The latest must-try fried chicken spot? Find it inside this Northridge food hall
Jenn Harris this week recommends her new favorite fried chicken, an old gastropub burger and a falafel wrap in Orange County.
Fried chicken and Hainan chicken from Maxwell Chicken Rice
I eat a lot of fried chicken. The first season of my show “The Bucket List” is all about fried chicken — all nine episodes of it — in which I highlight excellent fried chicken around Los Angeles (and even Tokyo!). I recently embarked on a 10-stop fried chicken crawl. I eat the stuff at least a couple of times a week.
My current obsession is the fried chicken from Maxwell Chicken Rice, a stall at the recently opened Northridge Eats in the San Fernando Valley. The compact food hall features exclusively Asian vendors with a Thai restaurant, a Japanese sushi spot and a ramen stall in addition to Maxwell. The north wall is covered in a giant photograph of a hawker center in Singapore.
The specialty at Maxwell Chicken Rice is the Hainan chicken rice, but the restaurant also offers fried chicken as a side or on a plate. Co-owner Shaun Oshita was inspired by the chicken rice at Flock and Fowl in Las Vegas, where he worked prior to opening Maxwell, and by the version at Savoy, the San Gabriel Valley mainstay.
The chicken is served with a mound of rice, a bowl of broth, pickled vegetables and three sauces: sambal, a soy-based sauce and a ginger scallion condiment. The skin is flabby in the way that good Hainan chicken is a cross between rubber and meat jelly. The rice is voluptuous with chicken broth and a rich chicken oil made from frying up the fatty scraps after the chickens are cleaned and clipped. The rice, the chicken and the accompanying broth all deliver a smack of ginger, garlic and shallots. It’s simple but so grand.
The fried chicken arrives scalding. I finished scooping up my entire plate of chicken rice before the fried chicken was safe to handle.
I scraped my fork over the golden shell like I’ve seen countless TikTokers do in videos, offering an audible validation that the skin is superlatively crisp. The rice-flour-based dredge gives the chicken a delicate, brittle skin. It also makes it gluten-free.
This is what I like to call drippy chicken. The juice, pent up under the skin, drips from the meat. It’s not overly complicated or flavored in any particular way. It’s just good fried chicken.
The Office Burger at Father’s Office
Sang Yoon’s cheeseburger is still one of the best burgers in the city. I was reminded of this when I recently stopped in to the Santa Monica location (there’s also a Father’s Office in Culver City and downtown L.A.). It’s still 21 and over, still dark, loud and no ketchup allowed.
And there are still no substitutions. Once, the woman on the bar stool next to me said she had a severe dairy allergy. The bartender frowned, shrugged and politely told her that she could pick off the cheese.
The magic of the Office burger is that it is the opposite of the backyard burgers saturating our city. I love an American cheese choked, ketchup and dill pickle dressed, smashed to oblivion meat patty as much as the next person, but sometimes I want a burger that wasn’t inspired by a fast food chain or the burgers that a family member burned at birthday parties. I want toppings that I don’t already have in my fridge and a bun that doesn’t come with a side of political backlash.
For the uninitiated, the much-touted cheeseburger is made with dry-aged chuck. The patty is fat, coarsely ground, pink in the middle and oozing meat juice. On top of the meat is both Gruyere and Maytag blue, melted into each other to create one pungent glob of dairy. On top of that is a mess of caramelized onion and dry-cured bacon compote that pervades all available crevices, injecting a bit of smoky sweetness into every bite. And on top of that is enough fresh arugula to make a salad. In fact, if you removed all the toppings, they would create a respectable salad.
The burger comes on a soft French roll brushed with garlic butter. It soaks up the meat juice and holds its composure.
“It’s still the No. 1 selling thing at every location,” Yoon said on a recent call. “It’s 22 years old this year.”
This burger has been on best-of lists for decades now. This is simply your reminder to treat yourself to one when you need it.
Falafel wrap from Kareem’s
If I’m anywhere near Anaheim, I make a stop at Kareem’s Falafel for a falafel wrap. Located in the neighborhood known as Little Arabia, it was the first Middle Eastern restaurant in the area. And while Kareem’s now serves everything from “cheezy flat-bread” to feta cheese-sprinkled fries, my order will always include a falafel wrap.
It’s the sort of sandwich I rush through. It’s the way the falafel warms the wrap from the inside, melting the tahini, wilting the lettuce and softening the chopped tomato. It’s the tangy diced pickles and the thin, chewy pita bread that never quite gets soggy.
The Mideast eatery has been on a bumpy road since a family tragedy, but it now seems back on track.
The deep-fried patties are jagged, dark brown spheres with mossy green middles. They are misshapen, chunky in parts and full of ground chickpeas, parsley, cilantro, garlic and onion. The patties are more herbaceous than most and they’ll stay crispy until the end of lunch.
The recipe is from Palestinian immigrants Nesrine Omari and her late husband Mike Hawari, who opened the restaurant in 1996. Now, their children Kareem and Nora run the show.
They sell frozen falafel in a small cooler near the door and at markets in Orange County, if you need a fix at home. They also serve a falafel burger, featuring a hockey-puck version of the falafel. Next time, I’m getting the wrap and the burger.
Eat your way across L.A.
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