Is there a better combination than wings and beer? Well, how about wings, beer and Korean pop music? Skeptical? Well, I confess I had my reservations as well, but at the urging of a few of my wing-loving friends, I decided to go to K-Pop Chicken & Beer, located on the corner of Holly Street and Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham.
Airy and open, K-Pop benefits from huge windows and tall ceilings, noticeably different from the typical wings-and-beer spot. No wall of flat screens here — just portraits and posters of Korean pop stars. Aside from those photos of pastel-clad teen heartthrobs, the restaurant is spartan and sleek. My attentive server placed a menu in front of me, and it was substantially more extensive than expected.
Putting in a representative food order and getting a pint of draft Sapporo, I settled in to wait for my food but was pleasantly surprised by the near instantaneous appearance of it. Going in on a weekday at the tail end of lunch makes this less shocking, but I’m always happy to see a kitchen that can send out food quickly. Arrayed in front of me was a cavalcade of Korean cuisine.
I started with the bulgogi beef bowl ($15.50). Sauteed vegetables and ribeye are served on a bed of short grain rice, dowsed in Korean barbecue sauce, with a perfect fried egg on top. It’s a Korean staple, and one that is done very well. I did regret not adding kimchi to bump up the spice and add some saltiness.
Next up was a corn dog ($6.50). Yes, a corn dog. Utilizing a hefty beef hot dog and a rice flour batter, this dog is sprinkled with granulated sugar after coming out of the deep fry. At the risk of sounding treasonous, this is something our Korean friends have surpassed us handily. The batter retains an incredible crunch throughout, even after sitting for a few minutes, perhaps while you dive into the pièce de résistance.
The fried chicken. Oh, the fried chicken.
To preface this part, I’m not really a chicken wing guy. (Sue me, I don’t like getting sauce all over my hands.) Despite this, I gritted my teeth and ordered a combo — soy ginger and spicy gochujang, both wings and drumsticks ($13.50). They arrived at the table and my reservations about getting my fingers dirty faded. The chicken was visibly crispy, the spicy gochujang a beautiful bright orange-red, and the umami aroma wafting off the soy garlic chicken had me salivating.
That first bite into the soy garlic wing resulted in a crunch that could have set off seismographs. K-Pop makes the claim that a double-frying method renders the fat and results in that additional crispiness. I can attest it works incredibly well.
With “Dinosaur” by AKMU playing over the sound system, I tucked in. The soy garlic glaze was salty-sweet and did not overpower the perfectly juicy chicken in any way. I ate through the rest with gusto. Cleaned bones mounded, I used one of the handy moist towelettes to cleanse my hands to prevent flavor cross-contamination. Despite being a much heavier sauce, the spicy gochujang wings did not suffer from sogginess.
Gochujang, to be frank, knocks buffalo sauce and Sriracha right on their rear ends. The addition of sweetness to the spice makes for a well-balanced heat without the overwhelming saltiness of most hot wings.
Chicken wings and beer is a combination I never really understood until now. I’ve given chances to too many soggy, badly cooked chicken wings to ever go back to them now. I’m a convert to K-Pop — and maybe I’ll try Korean pop music out a bit too.
“Dinosaur, dinosaur” has been stuck in my head for a few days. But therein lies my primary concern with K-Pop: Chicken wings are so closely tied to sports and sports bars that I worry it may be getting passed up by people who require a bunch of flat screens and cheaper wings. But, if you can wrest yourself away from the neon glow of a sports bar, you’ll find something truly special in the chicken at K-Pop.
Visit K-Pop Chicken & Beer from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 8 pm. Sunday at 202 E. Holly St., #101. Info: kpopchickenandbeer.com.