There's one in every neighborhood: a restaurant that you pass by almost every day and think to yourself, "One of these days, I've got to try that place." But you never do. I'm not talking about famous restaurants you haven't visited; I'm talking about the kind of place that nobody talks about, the kind of place you hope is the best-kept secret in town.
In the age of the Internets, it's hard to keep anything good secret, but here's the thing: the kind of place I'm talking about is one that occupies a unique slice of short-term memory - the only time you remember it is when it's right before your eyes, and five minutes later it's forgotten. Just like Virginia Madsen on that episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Hells yes, I just went there.
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Until last week, that restaurant for me was #1 Chicken Rice & Seafood, at the northeast corner of Almeda and Blodgett. I drove by it every time I went downtown, and grooved on the sweet '70s-era façade from a previous incarnation as Jim Dandy Chicken. The parking lot was usually full, especially at lunchtime. The windows were tinted dark. And I became obsessed with the fried chicken, at least for the 30 seconds when the sign was in my field of vision. A restaurant can't be called #1 Chicken Rice & Seafood and have crappy chicken. Can it?
I am pleased to report that the chicken is not crappy. It's not amazing, but it is respectable, and damn cheap. (With tax, the damage for three shrimp, three wings, a roll and rice was $5.83.) The chicken, which you can order spicy or regular, is not what I'd call finger-lickin', but it's a solid B: crispy skin, tender interior, not overly greasy. You could do worse. But it doesn't hold a candle to, say, Frenchy's or Barbecue Inn. The batter-fried shrimp was pleasantly nubby and had a tiny bit of sweetness; it would have been even better with some tartar sauce, especially since I was supposed to receive some with my order. The rice is a forgettable taupe-colored Chinese-style fried rice, with a smattering of peas and a few limp chunks of gristly chicken. Avoid.
#1 Chicken Rice & Seafood is a cash-only, take-out only operation, open 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. I have no idea why a fried chicken place would be closed on Sundays. There's some speculation that it is part of the Timmy Chan's restaurant family; this wouldn't surprise me, as behind the counter I spied some gold-on-red Chinese characters signifying good fortune.
I've only been to #1 Chicken Rice & Seafood one time, but it was impossible not to notice a stark racial breakdown: all of the customers were African-American, all of the employees were Latino, and the manager was Asian. I couldn't decide if this ought to be a Dateline segment, a shout-out in the next State of the Union speech, or the setup for a movie that in the '80s would have starred Ted Danson, Whoopi Goldberg, and Gedde Watanabe. Comedy gold! In April of last year, someone picked option four: grounds for a boycott. But last week at least, the waters were calm.