Is the Fuku Chicken Sandwich Really Worth the Hype? Or Even the Trip to Manhattan?

Fuku Chicken Sandwich photo by Sarah Zorn

Maybe it’s a New York thing, but our enjoyment of food tends to diminish exponentially for each five minutes that we have to wait for it. And then, also, maybe it’s just us, but we’ve never comprehended the mania surrounding Momofuku to begin with; there’s scores of places we’d sooner go for ramen noodles or pork buns, salty cookies or achingly sweet pie.

Which is why we were all too happy to sit out the opening days of Fuku—David Chang’s feverishly buzzed about chicken sandwich shop—which has excited up-to-the-minute reports about the proportion of spice in its breading, as well as Cronut-level intensity in its hooky-playing patrons, who have been spending the better part of their work day on line. But even though our coverage doesn’t often extend out of Brooklyn (save for momentous, borough-blurring events, like Easy Bake Oven’s 50th Anniversary), sheer curiosity eventually got the best of us—our inclination towards faintly judgmental rubbernecking perhaps being a New York thing as well.

And are we ever glad we waited, because—10 days in now—it appears that the hype about the hype surrounding Fuku has been, well, kind of overhyped. In fact, we wandered past the entrance three times, being that we were looking for that mythical, East Village encompassing line, not an actual address. But on Wednesday at 2:30pm (not peak time, perhaps, although food fad migrants don’t necessarily operate within established lunch hours), all sandwich-related activity was comfortably contained inside, and expediently managed by a well-oiled Fuku crew.

For maximum efficiency, it all goes down Soup Nazi style—have your full order, cocktails included, at the ready (no special requests, no substitutions), hand over your card (they’re not currently accepting cash), step swiftly to the right with your designated number, and stake out some (standing-only) counter space. Which is to say, this isn’t a spot for drinking, noshing and gabbing with your nearest and dearest friends; Fuku favors mind-on-the-prize solo diners, committed to the down and dirty business of decimating chicken sandwiches.

And again, we waited about as long for those sandwiches as we generally wait for our gravied beef at Roll n’ Roaster (the original “Not-So-Fast-Fast Food Restaurant”) and while you can’t have cheez on anything you pleez at Fuku, you can certainly have ssam sauce. Goodness knows there’s plenty of squirtable surface area available on the craterous crags of massive pounded thigh, which supersede their steamy, wrinkled Martin’s potato buns by more than half. And a few words about those buns: Slicked with a fermented chickpea-infused compound butter, and padded with a few stray pickle slices, they’re basically a means for grasping onto your chicken, without getting smothered in grease. But it’s not that sugar-forward condiments are any more essential than bread in Fuku’s world; the chicken—coated in buttermilk, dunked in a spice blend, but marinated first in habanero puree, which lends a thrilling back note of smoky, muffled heat to the whole affair—is the star here. A duo of sides is such an afterthought—flabby steak fries and pre-packaged faro salad, bizarrely studded with canned mandarin oranges—that they seem solely designed to steer you right back towards the sandwiches, perhaps the “off-menu” Koreano—although you decide if it’s really worth spending an extra dollar (up from $8) for a nest of daikon radish.

So if, like us, you’d given Fuku a wide berth, don’t trust the hype as far as lines are concerned. But if you happen to be in the East Village during or around lunch hour, you can believe everything you’ve read about those legit chicken sandwiches.

163 1st Avenue, East Village

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