The Chef’s Guide to Eating Fried Chicken in DC
Kevin Tien names his 7 favorite fried-bird joints around the city
DC food fanatics may know Chef Kevin Tien, a two-time James Beard Awards semi-finalist, from his days co-owning the tiny but mighty Himitsu in Petsworth. The restaurant quickly gained local and national recognition for its world-hopping cuisine, drawing culinary elements from everywhere from Japan to South America. Recently, Tien decided to step away from Himitsu to turn his full attention to Emilie’s — his brand new restaurant in Eastern Market, which opened on October 10 to much fanfare and a full month of reservations already booked.
“I hope that Emilie’s will have a lot of the same feeling and soul of Himitsu,” Tien tells InsideHook. “I want everyone to remember their dining experience here, so the cart and family style portions encourage people to share and create a very interactive dining experience. When I think of dinner memories, it always involves sharing food at dim sum with my friends, or big shared dinners at each others houses.”
While one of his current favorite items on the menu is their Scallop Crudo, Tien’s love for fried chicken is unmatched. Not only did he consistently put it on the menu at Himitsu, but the chef also owns a Sichuan-meets-Nashville style fried chicken joint in Ballston, VA called Hot Lola’s, and on top of that has a Ranch Fried Chicken with Texas Toast on his new menu at Emilie’s.
“My love for fried chicken runs deep. My family, as immigrants, wanted to become a part of the American fabric after moving here from Vietnam. Being an American to us was my uncle drinking Budweiser, grilling on weekends, and eating hamburgers and fried chicken at fast food joints. We lived everywhere from Texas, California, Seattle, Hawaii, and Louisiana. I spent the majority of my life in Texas and Louisiana, so I had the chance to eat a lot of fried chicken. There isn’t anything better than eating chicken that was fried in a cast iron pan over a burner in the backyard with friends and family.”
To celebrate the much anticipated opening of Emilie’s, we decided to catch up with Tien to hear his hot take on what constitutes the perfect fried chicken, as well as the spots he deems the best in the city to eat some — what we ended up with was enough recommendations to last us from breakfast to drunchies, and don’t get us wrong: we’re not complaining.
THE PERFECT FRIED CHICKEN
“The perfect fried chicken is juicy, crispy, well seasoned, almost salty I would say,” Tien passionately explains. “There definitely needs to be sauce. Hot sauce is a must. Ranch is second, but not necessary. I like my fried chicken to have a lot of crispy bits and edges for sure. The juice has to be so hot that it burns your mouth when you bite into it.”
Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken: Waking up and in need of sweet and heat? The chicken [at Astro] is juicy, slapped in the middle of a doughnut and splashed with hot sauce. The doughnut itself is soft, the chicken is crispy. The textures are just right and it’s the best way to start your morning.
Mason Dixie Biscuit Company: Spending most of my time in Louisiana, I ate a lot of biscuits in the morning, so to get biscuits and fried chicken for breakfast really hits home for me. The biscuits are flaky and moist — add fried chicken and it takes me home.
Roaming Rooster DC: If you want fried chicken that’s free range, local and family-owned, and all the flavors hit the mark, go to Roaming Rooster. They started with one food truck, expanded to three, and now have a brick and mortar. They are the very definition of the type of small businesses we all need to support. They make one of the best chicken sandwiches you can get, with the best service from a family who cares (and you can taste it in the bird).
Bantam King: Asian Nashville Style fried chicken, rice, butter, furikake. It’s the perfect lunch every weekend. If I could, I would have a bowl of rice with every meal. Here at Bantam, Katsuya [Fukushima, the co-owner] knows what I want, and it delivers. Literally and figuratively.
Maketto: The chicken here is spicy and sweet with a fish sauce and five spice caramel. The whole sticky goodness comes with bread they make in house to soak up the sauce.
Chi Mc Chicken & Beer: Some people go to Bon Chon, I go to Chi Mc. I haven’t had a drink all year, but back when I had a beverage or two Chi Mc was the place to be. They were there before the Korean fried chicken mania set in. The garlic soy, loaded with garlic, is sticky sweet. The spicy wings are so spicy you could possibly only eat one, but so delicious you go through the hurt because you couldn’t stop eating it. The best part—call in your order ahead of time and it’ll be ready and waiting for you at your table when you arrive.
Lucky Buns: I love eating the Dirty Bird Bun from Lucky Buns. It’s sort of like a Big Mac meets a fried chicken sandwich, so it’s right up my alley. The kick from the Shark Sriracha brightens the whole thing up. Also, adding cheese onto the sandwich is easily the best dollar you’ll spend all day (or night).