- Alex Springer
Nearly all of the major international culinary cultures have a variation of fried chicken. And I like to think that if we can all agree that it is deeply satisfying, then we can reach a similar consensus on other important truths. With world peace in mind, I visited Chickqueen (3390 S. State, 385-229-4290) to see what bridged the gap between American and Korean fried chicken styles. Like most attempts to reach across borders—or oceans—it turns out there are more similarities than differences.
Chickqueen is a relatively new addition to the Chinatown Supermarket complex in South Salt Lake, rubbing elbows with some of the finest East Asian cuisine in the state. Born amid some well-established eateries, its sparse menu that emphasizes a combination of fresh fried chicken and various sauces has carved its own culinary niche among some of our heaviest hitters. Chickqueen bet big on its fried chicken, and it that seems to have paid off. You can tell by just looking at the gorgeous murals of this cozy fast-casual establishment that it's not afraid to go big or go home.
The menu offers bone-in chicken wings and boneless, popcorn-style nuggets, and both variations have the same sauce options. I stuck to the boneless side of the menu, which lets diners choose small ($7.99), medium ($13.99) or large ($19.99) portions. Each gets doused with a flavored glaze and complementary toppings—the honey garlic is a popular option, but I liked the spicy preparation best. Those wanting a plant-based meal can get fried cauliflower ($7.99) or fried tofu ($6.99) with the same sauce options, so there's no reason to avoid Chickqueen if you're eating vegan.
A small order is plenty for one person, but I could see upgrading to a medium if you were particularly famished. Although a plate of fried chicken has its own aesthetic charm, the presentation at Chickqueen caught me off guard. The spicy glaze coats the crenulated texture, causing the light to glitter on the sticky surface. It gets a dash of vibrant green from the chopped scallions and thin slices of jalapeño peppers sprinkled on top, and sesame seeds complete the picture. The spicy glaze has a sweet kick, but anyone who has a high tolerance for spicy food will probably consider them somewhere in the middle of the heat spectrum. The flavors are spot on, and Chickqueen is very liberal with its sauces—those who don't like to ignite their tongues can choose the honey glaze or even the sweet soy.
While fried chicken should be the priority of any visit to Chickqueen, I also recommend their tteokbokki ($12.99, pictured). It's a traditional Korean stew made with pleasantly chewy rice cakes, thinly sliced fish cakes, cabbage, carrots and a hard-boiled egg prepared in a spicy crimson broth. I've never regretted making room for it at the table. Chickqueen personnel bring a portable stove to the table to keep the broth roiling and bubbly throughout the meal, and the process of scooping portions into your own dish make it perfect for a group outing. They've also added a liberal dose of noodles to the mix, which can be difficult to extricate—they're as slippery as true love.
Although Chickqueen might not have the variety of other Korean restaurants, it's got a clear vision for what it wants to be—and that goes a long way. Chickqueen has the versatility to be a destination for someone seeking large amounts of soulful fried chicken slathered in unique and flavorful glazes or a quick bite for those heading into the Chinatown Supermarket. Their small, close-knit operation is working wonders. For those interested in seeing how fried chicken can span culinary boundaries and unite seemingly disparate cultures, they'll be satisfied with their visit.
I left Chickqueen thinking about how fried chicken doesn't change much from culture to culture. Outside of some spices and battering techniques, it's something that has found its way into most people's heart regardless of their locale. The preparation lends itself to a ton of variety, but that's what makes it so accessible—through the different glazes, condiments and flavor profiles, the foundation is always there. In a world that defines itself by conflict and uncertainty, it's nice to find anything as constant as fried chicken.