Momofuku founder’s new fried chicken concept raises the bar for fast food

By Angela Matano

Fuku 1315 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica | thesocialeats.com

Fuku keeps it simple with fried chicken sandwiches, chicken fingers and interesting sides
Photo by Andrew Bezek

Eighties mall culture stipulated sprawling food courts studded with chain fast-food stands like Hot Dog on a Stick and Orange Julius. The Gallery Food Hall on Third Street Promenade takes that concept and modernizes it — filling the space with fast-service but high-concept food counters such as Social Eats, billed as “a food discovery platform in real life.”

The latest addition to the space is Chef David Chang’s Fuku. Chang has had worldwide success with his Momofuku restaurant empire, including Noodle Bar, which focuses on ramen among other Asian-inspired dishes. Fuku puts the spotlight on fried chicken.

Fuku’s menu is small by design, showcasing the chicken in three ways: a spicy fried chicken (dark meat) sandwich, a finger sandwich (white meat), or fingers on their own, like grown-up chicken tenders. The best of the three is the fingers, made sweet and spicy for an extra buck. The sauce on the white meat is smack-your-lips perfection. There is also a secret, off-the-menu cold fried chicken leg that is extremely spicy, and, if that’s your bag, you will feel extremely cool ordering it and eating it.

Another way in which Fuku raises the bar on so-called fast food is by serving original sides. For those seeking a potato fix there are waffle fries, dusted with a sweet jalapeño seasoning; otherwise, try going with a green vegetable. The snow peas come with crunchy radish, horseradish and wasabi peas for a little kick, and the green beans give a nod to Chinese food with chili, garlic and scallions. The veggies come perfectly cooked, toothsome in their firmness.

A restaurant in Chang’s world would not be complete without something sweet, and Fuku rises to the challenge. There’s a strawberry lemonade slushie that kids will adore, but the star is cheesecake with graham cracker crust and seasonal fruit. For the one I tasted, raspberries decorated the gooey filling, making it almost reminiscent of a parfait.

While the eighties won’t be coming back anytime soon, The Gallery Food Hall’s reimagining of a food court may signal the way of the future — it takes fewer resources to open a food stall than
a standalone brick-and-mortar restaurant, so food courts can be an exciting incubator for new culinary concepts.

Speaking of which, SocialEats has five additional food stalls sharing space in The Galley with Fuku. One serves Japanese bento boxes; another features yummy Asian night market noodles. There’s also a Spanish tapas and wine bar — alcohol in a food court? How modern! — and an interesting Australian coffee bar serving bread with Vegemite and Kalamata olive spreads.

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