MORRIS COUNTY — C’mon, who doesn’t salivate over the sheer thought of sinking your teeth into a crunchy, crispy, tender, super juicy piece of freshly fried chicken? Fortunately, you don’t have to travel far to find some of the tastiest fried chicken you’ll ever sink those teeth into. About a quarter mile from the Parsippany border, over the Vail Road bridge into Pine Brook (Montville), you will find Don Chicken, located at 48 Stiles Lane, tucked away on the side of a small strip mall, offering a salivating selection of Korean fried chicken that you will go back for time and time again.
Don Chicken celebrated their grand opening in November 2023. The location was formerly occupied by Elian’s Café Bistro, whose owner has moved on to a new venue. Don Chicken, part of a popular and rapidly growing franchise, is owned by Paul Ko. The franchise was established six years ago when Paul and an enterprising group of five friends, all from Korea and all with a mutual love of Korean fried chicken, got together and decided to open a restaurant. As Paul stated, “They all just loved the taste of Don Chicken; nothing is better.” Paul and one of those friends co-own two franchises, one which is Paul’s and one in Cranford, which his partner manages.
Paul Ko, a young man who came to the U.S. at age 16, is an amiable, enthusiastic, welcoming host with a sincere smile and a genuinely nice personality. His evident excitement about his new eatery was a pleasure to observe. When asked what was special about Don Chicken, he responded, “We wanted to specialize in various sauces that are different than anyone else. We use 100% imported Korean sauces, and we incorporate those sauces into our dishes so that they will satisfy almost anyone’s taste buds. Quality control and flavorful food is always our first priority. We only use fresh ingredients and high-quality cooking oil and never frozen chicken. All our chicken is extremely fresh and inspected on delivery; it’s then cut and prepared at the restaurant, and everything is made from scratch, except for our sauces, which, as I said, we import directly from Korea.”
Don Chicken can comfortably seat 24 diners inside the restaurant; weather permitting, a couple of outside tables will also be available. The storefront is appealing and inviting, with an ample off-street parking lot; the interior is cozy, relaxed, and warm, with soft ambient lighting from the large storefront windows. The color scheme of gray-on-gray walls, ceiling, and floor, with brick and wood accents and a small service counter, creates a trendy, organized, and welcoming vibe. Simple, clean wooden tables and chairs, three large screen TVs mounted around the room, and simple and tasty décor complete the dining room. It’s a great place to sit back, relax, and enjoy phenomenal finger food while catching your team on TV.
Our group comfortably sat at several adjoining tables as Paul expediently addressed all our needs. Water glasses were filled, wine glasses arrived (did I mention that Don Chicken is a BYOB), and menus were distributed. Korean fried chicken is best paired with a nice cold, refreshing beer, whatever sauce you choose. I brought along some Kloud 100% Malt Classic Original Gravity, a beer imported from Korea, to compliment my meal. As usual, the group bombarded Paul with numerous questions about the menu, which he was happy to answer. The menu is appropriately limited, with eight choices of Korean Fried Chicken (Kalbi, Krispy, Ppurings, Soy Garlic, Sweet & Spicy, Hot Spicy (my favorite), Snow Cheese, and Green Onion. Korean Appetizers included ddukbokki, gimmari, and dduk ggochi. Additional sauces are available, as are several Lunch Box deals (available only on weekdays between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.). Choose between wings, boneless, and drumsticks in different serving sizes or on a platter. Or you may be interested in their Sweet and Spicy or Hot Spicy Chicken Sandwich! No desserts or coffee on the menu, just soda and water.
As this group usually does, we ordered sharable portions of the menu. We were anxious to sample all those great sauces we heard about. Paul explained that they offer eight different sauces, including sweet & spicy, hot spicy, honey mustard, ranch, spicy ranch, and snow cheese. As Paul explained his business philosophy, “Korean cuisine is mostly about innovation, especially over the past 40 years. At Don Chicken, we like to believe we are innovative, always trying to improve, and always trying new things while at the same time keeping in line with Korean tradition.” By now, we had ordered enough food to feed an army.
Our servings arrived in metal mesh serving trays with paper lining. The somewhat fast-food style was perfect for holding and delivering the various varieties of wonderfully marinated and perfectly seasoned chicken. Everything came with individual coleslaw and pickled radish (which provided each dish with a crunchy, refreshing, and slightly sour enhancement). Our appetizers, all popular Korean street foods, included ddukbokki (Korean spicy rice cake), gimmari (seaweed wrapped around glass noodles, dipped into a batter that crisps up deliciously when deep-fried), dduk ggochi (sweet, spicy, toothsome, sticky rice cakes), pork fried dumplings (thick, tasty, chewy, and perfect for a dipping sauce), along with an order of krispy fries.
Our entree selections consisted of Hot Spicy Boneless (crispy, well-balanced, twice-fried battered chicken in a spicy, sweet, and savory sauce), Kalbi (boneless, sweet, savory, and spicy), pouring (boneless, and cheesy coated). Krispy Drumsticks (generously sized), Sweet & Spicy (boneless), and Soy Garlic Wings (the most popular item on the menu).
I should note that all the boneless chicken is made with chicken thighs, not breasts, as in most places. The argument is that while breast meat can be more tender, leaner, and milder in flavor, thigh meat is generally juicier and more fat, which helps keep the meat moist and tender during cooking. Breast meat also tends to dry out when cooked.
Everything was a treat! The spicy, sweet, and savory elements harmoniously blended together in every bite, and it was a truly pleasurable dining experience. The twice-fried chicken (Did I mention that Korean chicken is double-fried to lock in that extra juicy flavor?) was perfectly seasoned, balanced, crispy and crunchy outside, and yet incredibly juicy and flavorful inside. And those sauces can be addicting, so beware! It’s no wonder that Korean fried chicken is a beloved dish worldwide.
To sum up, our group enjoyed a fun and exciting dining experience at Don Chicken at a very reasonable price. The quality of the food, the ambiance of the restaurant, and the hospitality and service were spot-on. When you visit, try out those imported sauces and sides for a complete dining experience. I’m confident you’ll have a fantastic time exploring the flavors of Korean Fried Chicken at this relatively new restaurant.
Don Chicken, 48 Stiles Lane, Pine Brook. Phone: (973) 287-7181 Web Site: www.donchickenus.com, Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 12:00 Noon to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Dine In – Take Out – Delivery – Parking Lot – BYOB
The restaurant offers a weekday lunch special from 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Customers choose a chicken style, sauce, and a side. Also, students receive a 15% discount on the lunch special.