This past summer, my friend Dawn and I made plans to get together for dinner to catch up with each other. We no longer worked out together at the gym every morning because she was pregnant. Pregnant and pink. Evidently, pregnancy wasn’t enough of a life transformation. She colored her hair pink soon after discovering she was with child. Don’t ask me why.
She’d been a bit down. Her physical activities had been severely curtailed, and I realized she needed a less demanding diversion to look forward to—but what could we do? There certainly wasn’t going to be any drinking, and dancing would just be embarrassing.
What she could still do—and thoroughly enjoy—was eat. So we met for dinner at , and while looking over the menu, I spotted a fried chicken entrée and called out, “Dibs on the fried chicken!” Dawn didn't care about dibs, and she announced she was ordering it, too.
Fried chicken. To me, those are two of the most beautiful words in the English language. I’ve been a fried chicken aficionado for several decades, and while some people consider me a foodie, it’s the one dish I take seriously.
I have one rule when it comes to fried chicken: it must have bones. Without bones, it’s just a breaded chicken cutlet. Don’t tell me you’re cooking fried chicken and then dish out a chicken cutlet—I might hurt you.
Back to HT Grill. I asked the server if the chicken had bones, and she replied that it did, so we ordered it. Traditional mashed potatoes and sweet corn with red peppers accompanied the chicken. Fried to perfection with a light, crunchy coating, it was delicious—a little slice of heaven marinated in buttermilk and fried in bacon grease.
Sitting there, gnawing on a chicken bone, I had a light-bulb moment. This was something we could do together while Dawn gestated! So that night, Dawn and I decided to embark on a quest for the best fried chicken in the South Bay.
I am a sucker for fried chicken. I’ve tried dozens of recipes and techniques over the years and still can’t pass up a magazine featuring fried chicken on the cover.
I only cook fried chicken once a year, usually on the Fourth of July. Why only once a year? I use lard and a dollop of bacon grease for flavor. You don’t see lard thrown around much these days—it’s gotten a bad rap the last few decades. I’m sure you can feel your arteries hardening as you read this, but just because I don’t cook fried chicken often, doesn’t mean I don’t eat it every chance I get. My rule of thumb—if you don’t cook it, it doesn’t count.
I never realized how repelled people are by lard until about 10 years ago. We had a house full of friends staying with us for the Fourth of July, and spotting the container in the kitchen, someone eventually asked, “What’s that?” Apparently, Lard is not just ostracized—it’s unrecognizable. When I explained it was lard, they fled as if I were wielding an automatic weapon. I ate a lot of fried chicken over the next few days.
Besides using lard, there are several ways to cook it: skillet fried, deep fried, cast-iron pan cooked and the ever-popular healthy alternative, oven baked—which, by the way, just doesn’t cut it.
Ingredients run the gamut. The coating is typically flour, cornmeal or bread-crumb based. Hot sauce and chili peppers are the two most popular spices. Then there is marinating—buttermilk, saltwater bath or injection—and the all-important choice of frying oil—canola, vegetable, lard, bacon grease. The possibilities are endless.
After sending out word of our latest mission, the fried chicken recommendations poured in. Unfortunately, even though I specified the South Bay as my area of interest, people sent suggestions from all over California and points east, with several people inviting us to their homes. Only three of the recommendations were located in the South Bay.
Our first stop was Flossie’s, located in a strip mall on the corner of Redondo Beach Boulevard and Yukon Avenue in Torrance. Dawn, in all her pinkness, met me there for lunch, and we came prepared, arriving hungry.
Flossie’s is a small eatery with fewer than a dozen tables that were all empty when we arrived at 1 p.m. We looked over the menu which consisted of the following: baked chicken, barbecue chicken, fried chicken, fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried red snapper and meatloaf. We both ordered the fried chicken lunch special—two pieces of chicken, two sides and cornbread for $7.99.
While we waited for our order, Flossie’s did a brisk take-out business. It seems everyone eats on the run these days, so we had the place to ourselves and had an opportunity to speak with Tara, the woman working the counter. Her grandmother, Flossie Vence, started the business with her own recipes. Tara wouldn’t dish out any family secrets, but she did tell us they used canola oil and changed the oil every day.
Our meals arrived and Dawn, always hungry, dove right in. The coating was lightly spiced, golden and crunchy and adhered to the chicken exactly as it should. I could barely believe it was fried; there wasn’t a trace of grease. It was incredible! Clearly, Flossie knows fried chicken. If I lived any closer, I’d be ordering take-out at an alarming rate.
I had heard recently added fried chicken to their menu, so Dawn and I strolled along the Strand to the Hermosa location for lunch one Thursday afternoon. We couldn’t find fried chicken on the menu, and when we asked our server, he explained only the Redondo Beach and El Segundo locations served it, so we jumped in the car and headed to El Segundo.
We spotted the “Secret Recipe” fried chicken on the menu right away, but Dawn noticed it was only served after 5 p.m. Who knew finding fried chicken would be this challenging? We asked the server if it would be at all possible to order it for lunch, and within seconds, she returned and said they could do it. Whew!
The order consisted of four small pieces; leg, wing and thighs, and with the sides it was filling enough. The first thing I examined was the coating. It was pretty greasy, thin—almost non-existent—and more brown than golden. While I found it very flavorful, Dawn wasn’t crazy about it. As mentioned, it’s a new menu item, and they might still be experimenting with it.
We were still coming up short on places serving fried chicken, and we discussed this scarcity at length.
After careful scholarly contemplation, we decided that if you didn’t grow up eating fried chicken, you have no idea what you’re missing and as a result, never crave it. Fried chicken is a regional dish. If you were raised in the South, you eat fried chicken.
We eventually concluded there’s a perfectly logical explanation why fried chicken is not in high demand in Southern California: chicken skin.
The fact is, you can’t make fried chicken without chicken skin, and as every health-conscious Californian knows, chicken skin is an abomination. Chicken skin contains fat, and fat is anathema to the Southern Californian lifestyle. Let’s face it—California will never be a fried chicken Mecca. If there was great fried chicken out there, it was up to us to locate it.
We heard that Paul Martin’s American Bistro served fried chicken. I checked the menu online, and sure enough, they served a three-course fried chicken dinner on Monday nights. I was with Dawn when I called to confirm they only offered fried chicken on Monday night. This was a problem for me—I have a class on Monday night.
As luck would have it, the following week my class was cancelled, so that night we found ourselves at Paul Martin’s.
While waiting for the server, we perused the menu. I almost had a heart attack when I spotted the Sunday night fried chicken dinner special! I was told—and I had a witness—that they served fried chicken on Mondays. This was getting ridiculous.
I spoke to the server at length, and he mentioned they had a fried chicken appetizer on the regular menu every night. I asked, “Is it cooked the same as the Sunday night special?” He said it was. We ordered two fried chicken appetizers.
They arrived in a cone on top of skinny fries with a side of ketchup and looked appetizing, but with my first bite, I knew something was terribly wrong. I made a face; Dawn asked, “What?”
“This tastes weird,” I said. “Sometimes these free-range chickens can taste gamey. Does this taste gamey to you?”
She took another bite and announced, “This may be the best chicken I’ve ever had, but it’s not fried chicken. There aren’t any bones. It’s the best chicken nugget I’ve ever had. This is a fancy chicken nugget.” She was right, no bones. Oh. My. God.
Dawn fully expected me to tackle our waiter and was prepared to execute a full body block; however, I was stuck on the strange flavor. After much sniffing and tasting, I realized it wasn’t the chicken that tasted odd, but a spice in the coating. I asked Dawn what she tasted.
“It tastes like an Indian spice—curry or cumin, something like that,” she replied.
Indian spices in fried chicken?! That couldn’t be right. Maybe all those hormones were wreaking havoc on her taste buds. I couldn’t eat another bite; I was terribly disappointed. Dawn loved it and finished it off.
I later called Paul Martin’s and spoke with someone in the kitchen. I inquired as to the distinctive flavor of the fried chicken and was told it was lavender. Lavender? The fall of Rome came to mind.
Fortunately, they’ve removed the fried chicken appetizer from the menu.
Our next stop was in Redondo. I was told they make fried chicken Wednesday nights so Dawn and I made plans for the following week. Considering our track record thus far, I made a point to call on Tuesday to confirm. Wouldn’t you know it? They only make fried chicken every other Wednesday night!
If fried chicken isn’t already on the endangered species list, it should be.
So I scrambled between the phone and Internet for over an hour looking for someplace that served fried chicken. No luck. I called Dawn to cancel our dinner plans, but she’d heard on Aviation Boulevard in Hermosa Beach served it. So off we went. We sat down, looked at the menu and saw no fried chicken, just chicken strips. The server told us served it; we informed her that Rocky Cola closed weeks ago.
We ended up at in the food court; it should go without saying I didn’t have high hopes. After two pieces of excessively salty fried chicken, macaroni salad, a stale roll and an emergency trip to the Nordstrom restroom, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Dawn couldn’t join me the next day at Hermosa Beach’s , which only serves fried chicken on Thursday nights. This was a real shame because, in my opinion, this was the best fried chicken so far.
I queried the manager at length; he couldn’t have been more obliging. He explained that they marinate the chicken in buttermilk, bake it to keep it moist, and finally, fry it in a mixture of cornmeal and secret Creole spices. He brought out the spice mix and I took a sniff. There was so much going on I couldn’t tell you what was in it, but it was good.
The dish was a mound of food—a half chicken (four pieces), mashed potatoes, collard greens and gravy for $11.95. The chicken was fried perfectly, and the coating was as crispy as the meat was moist—very flavorful and no grease to speak of.
Of course, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. Café Boogaloo serves fried chicken on Thursday nights, but it’s not on the menu. It’s a local secret served only by request. Is it any wonder we were having such a hard time finding it?
We finally made it to Charlie’s Italian the following week. I called on Tuesday to confirm it was fried chicken Wednesday. I was still wary when we were seated, so before the server could take our drink order, I asked about the fried chicken and breathed a sigh of relief when she confirmed that, yes, they were serving it that night.
The serving was a half chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and a mixture of corn, bell peppers and green beans. The chicken was moist and the coating was lightly crisped, golden and peppery. Pepper has heat but lacks the depth of flavor you get from chilies. Nevertheless, it was a very tasty, satisfying meal.
Our final stop was LA Food Show in the Manhattan Village mall. Dawn immediately called when she saw the menu and breathlessly told me they offered two fried chicken entrees! Our reaction was such that you’d think we’d hit the mega jackpot in Vegas.
Both entrees consisted of a half chicken—one served with waffles, the other with mashed potatoes and peas. The mashed potatoes were made with buttermilk and insanely delicious.
The fried chicken’s coating was golden, not greasy and adhered perfectly, but it wasn’t crispy. The chicken itself was extremely moist but much too salty.
Unfortunately, fried chicken remains elusive in the South Bay. As of mid-January, HT Grill no longer served the dish on its regular menu—and a fried chicken appetizer is nowhere to be found on Paul Martin’s.
Here’s the thing: fried chicken is a traditional American comfort food. While there are innumerable variations with regard to ingredients and cooking techniques, there are standards. It must be fried; it must be crispy on the outside and moist on the inside; it must have bones; it must have heat; and it must taste like chicken. Any ingredient that overwhelms the chicken flavor does a disservice to this classic dish, while removing the bones takes all the “comfort” out of a favorite comfort food.
Now that Dawn and I have done all the footwork, let us know which version is your favorite. By all means, if you’re aware of any other establishments in the South Bay keeping their fried chicken a secret, please let us in on it.
, 1238 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach; 310-318-2324
Only served on Thursday night and it’s not on the menu so you must ask for it. A classic southern version coated in cornmeal and Creole spices. If you like a thick, crunchy coating, this is for you. Mouth watering.
, 601 N. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach; 310-374-8581
Only served every other Wednesday, so call before you go. It’s not on the menu and the server may not mention it so you must ask for it. A lighter coating than some other versions but very, very good.
Flossie’s Southern Cuisine, 3566 Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance; 310-352-4037
Served all day, every day! It was moist, tasty and cooked perfectly. We both loved it and highly recommend it. The next time you don’t feel like cooking, call in an order and pick it up on the way home.
, 1617 Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach; 131 W. Grand Ave., El Segundo; 310-647-9997
Only served at the El Segundo and Redondo Beach locations after 5 p.m. We need to try this version again. Our servings were greasy but that could have been because they accommodated us at lunchtime and it’s normally only served for dinner - it may have been a frying oil issue.
, 3212 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach; 310-546-5575
Two fried chicken entrees served every night on the regular menu. The coating wasn’t crunchy and it was a little too salty for my taste but the mashed potatoes were phenomenal!
, South Bay Galleria, 1815 Hawthorne Blvd., Redondo Beach; 310-371-7546
Don’t even waste your time.
Paul Martin’s American Bistro, 2361 Rosecrans Ave., El Segundo; 310-643-9300
They serve a three course fried chicken dinner on Sunday night. If you like fried chicken that doesn’t taste anything like fried chicken, by all means, order it.
Jackie Balestra enjoys sharing her knowledge of the South Bay with her readers. You can read more about Jackie and Dawn’s exploits at southbaybyjackie.com.