Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 41
BBQ Chicken, Cupertino
I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole known as Korean dramas.
Yes, I’m not too big to admit that I’ve joined the legions who are now binging these multi-season dramas that almost always include a pivotal boy-meets-girl storyline, along with copious amounts of craveable Korean food.
After getting indoctrinated with Netflix’s popular “Crash Landing on You” (which I highly recommend), with its many scenes of principle characters chowing down time and again on golden pieces of chicken at BBQ Chicken, I was overjoyed to discover that this Korean fast-casual chain’s only Northern California outpost happens to be in Cupertino, in the 99 Ranch strip mall not far from Apple headquarters . So, of course, I had to try it.
Inexplicably, the name may be BBQ Chicken, but it’s fried chicken that makes up almost its entire menu. Go figure.
You can get just wings. Or drum sticks. Or only boneless pieces. You can get chicken with no sauce or with galbi sauce or done up with honey garlic or even powdered cheese. And you can get it spicy — all the way up to the “Wings of Fire,” which have four chili pepper symbols after it to emphasize its incendiary level.
We went with the Half & Half Whole Chicken ($32.99), which is a combination of Golden Original Chicken and either Secret Spicy or Hot Spicy. Knowing full well how fiery Korean food can be, we went with the tamer Secret Spicy.
The Golden Original is deeply golden, with a very airy, crunchy crust that has a hint of pepper. Both the white and dark meat were juicy, moist, and a pleasure to sink your teeth into. This is BBQ Chicken at its crispiest — with no sauce covering it, and letting the chicken speak for itself. It stays plenty crisp in transport, too.
The Secret Spicy version coats the fried chicken in a sticky, thick, sweet and tangy sauce that’s mildly spicy, just enough to warm the throat ever so. The sauce is so addictive, you can’t help but reach for another piece after demolishing the first.
Sides include Rose Ddeok Bokki ($13.99), a tub of those chewy Korean rice cylinders with slices of fish cake in a creamy gochujang-infused sauce. This was the spiciest of the dishes we ordered, but definitely doable, so don’t let that scare you off. You can get it with cheese for an additional $2. I highly recommend that option because the gooey cheese makes this like a Korean version of mac ‘n’ cheese. I’m not sure why it’s called “rose.” Some speculate it refers to the color being like the flower. But in actuality, this dish is more orange than red. Go figure.
The kimchi fried rice ($14.99) has pieces of cabbage kimchi tossed with soft, slightly clumpy grains of rice, all in a savory and moderately spicy sauce, then topped with a sunny side-up egg.
Pickled daikon radish comes with the chicken, though you can add extra for $1 more. Pert, crunchy, and slightly sweet, it acts like a nice palate cleanser between bites.
Pro Tip: BBQ Chicken stocks plenty of sodas and soju in its refrigerator case. While there’s an assortment of canned and bottled beer, too, there aren’t any Korean brands, surprisingly. So, plan accordingly and stop in at one of the many nearby Korean markets on the Sunnyvale-Santa Clara border, to pick up a Korean beer such as Cass Fresh Beer, a light and refreshing South Korean lager, to make the experience complete.
El Salchichero, Santa Cruz
El Salchichero on Santa Cruz’s Westside is the type of stand-alone, artisanal butcher shop that you rarely see these days — and wish every town was lucky enough to have.
Owner Chris LaVeque opened it 2010, after stints interning and working at area restaurants, including Los Gatos’ Michelin three-starred Manresa, before catching the butchering bug.
“El Salchichero” is Spanish for “pork butcher” or “sausage maker,” and both fit this place perfectly.
Pork and sausage are indeed front and center in the display case, along with whole chickens, tri-tip, skirt steak, and duck liver pate. There’s even char siu, Wagyu bresola, and apple cider bacon. And for your four-legged friends, dog bones loaded with marrow. All of it comes from pasture-raised animals sourced locally. The meat is all hand-cut, in-house, too.
In fact, when I asked for some Llano Seco pork chops, one of my favorite heritage pork producers, one of the butchers cut two neat chops ($11 to $12 each) for me right then and there, leaving a perfect rim of fat on each, and even Frenching the bones. How cool is that?
The sausages are made in-house, and they are fabulous. El Salchichero rotates in varieties reflecting the seasons. In early spring, that may mean sausages with nettles. At the height of summer, that might mean ones incorporating stone fruit like peaches.
They are sold in packs of three. The Szechuan sausages ($11.89) are made of pork, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, rice wine, and chilies. They are juicy, snappy, and have a moderate amount of heat.
The Mushroom and Garlic sausages ($12.03) are pork-based with roasted garlic and a good amount of diced brown mushrooms in the mix, lending an earthy and very meaty taste.
One very unique item I picked up was the candy cap lardo ($8.48). Yes, pork fat cured with the incredible mushroom that tastes of maple syrup. I can’t wait to lay the thin slices over just-out-of-the-oven, home-made pizza.
Pro Tip: If you’re hunting for everyone’s favorite Rancho Gordo beans, El Salchichero has shelves of them to choose from.
Not out on display, but kept in the refrigerators behind the counter, the house-made mustards are worth seeking out. I purchased a jar of the cherry mostarda ($12.75), tinged pink, grainy, and full of piquant sharpness that’s mellowed a bit by the sweetness of the zesty fruit. It’s the perfect accompaniment to any of the sausages or your favorite salumi or pate.