, which I enjoyed since it helped cool down my tongue after eating a couple of the spicy ones. We definitely had some left over, and ended up polishing them off for dinner (with a big bowl of brussels sprouts for me as well. Balance, right? HA.) They obviously weren’t quite as good as getting them fresh, but they held up pretty well. Our experience at Bon Chon definitely made converts out of us! I am still thinking about that damn chicken two days later, so I definitely get the crack analogy. We now know to take everyone’s advice and call ahead to place an order for the chicken, especially now that we know what we like. Even just remembering to call when you get in the car could save you 10 – 15 minutes of wait time, or more if it’s particularly busy.

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Our run in Little Korea wasn’t quite over yet though. Since we were already in Annandale, I insisted on taking Sean to Shilla Bakery, a Korean bakery that I had only been introduced to myself a few weeks before by my friends Michael & Erik (hi guys!). Shilla also has a few locations spread out over Northern Virginia, and reminds me of the Chinese bakeries from Taiwan that I miss so much.

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I picked up a few buns and whatnot to take back with me, but what I was really there for was the Boba. Boba milk tea, or pearl milk tea, is a drink that originated in Taiwan and is the single thing that I miss most about living in Taipei. It has tapioca “pearls” in the drink, hence the name. I still have yet to find a really good pearl milk tea place here, but Shilla’s frozen versions are pretty darn delicious.

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It’s not quite the un-frozen nai cha (Chinese for “milk tea”) that I yearn for, but it’s good. I don’t know if I’ll ever stray from the good old-fashioned black tea flavor (sooooo good!) but they come in pretty much every possible flavor you could think of at Shilla, if that’s your thing. Our venture into Northern Virginia’s little piece of Korea certainly left me content.

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Have you ever had Korean fried chicken before? Or pearl milk tea? If not, I suggest you hightail it to the nearest Korean shopping center (c’mon, every place has ‘em!) and try them out for yourself!

21 Comments

  1. mmm… bubble tea! i <3 it. I agree, as many places as i've tried it at in the US, nothing compares to the ones in Taiwan! and black tea flavor is my fave!!

  2. i kind of can’t believe that you’d never been to Bon Chon before…their chicken was the star at my friend Anh’s bridal shower…(i just smelled it)

    • That’s what everyone keeps saying, but I had honestly never even heard of it before! It was SO good.

  3. I’ve been to Bon Chon. I went with a friend that speaks Korean so she did all the ordering. The chicken is as you said, fantastic. We also had a bunch of other dishes and one had these tubey things that were tasty.

    Is Boba tea the same thing at bubble tea? I can’t get over the texture of the tapioca pearls myself. Eyeballs anyone?

    • Yep, same thing. Bubble, pearl, boba — all one and the same. And I get the texture thing, but for whatever reason I love those chewy little things!

  4. ‘Black pearls’ sounds SO much nicer than ‘frog eggs’! ;-)

  5. Bon Chon makes really good zucchini fries, too!

  6. Oh bubble tea! I am not a fan of the texture, but one of the most hilarious things to do is shoot the little pearls out of the straw! Just thinking about it makes me laugh. They make this wonderful little “fwud” sound if you blow hard enough, and I swear if you are anything like me you will end up in tears and possibly needed to change your undies. I want to go get one just for this!

  7. I absolutely love Shilla and their boba! Also, I think part of the reason I have been craving sushi for the past month and a half is your blog header. I see that picture every time I come here and it makes me want sushi again! And I just had it last night. I think I might have a little bit of an addiction problem.

  8. All of the foods look good… I’ve had bubble tea, but I’m not a huge fan (not big on the tapioca pearls). But, my teenage sister thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world. All of the kids line up at the little Bubble Tea stand at Columbia mall to get their bubble tea on.

    • It’s definitely fun for the novelty, but I understand about thinking the pearls are weird. I didn’t know they had a stand in Columbia! Maybe I’ll have to try it out next time I’m up visiting my sis!

  9. I know what you mean about missing boba. I go back to Taiwan 1-2x a year and it’s still not enough. My waistline probably is thankful though :)

    Looks delicious!

    • Haha, I agree, it’s probably a good thing I haven’t found THE place around here, otherwise I’m sure it would be all I want to drink! And I can only imagine how much sugar is in them. Still… wo yao!

      • I’m going to NYC and I have yet to find a legitimate place up here either. No one makes it as well as Taiwan. The amazing thing is now they have the option of making the milk tea made from milk instead of creamer. Also you can tell them the mount of sugar they put into it. I choose 30% and it’s sweet enough for me. WIN WIN

  10. I never heard of this Stateside frozen version. It looks pretty good! Also, I never knew pearl tea started in Taipei. Cool! I have to say, the stuff they serve in Beijing isn’t all that great. (Sorry, BJ, you know you can rock the jiao-zi and the zha jiang mian — but bubble tea? Not so much.)

  11. My town definitely doesn’t have a Korean section… my town doesn’t have any section that is ethnically diverse. Oh, small town South. Sigh. My taste buds would love something more authentic in Asian cuisine than Panda Express sometimes.

  12. Only a few things can bring me out of lurkism, and one of them is bubble tea. The best I’ve found in the DMV is at Teaism in DC (I go to the one in Penn Quarter). I have spent more time driving DC, finding parking, and driving home (to Ashburn) than I have in the restaurant…and it is absolutely worth every second. If you go, get the bubble tea and the chicken bento box, the white dipping sauce will change your life.

    Back to lurking now. :)

    • Ahhh! Sounds like a must-try then!

  13. I love how you continue to open my eyes to new restaurants Gretchen! We’ll definitely be hitting up this place since I LOVE LOVE me some spicy Korean chicken! Also, I’m loving the new “addition” in your life ;) (feel free to delete this if you’d rather me not elaborate on that!). I want to see more pictures of the 2 of you together… stat!

    • Hahaha, of course I don’t mind you mentioning that! I know, we do need to take some photos together, huh? So far all I’m doing is forcing my camera into his hands and making him take pictures of me! Hahhaha :)

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