Lazy Ox Canteen – Los Angeles, CA
The debate for The Best Fried Chicken around is much like the debate over one’s favorite pizza, burger, or barbeque: everyone has their favorite joint.
Brined with lemon, fistfuls of herbs, and honey, many swear the fried chicken served at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc is the best in the world. Others pony up the $100 asking price at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar to gorge on his famous Korean-style fried chicken that’s covered in an addictive sweet-spicy glaze. Filipinos the world over are fiercly loyal to the chicken served at Jollibee, a chain whose mascot, a giant, ridiculously happy plastic bee, might just double as the Philippines’ national icon.
Even within Los Angeles, the debate continues. There’s Honey Kettle, whose gossamer crust is so light you wonder if any batter was used at all. Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles is pratically a Los Angeles institution. When Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Ludotruck first opened, lines for his auburn-crusted nuggets of meat stretched around the block and then some. And then there’s always those who claim their mother makes the best freaking fried chicken around.
And as for me? I’m in love with the fried chicken at Josef Centeno’s Little Tokyo gastropub, Lazy Ox Canteen. I had it almost a week ago and still can’t stop thinking about it.
Twenty-Eight Dollars buys you a family-style meal (salad, biscuits, chicken, and gravy) that is not only an excellent showcase of Chef Josef Centeno’s inventive, passionate, and soulful cooking but also leaves you and a friend pleasantly full and deliriously happy.
The standard fried chicken dinner is fairly rich and heavy, so we ordered an additional acidic side, a grilled cabbage salad, to balance out all the grease. A giant solitary wedge of cabbage covered in a piquant dressing, pickled red onions, nuts, sliced radishes, and glistening on our candle-lit table, this somehow looked more alien-like than anything I’ve ever ordered at Lazy Ox. Thankfully, the dish was spot-on: the char from the grill complemented and didn’t overwhelm the sweetness of the cabbage, and the tart flavors we were looking for were there in spades.
A few moments later, the first part of the Fried Chicken Dinner arrived: a simple arugula salad. The bitter greens grounded the lemony vinagrette, and more slices of radish and cheese rounded out the greens.
Not that I’m complaining. The biscuit, perfectly crumbly, somehow simultaneously both rich and light, and likely made with more butter than anything else, was positively decadent. The bacon gravy was singing with the taste of savory and salty porcine goodness. I’m guessing the greens were sauteed with some vinegar as they were pleasantly sour– a necessary foil to the over-the-top richness of the gravy, biscuit, and runny fried egg.
Wow. The crust was simultaneously light, tender, and crispy– just the way I like it. An initial wave of spices gave way to an underlying tang (perhaps from buttermilk?), and my dining companion remarked at how the flavors weren’t muddled by the taste of dirty oil. I’d wager the bird was wet-brined as the breasts were almost too moist (to the point of being slightly spongy) that juice practically erupted out of the bird. By the time I set my first bare bone down on the plate, I was already noshing away on my second piece.
So make the drive down to Lazy Ox Canteen and give the fried chicken a shot. While I can’t definitively say this is the best fried chicken around, it is comfort food that probably will exceed your caloric budget for the week and is worth every bite. It’s only served Tuesday evenings so be sure to plan carefully. And make sure to arrive early, as the chicken is first come first serve. The restaurant opens at 5PM and all the chicken usually sells out by 7PM.