Restaurant Review: Popcorn Chicken

Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER
Matt Hong/HIGHLANDER

2.5/5 Stars

For what seemed like a quarter or two, the location of Fatburger in the University Village was replaced with dark emptiness and a single giant poster of a cartoon chicken boasting the words “Popcorn Chicken.” Every time I passed by the location, this mysterious chicken logo made me more and more curious about what would replace the burger shop.

When November finally came around, the once-deserted spot was replaced with a quaint Taiwanese restaurant. The first time I arrived, they were still having their soft-opening special where guests received 20 percent off of their bill. Taking advantage of this promotion, I ordered a fried pork chop with a rice entree and a popcorn chicken appetizer while my friend ordered the scrambled eggs and beef over rice entree, fascinated by the colorful picture of the dish on Yelp.

Looking around, the interior was pretty simple — neat, but drab, with its dark grey wall paint, a mounted television that has yet to work and a random cluster of pipes on the wall that was either left over from Fatburger or made to look artistic.

Their teas are unique; they have hawaii iced tea, genmai green tea and toffee black tea, but their selection isn’t as wide as the other tea shops nearby. We decided to take the waitress’ recommendation and order the Assam black tea and the toffee black tea, which was described as tasting like a mixture of Thai tea and black tea. About 15 minutes passed, and a waiter emerged from the kitchen carrying a popcorn chicken with rice entree. A little confused, I pointed out that I ordered it as an appetizer and instead got the pork chop with rice. They apologized nicely, took away the rice and side dishes, and left the popcorn chicken for us to indulge in first.

The popcorn chicken was honestly the highlight of the meal, and it was expected to be since the restaurant was named after this dish. The chunks of chicken were huge! Or at least much bigger than any other locations’ popcorn chickens. To my excitement, the chicken was delicious and juicy with every bite; none of that dried over-fried chicken you get from a bad batch.

When my pork chops arrived, I noticed that it wasn’t the fried pork chops that I had requested; instead, they had given me the marinated, grilled pork chops, which was fine too, but it just so happened that I was craving fried unhealthy things that day (we all have those days okay) … Either way, I managed to convince myself that I didn’t need any more fried things and settled with the marinated pork chops.

The gravy that drenched the pork chops was savory, and the meat itself was tender enough to be pulled apart using my chopsticks. Along with the entree, I was given a bowl of rice, egg drop soup, bean sprouts and boiled seasoned cabbage, similar to that of Ten Ren’s. The side dishes were average, a little lacking in taste, but they accompanied the entree nicely.

My friend’s scrambled egg and beef dish was a smaller portion than we had anticipated, and a little flavorless, despite the beautiful display. Our teas were decent and just sweet enough without being overwhelming, and when they arrived, the foam from their machine made it seem as if a foamy waterfall was cascading down the sides of the tall glass.

Even though the establishment is new, I have to admit that the service was polite, but slower than expected, and the workers seemed very unfamiliar with customer service. Aside from messing up my order twice and handing us the wrong check, the food was decent, and I would definitely return for the popcorn chicken — which I did.

On my second visit, I decided to order the popcorn chicken and the beef noodle soup, which I’ve heard mixed reviews about. I wanted more of the meaty popcorn chicken and to give the place a second chance by taking my friend’s recommendations. This time around, I ordered the sakura green tea with milk as a drink and my friend ordered the same green tea but with boba instead.

“It tastes … different from what I remember … “ my friend commented on the sakura green tea, which she used to love, “a little more watered down this time.” The floral flavor of the tea was pleasing, similar to jasmine green tea, but a little more delicate tasting and sweet. However, the boba was definitely not up to par. It was flavorless, mushy and felt like it had been sitting in water for a while …

To my friend’s disappointment, I didn’t really like the beef noodle soup. While the beef chunks were tender and flavorful and the noodles weren’t too soft, the soup didn’t reflect the same savory taste of the meat. In fact, I could only taste the flavor of the spicy seasoning and the five leaves of spinach floating around in the soup. Needless to say, the star of the meal was once again the popcorn chicken.

True to the name of the place, the popcorn chicken is truly the go-to item on the menu (although when I ordered it mild-spicy, it tasted like a medium so here’s your warning if your spice tolerance is low). And although the taste of some items are inconsistent, it’s still worth a try if you’re in the area and craving something light to eat.

Yes, I do highly recommend the popcorn chicken.

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