The weather was drizzling and the the air was brittle as it hit my legs. I don’t know who’s genius idea it was to wear shorts yesterday, but it wasn’t a great idea because in a few short minutes my nose was drooling like a faucet. You wonder what the hell I was waiting for in the rain and cold for? Chicken. Johnny Lee’s (wondrous) Hainan Chicken Rice.
I had coincidentally tried his Thai rendition at the Sticky Rice stall at Grand Central Market one weekend and it literally blew my mind. It was probably one of the best Hainan chicken dishes I’ve had in the Los Angeles area given that I live around the San Gabriel Valley this particular recipe is a staple that practically all Chinese restaurant has some version of. But none has ever landed quite the impression that Sticky Rice did. That is, until I found out about the chef behind the chicken genius. Johnny Lee.
I had stumbled across an article by chance written via munchies.vice.com about Johnny’s pop up stall and how he was responsible for the version at Sticky Rice. I excitedly got my plans together to make sure I made it to Chinatown After Dark to get my hands on one of his creations. The stall is located upstairs inside the Far East Plaza on N. Broadway. They have underground garage parking that has 2 hour free validation (pop up stall not included) or you can street park. Monday-Thursday is relatively cheap: $0.50 for one hour so it was only $1.00 for two hours. After 8:00pm, parking is free.
Luckily I got there at 6:00pm, 30 minutes before opening and was able to nab a spot in line in the front. The sun set over the mountains and the sky grew dark. Lantern lights lit up the second floor area in warm light as the line grew to such a tremendous length that I had begun to wonder if they were going to have enough food. To some extent I was correct. While the food was still great and reminiscent of the dish I had at Sticky Rice, the execution and lack of preparation made this experience rather lackluster.
Their original dish consisted a mix of dark and white meat with soup for an additional dollar. The portions looked generous for $7.00 from the first few boxes made and I was excited. Unfortunately, 15-20 minutes in, the food had already diminished because the first five customers had begun to hoard order in large amounts (6-7 boxes at a time) without consideration for the rest of the customers that were shivering in the cold also waiting. Johnny and his crew did admit that they didn’t realize how popular they had become and didn’t expect the crowd. Johnny and crew ended up having to slash the portions and sell “small bowls” for $5.00. We ordered a chicken bowl with soup.
I will still say the chicken bowl was marvelous. The meat was delicately cooked so that it wasn’t dry at all. It was so tender and so juicy while mixing the savory garlic concoction that came with it, it was amazing in flavor. Everything complemented each other so well. I had ended up giving David my rice and he loved every bite of it although both boxes had already turned cold by the time we had shuffled across the street to eat at a bench. Sticky Rice’s soup in my opinion was better as the one they served was a little too gingery for my preference.
Unfortunately because the portions were much smaller, we both finished still hungry. But the trip and the one time experience was still worth trying out. I think I might stick with Sticky Rice location as I don’t have to fight for portions or seats!