Stepping through the doors of Dak & Bop, the new Korean fried chicken joint in the Museum District, you're immediately enveloped by feel-good vibes. There's something about the space -- the decor, the lighting, the music selection -- that is warm and inviting, putting you immediately at ease.
"I could totally see myself hanging out here!" said a friend whom I'd corralled into joining me one evening. We'd arrived around 8 p.m., and the place was abuzz with activity. In fact, if you arrive at Dak & Bop between the high-traffic hours of 7 and 8 p.m., chances are you're going to have to wait a bit. It's still in soft opening stages, but the word is already out, and the place gets crowded.
The story behind Dak & Bop -- which is owned by Jason Cho and his wife, Mary -- is a poignant one. Cho was born and raised in Alief. His parents had come to Houston in the late '70s, when his father opened his first taekwondo dojo. Growing up in the business, Cho knew how hard his dad had worked to support his family, and it was always his wish to help his father retire early.
In 2011, during a visit to New York City for his sister's wedding, he came upon a business idea he thought would help him get there. It happened when he dined at Mad for Chicken, a growing chain specializing in Korean fried chicken. Cho had the idea that he'd bring it back to Houston and open a restaurant for his dad. His hope was that he'd be able to make it enough of a success to so that his dad could retire.
He approached the owners of Mad for Chicken and struck a deal with the owner wherein he could train in their kitchens and buy their sauces. For the last two years, he's been flying back and forth between Houston and NYC, perfecting his craft. He also traveled around the United States checking out other Korean fried chicken joints to get ideas on how he wanted to build, design, and run his business.
Construction finally started on the space this summer 2014, but in September, tragedy struck. While the restaurant was still under construction, Cho's father was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, and passed away unexpectedly. Cho says that he initially lost motivation for the project, but wanted to complete it in memory of his father.
Dak & Bop quietly opened the day after Thanksgiving. From the get-go, they've had a steady stream of customers, and the word of mouth keeps on getting stronger. Their menu is simple, offering a few appetizer like items to start, such as their fried chicken bao, creamy slaw, corn elote, truffle fries and mac 'n cheese.
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The focus is clearly on the fried chicken, and rightly so. You can choose between the wings, drumsticks, and chicken strips, or order from several different pre-set combos of each. The menu will warn you that it takes 30 minutes from the time you place an order to the time your chicken arrives, and this is no exaggeration. Asked why it takes so long, Cho says that they don't actually start the frying process until the order is placed, and once it's done, it never sits on the counter for more than a few seconds before it's sent to the table.
Currently, there are three styles of sauce from which to choose: Hot 'n Spicy, Soy Garlic, and their "half and half," which is a mix of the two sauces that ends up being mildly spiced. All of these sauces are the original sauces from Mad for Chicken. Cho plans to introduce more sauces in the future. The garlic soy sauce gives the chicken a slight sweetness and is great for kids. The half and half is great for someone who can't handle strong spice. If you can take it, however, I strongly recommend getting the spicy sauce. The spice is not immediately noticeable -- it's more of a slow burn that can bring tears in your eyes, and have you crying in a mixture of food enjoyment and pain -- but the spicy sauce is what Korean fried chicken's all about.
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That, and the crispy skin. The reason that the chicken takes so long to come out at Dak & Bop is that it gets fried twice before it hits your table, resulting in a super crispy skin with all the fat rendered. Picking up each piece, the just-out-of-the-fryer heat is hot to the point that it almost burns your fingertips, but then you take a bite out of the chicken and there's an explosion of texture (crispy skin against, moist, juicy chicken meat); flavor (sweet and spicy or just sweet and garlicky and somewhat salty, depending on the sauce); and temperature, which is piping hot.
Is it worth the wait? Hell, yes it is. Do yourself a favor, and order a few appetizers and sides, along with a craft beer (they stock several on tap), or a creative cocktail while you wait. It really doesn't feel all that long, especially when you're sipping on something as delicious as a Blackberry Chili Margarita or the Pretty Lady. Developed by bar manager Justin Livingstone, the cocktails complement the food, and are really delicious. Just get the Cool Cucumber, and you'll see. Made with a whole bottle of Korean cult-favorite Yakult probiotic drink, the refreshing, milky cocktail is something you'll not only enjoy on its own merits, but will also cut right through any residual burn left over from the spicy chicken, which is so addictive that you'll want to come back soon, and with friends, too.