It’s Monday night and the karaoke room at Bap and Chicken is bumping.
A man wearing a polo shirt is busting out Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” while the screen plays a Korean music video. Ten feet away, a group of people split a tray of the largest chicken drumsticks I’ve ever seen. The legs are deep fried in tempura batter and slathered in radioactive-red chile sauce, which drips all over the table and their hands as they try to take a bite.
On a night when many Valley restaurants choose to close, Bap and Chicken has cultivated a following by hosting unlimited free karaoke. There’s a different draw every weeknight at this Korean fast food restaurant, which opened in the old Habit Burger Grill on Ray Road and Interstate 10: kids eat free on Tuesdays, Wednesdays are K-Pop night and Thursdays are when they roll out the Korean corn dogs, coated in sugar and drizzled with gochujang hot sauce.
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A Korean American menu of fast food favorites
The menu is innovative enough that you don’t really need the gimmicks to have an interesting time.
Bap and Chicken’s founder John Gleason was born in Korea, but grew up in Minnesota after being adopted by American parents. (You’ll see his story on a plaque by the karaoke room next to an “adoption wall” that features Polaroid photos of customers who are also adopted.) The Chandler location is his second Bap and Chicken, he opened the first in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The menu is a hodgepodge of iconic Korean foods combined with the flavors of the American suburbs. It’s an aesthetic popularized by celebrity chefs like David Chang and local James Beard semifinalist Donald Hawk, who’s inspired by suburban staples like Panda Express in his gourmet dishes at Valentine.
In keeping with the latest trend of fast casual bibimbap restaurants, Bap and Chicken offers customizable Korean rice bowls with interesting add-ons like jackfruit, pineapple and salmon. Health conscious eaters can sub out the white rice for quinoa or spring greens. And the set menu options include bibimbaps studded with fresh kiwi and brie cheese.
The restaurant’s signature item, the Bap and Chicken, arrived in a paper bowl with a soft poached egg tucked underneath the medley of fried chicken, sautéed mushrooms and pickled daikon radish.
While the bibimbaps offer an interesting mix of the traditional served with capitalist convenience, it’s the bar snacks and junk foods that you’ll really want to come back for. (Even though there’s no actual alcohol on the menu.)
Bap and Chicken may very well be Arizona’s first fast food joint that specializes in Korean fried chicken, or KFC, and it’s the only place I’ve seen that makes chicken like this.
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Order monster-sized Korean Fried chicken for the win
The “drummies” are available in customizable sauces like gochujang and kimchi crema (my favorite).
A marvel of modern science, the monster-sized chicken legs are smothered with sweet chile sauce. The tempura battered skin crackles off as you dig into the juicy meat underneath. Our tray came with a single plastic glove, but the whole thing was still a delicious mess.
Next time I’ll have to try the boneless thighs or a Korean fried whole chicken, which I regret not seeing. Any chicken can be ordered Gangnam Style for an extra $25 and will come wrapped in edible gold leaf.
Solid starters include green-colored fried veggie dumplings and tater tot shaped fried rice nuggets. They also serve sandwiches and a burger known as a “handy.” The kimchi double cheeseburger is basically Jack in the Box meets fermented cabbage, with two mass-produced meat patties sandwiched between American cheese and some fat slaps of kimchi.
Better yet is the Buffalo brie sandwich, a fried chicken sammy with blowtorched brie cheese and a smatter of greens in tangy buffalo sauce. Classy, creative and super crunchy, this is an excellent chicken sandwich.
With a fast food concept this original, there’s no need for any other kind of KFC.
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Bap and Chicken
Where: 960 N. 54th St., Chandler.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Price: Bibimbap bowls $13 to $16; Korean fried chicken $12 to $29 for a whole chicken, an extra $25 if you want to add gold leaf; sandwiches $11 to $12; Korean snacks $6 to $7.77.
Details: 480-306-3324, bapandchicken.com/chandler-az.