Angry Chicken’s soft opening on December 6, 2017, was hugely anticipated by the neighborhood — so much so that the restaurant ran out of chicken after just five hours. “We didn’t expect the first day to be so busy,” says John Kim, owner of the first Korean-based Angry Chicken franchise in Colorado.
“No other franchisee has had such an incredibly crowded opening," Kim adds, explaining that the company's dedication to freshness meant the kitchen didn't have reserve supplies to get through the rush. "We buy our chicken from our local supplier. It’s marinated, then used immediately; we never freeze our chicken. We want it to be as fresh-tasting as possible, so our focus has been on quality.”
Indeed, in the corner of every picture on the menu, the words "fresh chicken" appear. “Now that our quality has met our expectations, we can focus on quantity," Kim continues. "It’s been a learning experience, and we’ve definitely increased our volume since we’ve opened our doors. We now know we can safely buy more without a lot of waste.”
I was pleased that a chicken shortage was not a problem when I visited just a few days after the eatery’s opening.
The fried-chicken restaurant in Korea that started it all was originally named Ssal Chicken; "ssal" is the Korean word for rice in its uncooked state. A sign on the front of the restaurant displays the original name, but Kim intends on making a larger sign to display on the busy Havana side of the restaurant that will bear the official name Angry Chicken. “We wanted to keep the name ‘Rice Chicken’ for our Korean guests who recognize the name from back home, but we formally go by the name 'Angry Chicken,'” the owner explains.
"Angry" is an apt word to describe the spicy flavor of the chicken. The making of the final product at Angry Chicken is a painstaking process: once the chicken is brought in, it is immediately marinated in a blend of proprietary sauces and spices for 24 hours before being eligible for the fryer. “The startup chef came to train our kitchen staff on making the marinades and sauces,” Kim notes. “He was very particular [and] made sure our chefs were accurate with the recipes, right down to the ounce.”
Once the franchisee is sure the chefs are re-creating the Korean specialty correctly, owners are free to add whatever side dishes and additional mains they wish to serve. With a Rice Chicken restaurant in California and two in Texas, the added leeway with the food and name allows the eatery to stand out as its own entity — as long as the chicken is traditionally made. It’s the marinade that actually gives the chicken its spicy kick, not the rice-flour coating or the sauces (though the sauces can certainly turn up the heat intensity). The chicken is not battered and fried until after the customer puts in an order. The process takes about 15-20 minutes, so plan to visit when you’re not in a rush.
Great news for all you gluten-free folks: This fried chicken is an excellent GF option. As long as you order the plain fried chicken (the sauces contain gluten) and you don’t mind a bit of spice, you’re free to sink your teeth into bite after crispy bite without worry. There's also an oven-roasted chicken for the health-conscious. The menu offers fried chicken in plain, green onion, cheese, sweet-and-spicy, honey garlic and soy-sauce varieties, with boneless and bone-in options in both the fried and oven-roasted versions.
Side dishes are minimal; you'll get a small bowl of Chex Mix upon arrival, and two-bite cups of corn salad, coleslaw and diced daikon come free with a meal. French fries are currently the only extra accompaniment offered, but the eatery plans to increase its repertoire with an assortment of salads, veggies and mashed potatoes in a month or so.
The highlight of this Korean specialty is that the rice-flour coating doesn’t trap oil the way wheat-flour breading does during the frying process, according to Kim. The result is a crispy outer coating that looks just like the Colonel’s and a juicy, glistening piece of meat on the inside without slicks of grease on your plate and hands. Despite its relatively grease-free nature, you'll still go through plenty of napkins, since the sticky, viscous sauces present a messy situation. In fact, I had to wet a few napkins to help remove the bits of paper that adhered to my hands after eating the sweet-and-spicy bone-in chicken, wishing I’d packed my Mom bag with wet naps. Nonetheless, this didn’t prevent my dining companions and me from devouring four platefuls of chicken.
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The atmosphere at Angry Chicken is an experience in itself. The walls are adorned with a Tetris-like arrangement of small wooden blocks throughout the dining area. Couple that with a busy-yet-sleek glass tiling job, neon lighting, a huge bar area and loud pop music, and you’ve got a hip place to eat chicken and catch a buzz. “At around 9 p.m., we turn down the lights and turn up the music so that the restaurant can have more of a bar feel,” says Kim.
Angry Chicken is at 1930 South Havana Street in Aurora and is open from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. If you want Korean fried chicken for lunch, you can do that on Sundays, when the shop is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The owner notes that he'll be opening for lunch during the week in about a month and will also soon offer a happy-hour menu from 3 to 6 p.m. that will include a beer-and-chicken combo for $2 off the regular price. Angry Chicken fits right in with the diverse restaurant scene on Havana and shows promise as a worthwhile place to grab some Korean fried chicken and enjoy some soju or beer. Just don’t forget the wet naps.