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LA Weekly’s Besha Rodell Loses Her Mind Over Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken

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It's a stellar three-star review for a fried chicken joint

Howlin’ Ray’s
Matthew Kang

Besha Rodell has done it. She braved the four-hour line (who knows how many times) to write a review of Howlin’ Ray’s, the leader of the hot chicken phenomenon in Los Angeles. The LA Weekly critic manages to find a reasonable explanation for the massive hype that surrounds Johnny Ray Zone and Amanda Chapman’s Far East Plaza hot spot. Here are the most important lines from the review:

Braving the line at Howlin’ Ray’s is the new Sunday Funday

On Sunday there's a kind of hungover, fuzzy feel to the crowd, though some folks have started the party over again. The scent of weed is omnipresent. One large group of friends is passing around a bottle of Hennessy, getting rowdier as they inch toward the front of the line.

Sweaty dudes abound

Most of the media given to Howlin' Ray's revolves around that intense heat, and you can find plenty of videos on the internet of sweaty dudes sitting at the picnic tables in front of Howlin' Ray's, swooning and exclaiming over L.A.'s hottest chicken.

They don’t want you to order the hottest chicken (no really, they don’t)

Zone, for his part, does everything he can to dissuade people from ordering the hottest level of chicken. There's a face he makes to show he isn't playing, that he finds the heat of his "howlin" chicken truly disturbing. And he's right. Because anything above the medium-level chicken will destroy your mouth so thoroughly that you might not get the chance to notice that this is genuinely fantastic fried chicken, beyond its ability to scald your innards.

It’s an adrenaline junkie’s heaven

There's something about the burn of cayenne (as well as a ton of other kinds of peppers, including ghost peppers) that creates a similar endorphin rush to jumping into a freezing river or being initiated into Fight Club.

Even without the heat, it’s some damn good chicken

The way the skin shatters and gives way, the utterly perfect spicing of the batter, the way it's indistinguishable from the skin of the bird, the juicy flesh underneath, all goes to show that this is incredible chicken, with or without the heat.

Johnny Ray Zone takes quality control seriously

"He has been at the restaurant every single day since it opened," he said. "He expedites every order, sees every piece of chicken. I think that makes a huge difference."

Zone makes the whole thing feel like a party

Zone also knows how to set the mood in the tiny space. The place has a groove to it, an energy so festive it feels like a party, a cumulation of joy that builds as you inch closer toward it and envelops you once you finally step inside. Zone's banter is playful, the jubilant back-and-forth with his cooks a performance, though one that seems genuine. Once you've ordered and taken your seat at the counter, the cooks thank you for coming, with a kind of legitimate exuberance that's beyond rare in the service industry. It is fun to eat here, so much so that the long wait suddenly seems reasonable.

This is fried chicken that will make you lose your mind

It's not reasonable, of course. Four hours is a ridiculous amount of time to wait for a chicken sandwich. But who said that life was reasonable? Take a look at the world! Everything is crazy! There are far worse things you could do than spend half a day with your fellow weirdos, waiting for chicken so good it's made us all lose our collective minds.

And just like that, a fried chicken counter-service restaurant wins three stars.

Howlin' Ray's

727 North Broadway, , CA 90012 (213) 935-8399 Visit Website

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