Visitors to South Korea might be surprised by the way that the cuisine there is both strange and familiar. Traditional dishes are just as popular as more recent imports, like KFC. No, this isn't the Colonel's blend of herbs and spices, it's Korean Fried Chicken. The dish was originally introduced by American soldiers during the Korean War in the 1950s and became popular as cooking oil became more affordable in the 1970s. The recipe was adopted by local chefs and entrepreneurs, giving modern foodies the gift of Korean fried chicken. The dish is served in several forms that include classic, modern, battered, garlic, and many other local or unique styles.
The dish is so popular today that there are currently more fried chicken restaurants in South Korea than there are McDonald's restaurants in the whole world. That includes chains along with an array of independently owned places. Despite the challenge, we compiled a list of a few that stand out from the rest which includes entries from both the franchise and mom-and-pop categories. Here are ten of the best restaurants for South Korea's fried chicken, just in case you miss the Chimaek (chicken and beer) Festival that takes place in Daegu every year.
10 Mirak Chicken, Seoul
The garlic chicken is the big draw here, but the menu is extensive and serves all kinds of fried chicken and traditional Korean dishes. The specialty plate is served on a sizzling hot platter. It's also located in one of Seoul's most active downtown neighborhoods. You can step in for a quick bite while shopping during the day or for dinner to start a night out. It's an ideal location if you're new to Korean cuisine in general and want to try a bit of everything.
9 Ddobagi Chicken, Seoul
Popular for both eat-in and takeaway, it's hard to find a bad or even mediocre review of this restaurant.
It gets a lot of attention thanks to lower prices, the friendly staff and a casual environment that welcomes families, friends, and couples. The perfectly fried exterior of their battered fried chicken, the house specialty, is also a popular draw.
8 Chicken Kyochon, various locations
Another popular chain, this is the only one that can compete with other national franchises like BHC. Kyochon stays ahead of the crowd by using chicken free of hormones and other preservatives. Their chicken is often fried in rice flour and comes with a wide variety of sauces and marinades. A few choices include honey, garlic soy, and red (spicy). The side dishes feature some creative variations, like chicken jerky, chicken sausages, and chicken chips.
7 The Frypan, Seoul
Bring a friend or two to help you finish off these massive platters of chips, potatoes, and classic fried chicken. You can also enjoy a variety of dipping sauces. A more stylish place intended for young professionals and students, the atmosphere still has a cozy side given the selection of comfort food. There's also beer and salad on the menu if you need something to cut through the delectable mix of grease, salt, and starch.
6 Chicken Kkang, Busan
The menu here includes some traditional Korean snacks, like rice cakes and popcorn shrimp, along with the specialty, fried chicken. There's no set style on this menu, and dishes are served in baskets, on plates, and on sizzling steel platters.
Spicy rice, cheese sticks, and fried potatoes are popular side dishes, and you can find traditional Korean treats here such as octopus. Naturally, the kitchen loves to show off their special sauces, which include both the classic and modern varieties.
5 Hanshin Chicken, Seoul
Food is always better when you eat it in a tent anyway. There are all kinds of food and drink tents that populate the streets of Seoul, even on cold winter nights. This orange tent is actually an extension of Hashin Chicken, which also has a regular interior dining area, but this is a tribute to the old school food venues that you see almost everywhere. Conveniently located next to the Express Bus Terminal, there's a healthy mix of locals, commuters, and tourists enjoying the extra crispy fried chicken.
4 Mom Raspberry Chicken, Pohang
This little restaurant in the seaside town of Pohang, just an hour north of Pusan, serves a variety of Korean fried chicken styles. It seems that it used to be the holdout from a franchise that died out, leaving this location as a lone survivor.
The town itself is developing rapidly when it comes to tourism, especially if you're shopping in Juk-do Market or exploring the historic sites of the Silla Dynasty that dot the surrounding countryside. Stop here for a sample of small-town authenticity when it comes to classic KFC.
3 New York Whole Chicken, Daegu
Easy to find while you're enjoying Dongah department store, what makes New York Whole Chicken unique is their cooking strategy. You can order a variety of styles, and the flavored dishes are fried in their own unique sauce. The busy location caters to local office workers and commuters and makes a lot of take-out orders. Reservations are also highly recommended for an evening taste of this popular spot.
2 Two Two Chicken, Seoul
The portions are big at this franchise, which has been in business for some time and serves the classic style of Korean fried chicken. Other types are on the menu, such as the always popular garlic, but the classic platter is the house specialty.
The secret is that the chickens are farm-raised in a natural environment as opposed to produced in a factory. Combine that with a traditional family recipe and you've got some good fried chicken.
1 Hoo La La, Seoul
A franchise that was popular for a while, but it fell out of favor for reasons we can't really determine, there are still a few holdout restaurants throughout Seoul. HooLaLa's specialty is barbecue, a style that's harder to find than some others. Hoo LaLa serves some very creative entrees and classic barbecue side dishes, and the restaurants are cozy, sleek and trendy, a bit more upscale than other fried chicken joints.