There’s a small restaurant chain in Washington DC that specializes in a fusion of Chinese and Korean cuisine. I was skeptical and first, but I quickly discovered that Chefs Danny Lee and Scott Drewno have created a unique blend of flavors with amazing results. As a consequence, CHIKO has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants. Their first location is on Capitol Hill, but I have only been to the one in DuPont Circle. They recently opened a third location in Bethesda, MD.
I consider CHIKO as a fast casual restaurant. The layout and decor is slightly above that of a fast food restaurant and you order at the counter. But the meal is delivered to the table and the food is decidedly high end. Expect much better quality than what you would get at a standard Chinese take out.
While the names on the menu may sound familiar, such as the Orange-ish Chicken, CHIKO has put their own twist on them.
Your standard Orange chicken is a breaded and deep fried chicken swimming in a sticky and sweet orange sauce. CHIKO’s version takes that basic concept and takes it to the next level. It does contain chicken that is breaded and fried, but mixed with it is candied orange slices and garnished with chopped scallions.
On the side is an orange dipping sauce. The result is a subtly sweet dish. This kind of subtlety is a hallmark of CHIKO’s cuisine. But do make sure you use the dipping sauce. Without it, the chicken is a little too dry. With the dip, it is sumptuous.
My favorite of their entrees is the Double Fried Wings. These are not your standard sized chicken wings; they are three gigantic wings. The dish can be prepared in one of two ways: dry spiced or spicy soy. I went with the spicy soy. I did not find it all that spicy but the soy taste was noticeable but mild. It complemented the wings very well. The chicken itself was moist, but extremely crispy. Quite superb.
While many of their entrees are meat heavy, they do have several vegetable dishes as well. The portion size is quite large, so I don’t consider them side dishes. If you are getting a meat dish as well, the vegetable ones are best shared. When I’m dining alone, I’ll eat half and take the rest to go.
The two vegetable dishes I have tried are the Wok Blistered Green Beans and the Half-a-Cado salad and both were excellent. I’ve had blistered peppers before, but this was the first time I’ve seen Green beans prepared that way. They had a light panko breading and were served with a mildly spicy Korean sauce called ssamjang. It’s a great combination.
The Half-a-Cado Salad is an avocado salad. Besides avocado, it contains cucumbers, daikon (a giant but mild Japanese radish), and almond slivers. The vegetables are all cut into thin slices and served with a citrus soy vinaigrette. The combination is delicious.
The only dessert that CHIKO serves is a coconut custard. Served inside a half coconut and topped with caramel and candied almonds, it certainly is eye catching. But the coconut is there for mainly presentation, as you do need a mallet in order to remove the shell. What I did is take the coconut home, removed the shell, and ate fresh coconut for a week. The custard itself is creamy, mildly sweet, with a strong coconut flavor. Just the right balance of flavors and texture with which to end the meal.
My friends and I have tasted most of the dishes on the menu. Except as noted above, we have no complaints. The food is uniformly high quality. One notable comment by a friend is that the dishes have a lot of subtle flavorings going on. With all their the meat and vegetable entrees, CHIKO has plenty of variety to choose from as well.
The prices at CHIKO are a bit pricier than most casual Chinese restaurants. But the extra quality more than justifies the cost. I couldn’t go there every week, but it is a nice treat every once and a while. They have unique flavor combinations that you cannot find anywhere else. CHIKO is open for take out during the COVID pandemic.