This week, Jonathan Gold reviews Howlin' Ray's, Johnny Ray Zone and wife Amanda Chapman's ode to Nashville-style hot chicken. In a time when "the phenomenon of hot chicken" has beat out Korean friend chicken and fried chicken sandwiches, Howlin' Ray's is reigning supreme, with a line that snakes through Chinatown's Far East Plaza on weekends. Is the chicken worth the wait? It seems the answer is undeniably, yes:
You will aim to get as much of the fragrant skin as possible between your teeth, and you sigh with relief; the experience is of salt, crunch and garlic, overlaid with the musty pungency of dried peppers, not nearly as bad as you thought. It is excellent fried chicken.
Then the punch of heat lands — you may experience it almost as a blow to the chest. Your lips swell. Your scalp erupts in sweat. Your throat begins to close. You unconsciously mop your forehead with the back of your hand and suddenly there is a situation up there too, a sensation you may have experienced the last time you napped an hour too long on the beach. Your bloodstream floods with adrenaline, but then the endorphins kick in, and you float on an eddy of bliss for a moment or two. Then you go back in for some more. The hot chicken has won. [LAT]
Ultimately, the deliciously masochistic experience of Howlin' Ray's seems to win over the critic, who warns that "the eating of hot chicken is politely referred to as a 24-hour process."