Photo: James Tran
Korean fried chicken: It’s more than finger–licking good. It’s heavenly. After a long day of classes, office hours, and meetings, a combination of perfectly tart radish, soy garlic chicken, and fries might just be a spiritual, out–of–body experience. That first crunch biting into Korean fried chicken is simply magical.
On campus, three Korean restaurants are battling to be the king of the fried chicken hill. Bonchon is the established chain, with franchises spanning across the country. It’s known for its wide variety of dishes and, of course, juicy chicken. Pelicana is a certified Penn classic, even though it's only been open for five years. With late–night hours targeted toward college students, Pelicana is conveniently right across the street from the high rises. CM Chicken is the underdog in this competition, opening recently in 2022. However, its chicken quality and presentation have placed it as a frontrunner in the Korean fried chicken scene.
So, I decided to put these three restaurants to the test—the ultimate Korean fried chicken showdown—to determine a winner worthy of the KFC crown. I judged using a five–category rubric: flavor and seasoning, texture and crispiness, variety of menu, presentation, and service and atmosphere.
CM Chicken presents their two flagship chicken flavors: Tikku soy garlic and snow onion chicken. The Tikku soy garlic is a crispier version of the traditional Korean fried chicken but is exceptionally juicy. Yet, there's a strong charcoal–grilled flavor reminiscent of its thinner–crusted KFC counterparts. The snow onion chicken is also incredibly unique in its presentation, with a bed of caramelized white onions on top of the well–breaded chicken. Although the idea is novel, the flavor profile compared to the Tikku isn't as intense—even erring on the side of blandness. However, the quality of the chicken is still on par with the Tikku and competitors. The cheese fries are definitely stronger than Pelicana’s, but still nothing to write home about. They serve their job as a satisfying complement, but don't provide a “wow factor” like the bulgogi fries at Bonchon.
After thorough review, the underdog CM Chicken narrowly beats out Bonchon and Pelicana for the Korean fried chicken crown. Although the location next to Hill is slightly out of the way for some residents, the emerging KFC joint is definitely worth a try. The quality of the chicken here is undeniable, and the restaurant's dedication to presentation and atmosphere adds to the overall experience. Even the cheese fries, while not exceptional, play their role in enhancing the meal's satisfaction.
So, whether you're seeking creative takes on classic dishes, a consistently satisfying chicken fix, or something entirely different, these three restaurants have something unique to offer. The KFC crown may sit on CM Chicken's head today, but the Korean fried chicken scene is undoubtedly vibrant and one prime for exploration.