Cheap Eats: Chicken Run

A quest for the South’s deep-fried delicacy reveals as much about the city as it does the virtues of poultry

On a recent weekday I found myself in a booth at Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles in Mid City devouring a crispy thigh and a syrup-drenched waffle—every little square filled with a dab of butter (a childhood habit I’ve never gotten over). I was in a state of sticky delight. I hadn’t been to Roscoe’s in years and had forgotten the voluptuous jolt you get from its signature offering.

I left the place with a hefty takeout order: chicken, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and greens. That was the real purpose of my visit, to gather a selection for a taste test. My husband and I had a big anniversary approaching, and we planned to bring in the meal. Before, we would have cooked for our guests, but we weren’t up for it this year, so the celebration would be a bittersweet departure. Although he has lived in L.A. for decades, my spouse grew up in the South and has an enduring preference for the region’s cuisine. As a young bride, I succumbed totally to the food of his native turf because it was robust and sensual. At our elegant if homespun wedding we served fried chicken, and we wanted it for our commemorative meal. Setting forth, I felt grateful that I had married a man who taught me to eat with gusto and not be afraid of grease.

My next stop was in Culver City at Honey’s Kettle, which makes all the “best” lists. The chicken looked promising—more abundantly battered than Roscoe’s—as did the biscuits. I bit into one, and it was special—a tad sweet but kind of crunchy outside with fluffy innards. I also bought a quart of coleslaw and a small pecan pie—our dessert choice (in his cooking prime my husband would order the pecans from Texas). Leaving, I looked around, marveling at the changes along Culver Boulevard, now lined with restaurants. The neighborhood has become so upscale, while Roscoe’s hums with a noisy energy that evokes many a casual Southern joint I had eaten at with my husband.

The final destination was Dinah’s on Sepulveda, with its old-school vibe. We had always come here on trips to and from LAX. The last time had been disappointing, but in deference to the past I picked up some thighs and breasts, mac and cheese, and two slices of pecan pie. I had plenty for our tasting, which involved a group of friends who had been enlisted to join us for supper.

Driving back to the house, I was kid-happy, my windows all the way down to air out the thick but not displeasing fried smell, K-Earth 101 playing on the radio. I was on the first leg of a great adventure that would take me up and down the fried chicken trail that snakes through the city. There’s no question that this staple of the unpretentious Southern kitchen is now front and center on many L.A. menus. That night everything from Dinah’s got an immediate thumbs-down. Roscoe’s, alas, didn’t fare much better. Too salty, everyone said, and I had to agree. Honey’s Kettle was the winner, though the pie didn’t cut it. Clearly we would need to put our menu together from a number of spots.

On Sunday I made a pit stop at FarmShop at the Brentwood Country Mart for its “Fried Chicken Night.” The much praised restaurant—family friendly, with a communal table in the center—was jammed. The chicken dinner was obviously a hit, even though it rings in at $48 a person, sides and dessert included. No way were we going to pay that, but I picked up one dinner, and even my purist husband pronounced the chicken good, with its quiet hint of lemon and some spices that were no doubt used in the brine. He was amused, however, by the trendy accompaniments: quinoa and kale. All right, I said, I hear you. I would go to a place where Southern roots run deep.

The recommendation for the Louisiana Fried Chicken at the corner of Normandie and Manchester in South L.A. came from a friend who counts many OGs among her tribe. Louisiana is a chain, but my pal had heard that this was the one we should try. The chicken—dark caramel and quite spicy—was a fierce Cajun kick out of the comfort zone. A few blocks over, on Vermont, we hit another quickie spot, the heavily fortified Jim Dandy. Money and thickly battered chicken—not as soulful as what we’d just eaten—were passed through cubicles, the staff behind plexiglass. Driving through the pinkish dusk, I was struck by how neat and house proud the streets were, their little stucco bungalows giving way to the mansions of West Adams. I vowed that the next time my husband was feeling better, I would bring him here for some sassy Louisiana cooking.

Party time was fast upon us, but I couldn’t resist a detour to other enclaves that prize this food. In Koreatown I swooned over the garlic and soy sauce wings at KyoChon Chicken, an unprepossessing venture in a strip mall. For dinner a colleague and I tried the noisy new enterprise Plan Check, in the Little Osaka neighborhood on Sawtelle. The boneless fried jidori chicken was the height of chic, served in a skillet with a smoky gravy—not what we were after but delicious.

The tasting committee settled on Honey’s Kettle for the chicken, biscuits, and coleslaw. The mac and cheese still eluded us. I remembered the old-fashioned version at Pacific Dining Car. Its cheddar-laden rendition was the one for us. I finally found dessert at the Apple Pan, the Westside burger bastion. The pecan pie there is a work of art, like a candy bar densely layered with nuts.

After the anniversary feast, as we lay in bed, my husband and I deconstructed the food. It was good, we decided, but not magical. Then a friend told us about MP’s Soulfood Eatery on Lankershim in North Hollywood. I persuaded my husband to join me for the outing. Inside a tidy room, tables were covered in flowered oilcloth. The large, gracious proprietor sat in the front, his Bible open before him. We could see back to the stove, where a man stirred a huge vat of gravy. I smiled at my spouse. He was home. We ate it all: corn bread and black-eyed peas, pork chops and green beans, and, of course, chicken, which was cooked to order. It had a light, crisp crust with a tinge of what I thought was onion or garlic powder, among other flavorings. The mac and cheese was creamy and simple. With our mason jars of sweetened tea, we toasted each other and the conclusion of our fried chicken quest, one that reminded us of the culinary riches tucked in every corner of the city we call home.

Will Stop For Chicken

6521 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Westchester, 310-645-0456 

225 26th St.,Santa Monica, 310-566-2400 

Honey’s Kettle
9537 Culver Blvd., Culver City, 310-202-5453 

Jim Dandy
11328 S. Vermont Ave., South L.A., 323-779-5567 

KyoChon Chicken
3833 W. 6th St., Koreatown, 213-739-9292 

Louisiana Fried Chicken
1401 W. Manchester Ave., South L.A., 323-759-8771 

MP’s Soulfood Eatery
5643 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-506-2930 

Plan Check
1800 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A., 310-288-6500 

Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles
5006 W. Pico Blvd., Mid City, 323-934-4405


101 Cheap eats