Dinah’s vs. Pann’s — which will rule the roost?

By Richard Foss (richard@richardfoss.com)

Fried chicken is an art form at Pann’s (left plate) and Dinah’s

Fried chicken is an art form at Pann’s (left plate) and Dinah’s

I can imagine a conversation between two people who are fans of a certain Southern delicacy:

“Let’s go to that place in Westchester that is famous for fried chicken.”

“Which one?”

“You know, the one that has been there since the ‘50s and still has the Mid-Century architecture and neon.”

“Which one?”

“The one by the corner at Centinela.”

“Which one?”

As surprising as it may seem, there are indeed two restaurants that fit each of those parameters. Pann’s Restaurant opened in 1958, Dinah’s Family Restaurant in 1959. And though both have wide-ranging menus, on any given evening you will see lots of diners with plates of fried chicken.

As a dedicated fan of breaded bird, I decided a smackdown was in order.

First, let’s look at Pann’s. It’s always the 1950s inside the goofy looking building at the corner of La Tijera and Centinela, and Doo-Wop and jangling guitars alternate at moderate volume. The restaurant is spotlessly clean, and the staff seems to take pride in the place.

The half-chicken dinner includes your choice of two sides and either biscuits or cornbread, and you can get soup or a dinner salad for two bucks extra. I usually get a salad with the house-made blue cheese dressing, cornbread and sides of collard greens and a baked potato or roasted yams. As those sides will tell you, there’s a distinct Southern influence on the menu here.

You will have a while to enjoy that soup or salad, because the chicken is breaded and fried
to order. It arrives too hot to eat, so I usually put it on top of a napkin to catch any stray grease while I do some serious damage to my side items. The wing and leg cool fastest, so I get every bit of meat off those before turning to the thigh. The breast sometimes comes home for the next day’s lunch.

The breading on the chicken is slightly crisp, and it has a dash of pepper and herbs that add interest. The batter isn’t as crunchy as the version served at Honey’s Kettle in Culver City, another vital outpost for fried chicken fanatics, but it is less oily and more flavorful.

A half chicken here runs $14.88 including tax and smaller portions are available, making this one of the rare places where you can get a great full meal for less than $20. But bring along a few bucks more, because these servers are nice and deserve the tips.

And now to Dinah’s. The interior has been updated slightly but still has novelty touches, including light fixtures that look like flying saucers landing. The staff is generally younger and more businesslike, and as a consequence service is quick.

Here the fried chicken is available with or without the skin and is served with a choice of two sides from a list that’s more coffee shop than Southern. I’d recommend the baked potato or rice pilaf and either creamed or fresh spinach; a biscuit and slice of banana bread automatically come with the meal. Soup or salad is extra, and I recommend the chicken gumbo with okra — it isn’t highly spiced but has character.

On my recent visit I was only partway through the bowl of soup when the chicken arrived — it had obviously not been made to order. The skin wasn’t crisp and it was slightly oiler than the chicken at Pann’s, though the batter did have a bit more spiciness. I had asked for dark meat and got a leg, wing and breast (and yes, a breast isn’t dark meat, but it was still good). The biscuit was doughy rather than flaky and not to my liking, the banana bread flavorful but dense.

A chicken dinner at Dinah’s runs $16.50, and it’s five bucks extra for soup or a salad. They offer all-you-can-eat specials for $14 on Mondays and Thursdays, so if you want to see how much chicken a human stomach can hold those are the nights to stop in. They go through a lot of it on those nights, so it’s more likely to be hot from the fryer rather than the heat lamp.

My verdict?

If you have some time and like your fried chicken fresh from the fryer, go to Pann’s; but if you’re on a quick break, Dinah’s is a reliable choice.

Both are havens for those who enjoy classic dining on a budget, and both seem likely to stick around for another five decades.

What’s your verdict? Email letters@argonautnews.com to tell us which you think is better. Don’t be shy about what makes you a fried chicken expert and how you’ve paid your chicken-tasting dues!

Dinah’s Family Restaurant 6521 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Westchester (310) 645-0456 dinahsrestaurant.com

Pann’s Restaurant 6710 La Tijera Blvd., Westchester (323) 776-3770 panns.com