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The very best restaurant rivalries are those which rage in a tightly constrained geographic area. It wouldn't be half as fun to compare the merits

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100 Favorite Dishes: Korean Fried Chicken at Hanmaum Restaurant

koreanfriedchicken.JPG
The very best restaurant rivalries are those which rage in a tightly constrained geographic area. It wouldn't be half as fun to compare the merits of American Coney Island to Lafayette Coney Island, or fight over whether Kreuz Market or Black's Barbecue serves the best brisket if the competitors weren't situated on the same city block.

In Seattle, the top contenders for the Korean fried chicken crown aren't quite next-door neighbors, but the stretch of Pacific Highway separating them is no longer than a decent egg-and-spoon relay course. Cockatoo's Chicken Restaurant is bigger, noisier and seems to be more popular with families, but I much prefer the chicken at nearby Hanmaum Restaurant.

The set-up at both chicken joints is pretty much the same: The standard order is a whole chicken, served half plain and half sauced. It's preceded by a halfhearted banchan (seaweed cracker mix at Hanmaum, popcorn at Cockatoo) and accompanied by pickled radishes and green cabbage slaw drizzled with Korean mayonnaise. Mingling the mayo with the thick gochujang sauce produces a flavor that's probably declasse and definitely delicious.

At Cockatoo, the chicken is butchered in the American fashion, so there are recognizable parts on the plate. But the audible thwack-thwack of the cleaver at Hanmaum creates dozens of nuggets, meaning a bone is the only way for dark meat fans to identify the pieces they want to eat.

The thin batter that's a hallmark of Korean fried chicken is laid on slightly thicker at Hanmaum, and the chicken is seasoned with a tad more salt than Cockatoo uses. But the meat's juicier and the sauce has a more rounded heat that soaks into the crust. The sauce isn't nearly as spicy as servers warn, but it's perfectly calibrated to remind eaters that a standard order here also includes a pitcher of Hite.

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