My love for fried chicken extends back to childhood, when my ultimate reward was a two-piece fried chicken meal at Pioneer Chicken or even just a crackling leg from Woolworth at Kahala Mall. Years later, even while going through phases of very healthy eating, I succumbed to the vice of fried chicken. Nothing quite replicates the pleasure of biting into a perfectly crisp, juicy and slightly peppery leg, thigh, breast or wing fresh out of the fryer. So when I had to pick a dish for Nonstop’s Our Top 5 series, I didn’t even ponder.
But I lived away from Hawaii for two decades, so although I do have some longtime, go-to spots, I solicited recommendations from other fried chicken lovers on our team (Grant Shindo, Ed Morita and Melissa Chang), then drove around the island on my quest. My criteria was straightforward. Fried chicken must be juicy and tender, but not overly greasy. It has to be flavorful, yet not gamey or salty. And for me, it’s all about the skin. It’s gotta be crisp, but not over-cooked, with a roasted flavor that has me throwing out any health concerns and devouring every bit of the crunchy goodness.
Here are my five favorites:
No. 1: Tanioka's (5 of 5)
I was pretty convinced I would declare Fukuya my top pick going into this assignment, but again on Chuggy's recommendation, I headed out to Waipahu one Saturday morning—my fried-chicken-loving daughter in tow—and got to Tanioka's right at the 9 a.m. opening.
I wasn't that hungry, so I just opted for this one-piece mini plate ($5.95) to try the chicken. Although it was cooked ahead of time, it was still warm. It looked ordinary, but then I peeled off the skin, handed a piece of skin with meat to Mia, then we both took a taste. A huge smile came over her face, and I knew why. It really was the best fried chicken either of us has had on the island. Perfect skin-to-meat ratio. Juicy, flavorful and soft meat with absolutely no gamey taste. And the skin... like eating fresh chicharron, roasty goodness with an old-school flair. Everything I love about fried chicken in one modest piece.
Tanioka's Seafood & Catering
94-903 Farrington Highway (Waipahu)