Dining

One of L.A.’s Hottest Chefs Is Frying Up Sichuan Fried Chicken Sandos in a Strip Mall

Get in line for Mei Lin’s new fast-casual Daybird

If there’s one thing L.A. loves, it’s lining up for a fried chicken sandwich (see: Howlin’ Rays, Dave’s Hot Chicken, etc.). And now, there’s a serious new crispy contender in town, courtesy of one of the city’s most acclaimed chefs, Mei Lin.

Lin, whose Arts District darling Nightshade shuttered early in the pandemic (and remains closed for the time being), was already planning on opening a fast-casual fried chicken spinoff pre-Covid. Daybird was first announced back in July, but Lin and her partner Francis Miranda delayed the opening amidst a citywide summertime Covid surge.

Daybird finally opened this month in a strip mall at the Silver Lake/East Hollywood border, with a limited menu and hours belying the reality of launching a new concept amidst a pandemic. The abbreviated menu focuses on what Lin is calling “Sichuan-style fried chicken,” dipped in a housemade spiced chili oil and seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns and chiles. 

The early breakout hit is the fried chicken sandwich, featuring a massive Jidori chicken thigh fried in rice bran oil (the traditional choice for tempura, explains Lin) and tucked inside a soft, squishy Martin’s potato roll with a spicy pickled chile and cabbage slaw. The chicken itself is a marvel of textures and spices: craggy nooks and crevasses highly seasoned with a crackly, numbing spice blend. A note on heat: this capsaicin-loving writer was gently buzzing at Medium; Hot delivers a serious burn. The slaw itself also packs a punch, though it’s acidic enough to balance the chicken’s dry heat.

Other menu items include chicken tenders made with white meat, heavily seasoned skinny fries, and a trio of dipping sauces: habanero Ranch, hot honey, and Daybird sauce, essentially an umami-enhanced version of Comeback sauce. If you’re heat-sensitive, the housemade Hong Kong milk tea, made using teas from Steven Smith Teamaker in Portland, Oregon, is a lovely and not-overly-sweet balm to a numb tongue. 

Although plenty of Sichuan food is available in Los Angeles and the surrounding San Gabriel Valley, Daybird may be one of the only purveyors of a Sichuan fried chicken sandwich. “To my knowledge, it doesn’t exist,” laughs Lin. But it’s in good company when it comes to purveyors of fried chicken sandos with Asian flavors, including Michael Mina’s new Tokyo Hot Chicken ghost kitchen concept in Glendale and Ototo’s kara-age style fried chicken sandwich with yuzu kosho slow and daikon pickles in Echo Park.

Lin doesn’t know when Nightshade will reopen. For now, she’s focused on keeping the sometimes-formidable line moving at Daybird. The restaurant is still in its soft open phase, with online ordering in advance available, but hopes to expand its hours and offerings later this spring. If the lines are any indication, this is one hot bird that’s here to stay. 

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