I tend to think my tolerance for spice can withstand most restaurants’ ideas of spicy, but my recent visit to Bonchon is one that had me beat.
Bonchon, Korean for ‘hometown,’ is a franchise known for their fried chicken and Korean eats, and they joined the stellar lineup of restaurants on our own Granby Street last December.
During my first visit to Bonchon in Norfolk—or any Bonchon, for that matter—my eating sidekick (or husband) accompanied me, and we got to work.
First things first—the beverages. Among the usual suspects, you’ll also find craft beer, Asian beer like Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban, which can be ordered by the glass or pitcher, cocktails and sake. Here’s a tip: You can order sake by the glass even though the menu doesn’t specify.
Before we dive in, when ordering an item ‘spicy,’ you’re submitting to a heat that builds and lingers. The heat comes from the beloved pepper paste gochujang, a deep red—and hot—ingredient commonly used in Korean dishes. The bottom line is this: Gochujang is not for the faint of heart.
The menu is fairly lengthy, so we consulted the waitress’s recommendations for the most popular items. Full disclosure: I wouldn’t normally order this much food to be shared between two; it was all for you, reader.
First, the potstickers ($9.95). You can order them with spicy sauce, soy garlic or a combination of the two, half and half. We chose half and half. Were they crispy? Yes. The most flavorful potsticker I’ve had? Not so much. I recommend saving room for the remainder of the menu.
Next was the bulgogi ($16.95). Bulgogi is essentially a sweetened beef dish served with vegetables, steamed rice and either rice or pickled radishes. The bulgogi was tangy, sweet and tender, though I’m not convinced it measures up to the price tag.
Now onto the highlight of the eating marathon—the fried chicken. At Bonchon, their fried chicken is treated like royalty. In fact, each piece of chicken, whether you order the wings, strips, drums or a combo, is made-to-order, double deep-fried, then hand-painted with the sauce of your choice—soy garlic, spicy or half and half of each. Needless to say, an order of fried chicken will take around 30 minutes, but it’s worth the wait. We went with a small, 10-piece order of half and half wings ($12.95), which came with a side of rice.
The wings were undoubtedly paper-thin crispy, crunchy, succulent, even sweet. Once the gochujang heat began to settle, we concluded that the soy garlic sauce is certainly a crowd pleaser; it’s mild, yet packs a complex, satisfying flavor. The side of rice was used as a sort of palate cleanser between the two.
Other side items we tried were the kimchi ($3), which wasn’t the freshest and tasted like it needed more pickling time. The seasoned fries ($6.95) with parsley flakes and parmesan were surprisingly tasty, especially when dipped in their spicy mayo. If you’re avoiding fried food altogether, they have bibimbap and Korean tacos as well as a variety of vegetarian options like salads and udon noodle soup.
The Verdict: Go here for the fried chicken. Order ’em spicy if you’re brave. And get the fries if you need extra sustenance.
Bonchon is located at 273 Granby St., Norfolk. 757-383-6915.