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A hand picking up a piece of spicy Korean fried chicken from a bowl
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

Sydney's best Korean fried chicken restaurants

Real KFC means medium-thick batter, juicy meat, spicy sauces and pickles on the side

By Nicholas Jordan
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First, a quick bit of history. Korean fried chicken, the crunchy-battered and often saucy kind we know and love, doesn’t have a long history in Korea. It wasn’t really a thing until Americans introduced the idea during the '50s and '60s and didn’t take off until 1977, when Lims Chicken started frying individually portioned bits of bird. Then came the '80s, which ushered in the arrival of KFC and several other local chains.

Korean fried chicken is essentially American-style fried chicken with a second swim in the deep fryer that’s been Koreanised with garlic-heavy sauces, experimental flavours and chilli. In Korea, it’s seen as the perfect unglamorous fast food, best consumed with beer, maybe a few pickles, and more beer. Koreans call the combo ‘chimaek’, literally a blend of the words ‘maekju’ (beer) and ‘chikin’ (fried chicken). 

That’s how you should approach it here in Sydney. These Korean fried chicken restaurants might not have the best side dishes, chicken alternatives or service, but what they do offer – crunchy-battered, on-the-bone hunks of the juiciest chicken lathered in whatever spicy, garlicky or even cheesy sauces you can imagine, plus the addition of beer and pickles – is such a fundamentally enjoyable experience, nothing else seems to matter. 

Feel like a sweet finish? Grab a scoop of Sydney's best gelato and ice cream.

On the hunt for other top cheap eats? Here are our picks for the 50 best cheap eats in Sydney.

The best Korean fried bird in the city

Fried chicken from Red Pepper Bistro
Photograph: Nicholas Jordan

1. Red Pepper Bistro

Restaurants Korean Strathfield

Red Pepper is an institution in the Korean community, for Strathfieldians and anyone else with an obsessive interest in Korean fried chicken. Part of that legend comes from the charm of the Strathfield Sports Club (what was once a sticky-carpet hall and now looks like a slick RSL), but Red Pepper’s fame is mostly down to its chikin. A 12-hour marinade ensures maximum moisture, and a double-fry policy keeps the batter crisp regardless of how much cinnamon-spiked gangjeong sauce or chilli paste it’s been bathing in.

Fried chicken from Sparrow's Mill
Photograph: Supplied

2. Sparrow's Mill

Restaurants Korean Sydney

Sparrow’s Mill is a 2014 offshoot of Red Pepper, a fast-casual chain with multiple locations that uses practically the same recipe as the sports club original. While you lose the oddly charming RSL vibe, you do gain the offer of a few extra flavours and, most importantly, the chicken is similarly consistent for all the important markers: fullness of flavour, juiciness, tenderness and the ability to stay crisp despite a sauce deluge. A longstanding favourite order is the ‘snow cheese’, a regular golden-battered chikin serve that’s been showered with powered cheese.

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Close-up of Korean fried chicken at Cokco
Photograph: Nicholas Jordan

3. CokCo Chicken and Grill

Restaurants Korean Strathfield

The easiest way to tell a good fried chicken dealer from a bad one is to try the breast piece. The worst of them, sadly common in Sydney, are paper-white and drier than a Coles chook after a weekend in the fridge, whereas CokCo’s is so succulent it oozes. Two warnings, though. First, the spicy flavours here are rare examples of true heat in the fried chicken scene. Second, the birds come to your table absurdly hot (we’re talking temperature now). If either of those things pose a problem, order a bowl of cold noodles to alleviate whichever burn ails you. 

4. Flying Tong

Restaurants Korean Newtown

Flying Tong takes the Australian-influenced fusion approach, which swaps the usual orders (spicy garlic, sweet and spicy, snow cheese, shallots) out for four new tweaks including a sweet and spicy number garnished in peanuts and parsley, a soy-garlic version with sesame, and an extra-spicy recipe topped post-fry with coriander leaves. The rest of the venue follows the same pattern: kimchi-layered fried chicken sliders, bibimbap with Wagyu mince, and the option of local craft beers and wine.

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Fried chicken on a plate at Goobne
Photograph: Supplied/Scott Ehler

5. Goobne

Restaurants Korean Haymarket

Goobne is the only Australian branch of a massive Korean chook chain with the tagline: “Always H.O.T. – Healthy, Original, Trendy”. Healthy because the chicken is technically not fried; it’s battered and flavoured like regular Korean fried chicken, but then oven-roasted instead. Our verdict: just as delicious, slightly less crunchy and why worry about the health factor? The technique is different, but the flavours are the same (albeit with different names): snow cheese, sweet and spicy, particularly spicy and an original flavour without a saucy layer. The most fun option is the UFO Fondue – a circle of fried wings surrounding a lake of molten cheese for dipping.

Flat lay of fried chicken and other dishes at Chicken V
Photograph: Supplied

6. Chicken V

Restaurants Korean Sydney

This is the option for people who just want to try as many different flavours as possible. We’re talking snow flake, honey butter, crazy hot, shallot, curry, seasoned (with typical gochugang-based sweet and spicy sauce), soy seasoned, cream cheese, malatang and onion. Find eight friends and order them all lined up on two table-long trays. You’ll miss a bit in quality that way as you can only get boneless pieces by the tray (pieces on the bone are generally more flavoursome and tender). If you shoot for quality over novelty, know that the traditional (crisp batter, no sauce) shouldn’t be overlooked.

Need to freshen up after that?

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