Restaurant Reviews

Dak & Bop Needs More Soul to Turn Itself Into More Than a Korean Wing Stop

At Dak & Bop in the Museum District, orders of Korean-style chicken wings arrive cradled in plastic baskets lined with white squares of parchment. The chicken here is fried twice, which renders away some of the fat, a tradeoff to achieve whisper-thin, crispy skin. On opposing corners of the parchment are little round, color-coded stickers that indicate which sauce and heat level was ordered. Customers can get chicken with half dipped in one sauce and half in another, so the sticker system avoids confusion. It’s clever, much like Dak & Bop itself.

Ordering the fried chicken “double-sauced” here is highly recommended, even though it costs another buck or three depending on the number of pieces in the order. It’s worth it, because otherwise the chicken lacks a certain vibrancy and lushness.

The important thing to remember is that doubling the sauce means doubling the intensity, too. So the hottest sauce, which is already tongue-searing in a light dose, gets even more intense when doubled. Good luck to you if you’ve already been eating some of Dak & Bop’s other spicy wing flavors, because the hot pepper sauce will gleefully jump on the bandwagon and possibly cause intense regret.

For all the other flavors, there’s no cause for concern, so double up. The payoff is being able to truly appreciate the soft swing between savory and sweet in the soy garlic wing sauce, the only one that’s not spicy and yet is still one of the most pleasing. The Sriracha honey-lime really stands out, too, for the tangy push of citrus against deeper, warming spices that suggest gochujang is part of the mix as well.

Compared to the hot & spicy, soy garlic and Sriracha honey-lime sauces, the ones to pass over are the medium spicy and Buffalo hot. The medium spicy is a combination of the soy garlic and the hot & spicy sauces and not nearly as full of personality as either of those alone. There are a zillion places that feature New York-style Buffalo wings, and Dak & Bop’s are pretty average. Move along. These are not the wings you are looking for.
The whole setup is practically screaming to be franchised, from the brushstroke chicken logo to the polite listing of items on the menu in all lowercase lettering. (Capitalization is rude.) The space treads water somewhere between sleekly modern and roughly industrial, with backlit bottles of fancy spirits and infusions behind the bar and a sparse, open ceiling with exposed concrete beams. It’s comfortable enough, and, like the food, it’s more casual than a “sit-down” restaurant but not so much so as to give the impression that Dak & Bop is a fast-food place. Indeed, it may take 20 minutes for the chicken to be freshly cooked, sauced and brought to the table, but it’s worth the wait. On both visits, Dak & Bop was filled with young adults who could have been graduate students from nearby Rice University.

Dak & Bop’s one failing is that both it and the food lack personality. It’s too streamlined, as if it were built to be replicated. It does for Korean-style fried chicken what Chipotle has done for burritos, what Mod Pizza has done for pizza and what Subway has done for the submarine sandwich. Dak & Bop has cleaned it up, packaged it and put on a little bow tie so it’s presentable enough to introduce to friends.

Compared to Dak & Bop, The ToreOre, with its sticky, heavily crusted fried chicken that’s typically consumed under fluorescent lights at H Mart, is like a hoary old grandpa who always manages to embarrass you in front of your friends with his politically incorrect commentary. Yet each place has its merits, and there’s room for both. Grandpa might know the right way to do things, but it’s the young who develop more efficient ways of operating. So it is with agile Dak & Bop.

Where ToreOre’s chicken seems as if it were randomly hacked apart with a cleaver, Dak & Bop’s selections are only socially acceptable wings, drumsticks and strips of chicken breast. (Thigh meat? That’s as uncouth as capitalization, you heathen.) One of these cuts of meat is simply a far better option than the others. Chicken breast is boring, and the lack of fat means it’s not as flavorful as the other two. Meaty drumsticks don’t have as much surface area to adhere to as wings do, so the wings are the best choice.

Dak & Bop actually has a business relationship with a restaurant in Flushing, New York, called Mad For Chicken. According to a First Look article by Mai Pham that appeared in the Houston Press just after Dak & Bop opened, co-owner Jason Cho trained at Mad For Chicken when he was chasing a years-long dream of opening his own Korean fried chicken place. He later arranged for Dak & Bop to buy Mad For Chicken’s sauces. Mad For Chicken supplies other restaurants as well including Turntable (Manhattan), New York Wing Factory (which is in New Jersey — go figure) and Crave (Boston).
Some of the most successful food at Dak & Bop delves into the flavors of Mexico, like the gorgeous elote-style corn on the cob, roasted with a big hunk of stem still attached to the top (which makes for a convenient handle). The deeply roasted cob is chopped into three big pieces and heavily sprinkled with paprika and cotija cheese crumbles. Abstract smears of chile lime sauce beg to be swiped up, and the world is all the better for it. Other side dishes, like the Asian citrus slaw and cold corn salad, should be ordered only as a cooling counterpoint to the wings, because they’re otherwise unremarkable. According to a server, the cabbage kimchi isn’t made in-house, but at least what’s brought in is a good, well-fermented variety with plenty of seasoning.

A full-on cross-cultural theme emerges with the carnitas baos, which sport big chunks of roasted pork. Dabs of citrus aioli and pico de gallo expertly marry the soft white buns to the pork, and the one wish is for there to be just a little more of each.

Some other fusions don’t work as well, like the bulgogi macaroni and cheese. There’s plenty of cheese — a thick, stringy layer of it — but somehow the bulgogi and mozzarella never really get along. The flavors stand resolutely apart, separated by a pile of neutral pasta shells. There needs to be something else going on here to tie the dish together, like a smattering of green onion or a drizzle of that wonderful soy garlic sauce.

There’s a cocktail program here that’s best ignored. There are only four ingredients listed for the Blackberry Chili Margarita: tequila, lime and chili powder, plus the blackberries that are referenced in the name. So the end result should have been clean, simple and refreshing but instead the drink was cloudy and the flavors muddy. It tasted oddly like banana, as if someone had made a different cocktail and didn’t rinse the shaker before mixing the next one.

The Cool Cloud Cucumber, a cocktail with cucumber-flavored vodka and mint, didn’t seem to have much of the “Asian yogurt” promised. There was no tang, so the concoction ended up as fresh, light and boring as a lady waving sheets in a Febreze commercial. Stick with the excellent craft beer list. Beer goes well with spicy chicken wings anyway. The black and white Dak & Bop employee T-shirts say “Chicken + Beer” on the back, so take the hint. With selections from Saint Arnold, Lone Pint, Karbach, 512 Brewery and Rahr & Sons and even a few Belgian options, why not?

Parking on the first floor of the garage is free, but it fills up quickly (especially considering there are two other retail neighbors next door, namely Bosta and Barnaby’s). Parking on the second floor costs six dollars for two hours, and Dak & Bop does not validate. Lucky folks may be able to find street parking nearby.

Downing pints of beer and Korean-style wings at Dak & Bop with friends is a fun, communal way to spend an evening. It’s hard, though, not to think wistfully of a table littered with dishes of banchan or thickly crusted chicken with sauce so compelling and hot that it hurts to eat and hurts more to put it down. Dak & Bop is a friendly hangout but needs a little more soul to turn itself into more than a Korean wing stop. 

Dak & Bop
1801 Binz, 713-528-0280. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Cabbage kimchi $2
Corn salad $3
Asian citrus slaw $3
Bulgogi mac and cheese $8
Elote-style corn on the cob $7
Carnitas baos $8
Six wings, double-sauced $9
Six wings and two drumsticks, double-sauced $13
Karbachtoberfest $7
Cedar Creek Gone-A-Rye IPA $8
Blackberry Chili Margarita $9
Cool Cloud Cucumber $10
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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook