Update in 2012: Red Wings closed its doors and is no longer open. Take note!
Koreans have some obsession with fried chicken. There’s fried chicken and “Korean fried chicken” — what we now jokingly refer to as “KFC”. Now I like chicken as much as any chicken fanatic, but other Koreans take it to a new level. I know people who see beer and want chicken (while I am thinking more of chips and guacamole); they see soju and want — you guessed it — chicken.
Well, just a few blocks from my apartment is a relatively new establishment called “Red Wings”. I had been there really late one night to eat, and always meant to go back to try the fried chicken the owner claimed I simply had to try. So, one evening not so long ago, I did just that.
As the Red Wings menu states, you can order online or call — and they will even deliver to you for free, if you live in this area.
Unlike other Korean restaurants, Red Wings doesn’t give you a layout of “banchan” or side dishes. But they do give you a cabbage salad and a pickled radish, the latter of which is a non-negotiable side for “Korean chicken”. I am normally not a fan of either item, but I do have to comment that this plain cabbage salad is unusually good, and the pickled radishes are quite refreshing with the right balance of sweet and sour. With the fried chicken, the combination works nicely.
The interior of Red Wings is nicely done, for a beer/chicken joint. On my several visits there, I usually find it filled by the 25 and under Asian crowd, mostly Koreans. This isn’t surprising given that “chicken and beer” is typical fare for the younger generation in Korea, partially due to taste and also due to cost, which is relatively cheaper than other Korean meat cuisine. Like other Korean drinking establishments, you will not miss the neon blue light accents at Red Wings; seeing this neon blue inside any place reminds me of Los Angeles’ Koreatown drinking establishments. It’s almost like they all got together somewhere and decided this is a requirement of any drinking hole: neon blue lights.
We ordered a bottle of soju, fried chicken, and “boodae jjigae” (부데 찌개) as of the soup items on the Red Wings menu, nothing really stood out for me that night. The fried chicken arrived and I was immediately impressed with the portion and the crisp it had on the outside. Peering into it, I wondered which part this was, as there appeared to be no bone.
I sliced into several of them only to realize that they were all boneless chicken thighs being served! My favorite part of the chicken! And no bones, meaning we would not have to necessarily eat with our hands!
The chicken at Red Wings is served incredibly hot, and on the side is a mayonnaise-based sweet dipping sauce that goes nicely with the chicken. We ordered rice, and went to town. The discernable freshness was key, but I was also impressed with the seasoning put into it, as it was just perfect for a small dip into the sauce, or for eating plain, too.
Red Wings offers a variety of chicken that is cooked with difference sauces; for me, I always prefer plain over teriyaki, Korean spicy sauce, or anything else they have (ginger-something?), and even now, I go back and just order the plain/original. It’s delicious! They offer half order or a full order of chicken; what’s shown above was the half-order as we were still expecting the soup.
The boodae jjigae was also brought out.
Now here’s a bit of history for those of you who don’t know.
How “boodae jjigae” came about is interesting. During the Korean War, the US troops would eat SPAM and hot dogs, amongst other things that they had available to them. Some of the poverty-stricken Koreans would get the leftovers of these ingredients, and not knowing what to do with them, put it into a casserole w/ water, and whatever they had leftover. Over the years, for this reason, this dish has come to include virtually anything, but most typically, to this date, it will include SPAM or some variety of ham, and hot dogs.
To me, this casserole is simply the leftover soup, and since the ingredients depend on what you have on hand, the taste almost always varies. It’s simply not one of my favorite things.
Typically, this dish will have ramen noodles, tofu, ham/SPAM, hot dogs, onions, kimchee, green onions, and sometimes it will include rice cakes, too. “Anything goes!”
At Red Wings, the dish was relatively good, though it excluded SPAM. It did include carrots, mushrooms, and “sootgat”, which are chrysanthemum leaves, commonly used in spicy Korean soups. Since then, I told the owner that this dish needs SPAM, and he said he would consider including it in the future, but I’m not sure if it’s been done. It’s not as spicy as it appears, and the ramen noodles come nicely cooked. If I recall correctly, this dish was over $13; and was plenty for two people to eat. With our half-order of chicken, we could not finish the soup.
Alas, all of this food comes with a perfect partner and complement to the cuisine: SOJU. Some will swear by beer and chicken, and they would be correct — beer is better for chicken only — but combine with a hot soup of any kind, and soju is your best friend.
And it wouldn’t be a Korean place if they didn’t serve the soju with a shot glass that has Hyori’s picture in it. These glasses are a complimentary gift from the soju companies to the drinking establishments, and Hyori — well, she’s just hot, and serves as good motivation to down the shot.
So take a bite of fried chicken, wash it down with a spoonful of soup and hot dogs, then cleanse your palate with a shot of soju so you can peer at her pretty face, if that floats your boat.
Red Wings isn’t fancy, and it’s not the best food in San Francisco. It is, however, comfortable, cozy, and casual — three very important C-words. It’s also really delicious fried chicken, and the atmosphere is conducive to gathering with friends for a few drinks and dinner. The owner is usually present and wonderfully attentive; the service is generally decent. They are opened late until 2 AM on most evenings, so if you’re in the area, definitely try it out. The restaurant is conveniently located at 3015 Geary, and parking is usually easy. Or, if you’re in the mood for it but already in your pyjamas — they deliver until midnight; that’s hard to beat!
Addictive Factor: 7/10
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.