America celebrates national Fried chicken day, July 6. But the finger lick’n begins on the 4th of July when juicy, crispy birds show up at picnics, barbecues and tailgates across the nation. Like burgers or apple pie, this all-American comfort food is a national gastronomic symbol. But the rest of the world has discovered its appeal. And in ultra-diverse L.A., local culinary talent from Japan to Guatemala and right here at home have upgraded and adapted this farmhouse staple. We flocked to chicken joints across the city. Herewith, our very best finds.
Hawaii: The Local Place / Torrance
Named for the Euro-Asian fusion that Hawaiians call “local food,” this ultramodern spot, next to the old King’s Hawaiian Bakery (and owned by the same family), makes marinated, sweet-salty chicken sheathed in puffy- crisp batter. It comes in pieces or as jumbo nuggets. Served like the typical island plate lunch, you get scoops of potato-macaroni salad and rice alongside. >> 18650 S. Western Ave., Torrance, 310-523-3233.
In a brilliant stroke of innovation Chef Ernesto Uchimura came up with a smoky fried chicken that has won raves, “best” awards, and lines of passionate devotees. To get a mix of bacon-y taste and shattering crunch he cold smokes the bird pieces over long slow heat before frying them enrobed in a shaggy panko covering that amplifies crispiness. In an ode to its Deep South origins the chicken comes in a puddle of smoked milk “cream gravy.” And punctuating all the smoke-infused goodness are bracing house-made pickled okra and sweet yam preserves, creating a taste combo that hits every note on the flavor spectrum. Hopefully Plan Check’s two upcoming locations on Fairfax and Downtown will help alleviate those meal-hour lines. 1800 Sawtelle Ave., 310-288-6500
The Philippines: Max’s of Manila / Glendale
The birds are fried whole at this U.S. outpost of a Filipino chain. This locks in all the juices and retains the sweet garlicky flavors. A spicy version is available, too. Both styles come with a bracing palm vinegar dip to cut through the richness and add tang. Another house specialty is chicharón de pollo-- the best deep-fried chicken skin anywhere. » 313 W. Broadway, Glendale, 818-637-7751.
Japan: FuRaiBo / Gardena + West Los Angeles
This Tarzan-themed franchise, known throughout Japan, offers tebasaki-style fried chicken made with a subtle salty-sweet marinade and a whisper-thin coating. Fans of more crunchiness prefer the crumb-coated tenders of the Sasami Fry. Sizes vary: The Tarzan is half a bird, the Chita a whole leg, and the Jayne a breast. You can also order a plate of wings. >> 1741 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, 310-329-9441. Also at 2068 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A., 310-444-1432.
Korea: KyoChon / Koreatown
Famous for its “hot wings” this smart Korean café serves till 2:30 a.m. But they want you to know everything is ultra-fresh. “We’re not serving fast food,” warns the menu. The chicken isn’t fried until an order is placed (so no sitting around under heat lamps); it takes about 25 minutes to cook. But it’s definitely worth the wait. Whether you get the super-spicy tear-inducing version or the soy-marinated crispy style, the meat is full of flavor and the side of pickled white radish cubes refreshes your palate for the next bite. 3833 W. 6th St., Koreatown, 213-739-9292.
Central America: Pollo Campero / Citywide
Before this Central American franchise opened in the Golden State, vacationing Guatemalan ex-patriots smuggled in suitcase-loads of its famous achiote-pepper crusted specialty. But since its first shop appeared in 2002, the chain’s mascot–a jaunty Stetson-wearing rooster--seems almost as familiar as the Colonel. The super-crisp, juicy pollos come with fried plantains, beans and fixin’s from the generous salsa bar or with biscuits and coleslaw. 1605 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-251-8594; 7249 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys. (818-994-7230) and countywide.
North America: Rosewood Tavern / Central City
George Abou-Daoud’s Rosewood Tavern may be a modern-age chophouse that’s well regarded for its vast collection of exotic Scottish and Irish whiskies and boutique craft beers. But with these it’s often the crunchy, mayo-y, gooey fried chicken sliders that we crave. This urbane spot builds these hearty bar snacks with slabs of spicy buttermilk-battered chicken topped with tangy house-made pickles, ultra creamy mayo. They’re served up on a wooden board as a trio. Yum. >> 448 N. Fairfax Los Angeles, 90036, 323-944-0980.