June 29th, 2006



If you're not a local, you probably don't know about Zankou Chicken.

This is a shame, because it means, in effect, that you haven't tasted the best, most delicious, crispy, moist, tender chicken-tastic chicken there ever was.

Ah, Zankou Chicken. On the face of it, it looks like any other slightly run-down mom-and-pop hole in the wall type place. My coworker, Crazy Ivan (the one who challenges me to fist fights because the thinks I look like I need it and "is good for blood, stirs up!") says that the decor is reminiscent of Soviet Russia's finest coffee-shops. Certainly the swarthy and unreasonably hairy women behind the counter must also be reminiscent of Soviet Russia's finest. (Don't tell him I said that, he'll want to fight me.) In short, though, Zankou Chicken does not appear to be a garden of earthly delights. Do not let appearances deceive, however.

There are things there other than chicken, it's true - there's tri-tip shawarma and lamb platters. There's even falafel if you're a vegetarian. But the chicken is the main attraction (this is hinted at in the name, though it took several trips before I realized this.) and what an attraction it is.

Go to Zankou Chicken. Order a half a chicken. That's it. You don't need anything else. You'll get a tinfoil bag with half the carcass of a chicken in it, two little tubs of garlic paste, and a few oven-warmed pita; and most of all, an unearthly and delightful aroma wafting out of the bag. It'll only cost you about four bucks, too - or 8 for a whole chicken, which is a great deal for takeout night. If you can, take the bag home. If not, fall upon it with all the ravishing ardor of Tarquin. Note the succulence of the chicken meat, the way the skin is spiced and crispy but the flesh so tender and moist as to render a knife almost unneccessary. But before you tuck into the chicken, properly prepare the pita by generously slathering it with the garlic paste. The garlic paste looks a tad unappealing, like a mealy mayonnaise, almost. Fear not. After preparing the pita; tear out some of the chicken and fill the pita to the rim. It is likely that some of the chicken's juices will run out onto the pita (and your hands) and make it glisten in that way that says, "I am delicious, yet very fatty." It does not lie when it says this.

Now, fold the pita over, and take a bite. Observe as the crackling spices on the skin blends with the warm soft pita, the piquant and savory garlic paste, and the soft, soft, tender, succulent chicken. You may tell yourself you'll only have some and save the rest for later, but this is a forlorn hope. Like unto Louis Wu's droud, the Zankou chicken is a temptation that no mortal man can easily resist, if he can at all. Know that you are in good company when you lustily consume the rest of the chicken. You probably have two or three pitas, but there will be some chicken left once you're done with them. Do not be ashamed when you suck the flesh from between the chicken's bones, and lick the garlicky goodness from the foil bag and paste-tub. Do not be ashamed when you find yourself hovering around their doors in the morning, waiting for them to open. Or late at night, frustrated at your inability to indulge your craving.

There's a Zankou on Sepulveda and Burbank in Van Nuys, and on Santa Monica and Sepulveda in Santa Monica. Be advised, that although they claim to be open 365 days a year, in fact they do close on Armenian Genocide Day. ( I think they do this out of solidarity with Armenians, rather than in celebration of that black day. I hope.) Therefore, on the day before Armenian Genocide Day, you should stock up.