Winner, Winner, Fried Chicken Sandwich Dinner

Three fried chicken sandwiches on a cutting board.
Southside Station, Barbarian, El Pollo Picante

tldr; Fried chicken sandwiches are so delicious, but are an occasional splurge. I reviewed sandwiches from three Berkeley restaurants. The verdict? They all provide yummy sandwiches worth eating, but El Pollo Picante was my fav.

Table of Contents

The reason

Since shelter-in-place, we eat take-out Friday evenings. By Friday, we’re too exhausted to cook and have run out of food ideas. Eating out supports local restaurants and provides a family meal without having to cook.

I’ve been craving fried chicken sandwich for a while. Last week, we ordered Popeye’s and I was underwhelmed, but that’s another story.

V and I got the idea of doing a fried chicken sandwich taste test walking around downtown Berkeley. 

Why you should trust me

I have been eating fried chicken sandwiches since I was in elementary school. Over the years, I graduated from the McChicken and the BK Chicken sandwich to more sophisticated fare such as Bette’s Bakesale. 

In short, if there is fried chicken sandwich on the menu, I know what I’m ordering.

Who is this for

I’m writing this for a Berkeley or East Bay reader who is a fan of local restaurants and fried chicken sandwiches. This piece is not exhaustive of all Berkeley spots nor of fried chicken places, but, hopefully, these are some new restaurants that you otherwise wouldn’t think of trying.

How we picked

There is a surprising number of restaurants that offer some form of fried chicken sandwich. We couldn’t try them all so here is how we picked.

  1. Berkeley-based: We didn’t want to drive too far for to-go. All locations are within a mile of each other off the downtown Shattuck corridor.
  2. No chains or franchises: Growing up, I loved me a McChicken and Chick-fil-a is actually my favorite fast-food fried chicken sandwich. It’s a damned shame, I can’t eat at Chick-fil-a any more. For the test, though, we really wanted to patronize and taste test unique sandwiches from local spots. 
  3. Locally owned, under the radar: We live in Berkeley and do our best to support Berkeley restaurants. Related, we wanted to spotlight restaurants aren’t as well-known as others, like Bakesale Betty’s.
  4. The chicken sandwich is a highlight: For each of these restaurants, the sandwich isn’t the only thing on their menu, but it isn’t an afterthought. The fried chicken sandwich are proudly advertised by these restaurants.

The research

What makes a great fried chicken sandwich

This is necessarily subjective…

  • Bun: Not too tall, not too hard. The bun is never the star of the sandwich, yet it is the container for all the goodness and has a tough job to do. Not all buns (hee, hee) stack up.
  • Cutlet: I’m looking for chicken that is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. The breading and the meat are a tight fit. Well seasoned with a balance of grease and flavor. In the end, I am eating fried chicken after all.
  • Toppings and Sauce: There are many variations of toppings. One is the minimalist “Chick-fil-a” pickles and sauce. And there is the slaw and salad type of greens popularized by Bakesale Betty’s. The toppings need to complement and compliment the chicken cutlet. Toppings are the vehicle to balance out the chicken with brightness through acidity or clean crunch via greens.

Now, come with me on a fried chicken sandwich journey. 

The candidates

Southside Station

Their menu description: “Thai fried chicken, Brioche bun with pickled papaya and creamy Sriracha sauce”

Price: $13

Weight: 430 grams

Southside Station fried chicken sandwich
Southside Station fried chicken sandwich

Opened during the pandemic, Southside Station is run by a super-friendly Thai mom and pop team. The husband is an alumnus of the Cheeseboard Collective which is why they also have pizza on their menu. Their Thai fried chicken wings are amazing so I had high hopes for their sandwich.

The Southside Station sandwich is a beautiful and hearty sandwich, sitting on a browned brioche-bun. They lovingly put two fried boneless chicken thighs over a Thai-inspired papaya cole slaw and sriracha mayo sauce. 

Southside Station fried chicken sandwich cutaway
Southside Station fried chicken sandwich cutaway

Oh boy, was this delicious but there was too much going on here. 

I have this suspicion that on their own, each part of the sandwich would be delicious. Combined, it ended up being a bit overwhelming and a tad on the greasy side. 

Order it and split with someone else.

Verdict: 4 stars 


Their menu description: “Turmeric Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, served with housemade mix salad and our signature tikka sauce.”

Price: $10.95

Weight: 489 grams

Barbarian fried chicken sandwich
Barbarian fried chicken sandwich

Barbarian–tucked away next to Comal–was the spot that started the idea for a taste test. From the outside, it is more Indian grocery store than restaurant. But “you had me at ‘tumeric’,” was what we were thinking we first saw the menu.

Barbarian fried chicken sandwich cutaway
Barbarian fried chicken sandwich cutaway

How is the sandwich? The sandwich’s special ingredient, tumeric, gives it a standout Indian-food flavor, but the house slaw moistened the bottom bun too much for my liking. The white meat cutlet were also my least favorite as it was not as crisp or craggly as the others. The bun itself was more a deli roll than the brioche-style used by the other restaurants.

Barbarian gives you a tikka masala sauce that is worth the price of admission. 

Tikka masala sauce
Tikka masala sauce

Verdict: 3 stars

PS: V was attracted to the “House Corn Salad” at the Barbarian and was slightly concerned that it didn’t contain any corn. (False rumor, it does have corn.)

Salad with greens and corn
Barbarian’s house corn salad.

El Pollo Picante

Their menu description: “Two perfectly fried chicken breast pieces stacked on a freshly toasted brioche bun. Served with our homemade spicy mayo and sliced dill pickles. Served with a side of seasoned fries, homemade coleslaw and our famous spicy chili and garlic honey.”

Price: $13.50

Weight: 384 grams

El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich
El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich

El Pollo Picante is a relatively new entrant to the Berkeley restaurant scene.

El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich cutaway
El Pollo Picante fried chicken sandwich cutaway

Their sandwich features two crisp chicken breast-meat cutlets with strong but not overpowering heat. The sandwich lives up to its picante moniker. Toppings are minimal: two pickle slices and spicy mayo.

Of the three sandwiches, El Pollo Picante’s chicken was by far the best especially if you can stand the spice. The cutlet crust had crags and edges and was tap-tap-tap crisp. The brioche bun was the perfect vehicle for the sandwich.

I enjoyed this sandwich the most.

Verdict: 5 stars

Their sandwich came with a side of fries which we ended up dipping in the Barbarian’s tikka masala sauce–f’ing delicious.

The competition

We got many good suggestions from friends on a facebook post. Here are some others that were considered but not included. 

  • Bakesale Betty has a well-loved, amazing fried chicken sandwich. They’re the Steph Curry of local fried chicken sandwiches. Here, I tried to highlight up and coming rookies instead. Bakesale’s pies and desserts are a must-try if you haven’t had.
  • Gregoire was recommended multiple times too.
  • Butcher’s Son is a vegan butcher shop and has sweet mustard fried chicken sandwich. Heard many good things about Butcher’s son.
  • Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen has a chicken po’boy that looks yummy.


This country loves fried chicken sandwiches and with good reason. Chicken fried sandwiches are the perfect fusion of our love for hot, crispy fried poultry that one can eat in a warm bun with cole slaw as a topping. A summer picnic in your hands, if you will.

Southside Station and Barbarian were both good, but fell short in slightly different ways. 

Barbarian probably had the weakest sandwich by execution. It didn’t live to my expectation as the breading was not as crisp and the bun getting a little soggy. Perhaps if we had ordered and ate right there, it would have been a different story.

Southside’s sandwich was too much and a bit on the greasy side. To be fair, eating three fried chicken sandwiches might have something to do with the maximum grease intake. 

My pick was El Pollo Picante. The chicken was perfectly fried, the heat was on point yet not 911 emergency levels.

In the end, though, all three restaurants and their fried chicken sandwiches are worth trying and definitely worth supporting.

Fried chicken sandwiches on a cutting board
Delicious fried chicken sandwiches waiting to be devoured.

Watch “Sing Me a Lullaby”

I stumbled across a 30-minute documentary last night that stirred something deep in my soul.

Sing Me a Lullaby traces the story of Tiffany Hsiung, a Taiwanese-Canadian documentary filmmaker on a quest to help her mom find her birth mother in Taiwan.

Hsiung is the director, the narrator and a central character in the movie. Sing Me a Lullaby has touches of a home movie and an award winning documentary film. It is deftly made, going from the present to the past and back to present.

I have visited Taiwan a few times so the sounds and sights of the country are familiar. I could feel the humidity and smell the sea air. My parents went to Taiwan for college and my aunt and cousins lived in Taiwan.

Hsiung’s story, while not mine, feels like a shared experience. Almost every child of immigrant parents has questions about how their parents lives unfolded.

I have been thinking a lot about family these days–learning new stories about relatives who have gone before I was ready to say goodbye.

A New Yorker article about Sing Me a Lullaby.

Uncle 7

A black and white portrait of Chinese man wearing glasses in a suit. His name is Roger Hon Chung Chan.
Roger Hon Chung Chan

Roger Hon Chung Chan was born in Macau in 1951, the seventh of nine children. He was born into a full house and grew into a smart, mischievous, young man with a sharp sense of humor. 

Like many young people at the time, he moved to Hong Kong in search of better educational and job opportunities. He attended Kowloon Evening High School and started his accounting studies at Chu Hai College of Higher Education, Hong Kong.

In 1985, Roger and his mother, Lai Yee Ho, immigrated to the United States to start a new life in California. Los Angeles became his home, and he quickly became a loyal purple and gold Laker fan. He chose the name “Roger” after watching Roger Moore star as James Bond in the movies. He liked the connection of being number 7 in the family and Agent 0-0-7. 

In Los Angeles, he continued in the field of accounting, which appealed to his sense of order and structure. At the time of his passing, Roger worked at the Los Angeles Federal Credit Union, rising to senior accountant’s rank. Roger was well-loved by his colleagues, many of whom became close friends and regular meal companions. 

Roger bought a house in West Covina where he grew a small grove of orange, kumquat, and grapefruit trees that he lovingly tended. His home became a frequent gathering spot for friends and family when they visited the Los Angeles area. 

Roger loved and was loved deeply by family and friends. Roger, known lovingly by his family as “Uncle 7,” was incredibly close to all his nephews and nieces, acting as a confidant, translator, and cultural bridge between the generations. He made friends quickly and was the first to introduce himself to new people and crack a joke to put others at ease. He was not shy about sharing his opinion about every subject, especially Kobe Bryant, Garth Brooks, and the Monterey Park Hong Kong cafe scene. 

Roger was always there to serve others. He cared for his mother in her later years and his best friend, Jerry Quigg, until his passing. He looked after his neighbors, including the stray cat that frequently visited his backyard. More recently, he would drive to Palm Springs on the weekends to visit and care for his friends. 

Dancing is Roger’s passion. He was a dance machine who taught his niece to dance the cha-cha 30 years ago, and was the most sought after dance partner at the annual Credit Union holiday party. He was introduced to country music and line dancing by friends, and hardly a weekend went by when he was not two-stepping in a dance line or hip-shaking at a Zumba class.

Roger passed away from complications of COVID-19 after a brief stay in the hospital. He was 69. Roger was preceded in death by his father, Nai-On Chan, mothers – Lai Yee Ho and Shun-Wah Tam. It was Roger’s wish to be interred at Forest Lawns – Hollywood Hills, next to Jerry and near his mother. Roger is survived by eight siblings: Wai Chung Chan (Hong Kong), Chun Chung Chan (Henderson, NV), Shu Chung Chan (Hong Kong), Kin Chung Chan (Merced, CA), Susan Ma (Monterey, CA), Teresa Ng (Victoria, BC), Chi Chung Chan (Kirkland, QC) and Cat Chan (Macau). And by nephews and nieces: Peggy Chan, Kwok Ching Chan, Clement Chan, Jacqueline Chan, Eugene Chan, Wayne Chan, Eric Chan, Kevin Ma, Celia Ma, Raymond Ng, Amy Poon, Gary Ng, Jennifer Chan, Jeremy Chan, Jason Chan, and James Chan.

He was a kind, loyal, loving man with the biggest heart and smile, and he will be missed forever by his family and friends.

This obituary was written collaboratively by Uncle Roger’s nephews and nieces.

21 Easy Ways to Make My Birthday Great!

Mexican Gelatina Cakes
Mexican Gelatina Cakes

Today’s my birthday. My family asked me what I wanted and for the first time in a long-time–maybe the first time ever–I thought about it.

Asking for what I want is, at its surface, a simple thing. But it is an act that can paralyze me for days.

Maybe you are like me and never tell people what you want. Maybe you don’t know. Or maybe you’re not sure that’s really what you want. Maybe you’re scared that it will come to fruition.

I don’t know and I know that I don’t want to sit still any more.

So this is how YOU can help ME celebrate my birthday.

  1. Get me one of these amazing Mexicana gelataria cakes.
  2. Write me a letter. On paper. Send it via USPS.
  3. Let me interview you about something special.
  4. Let me take your portrait.
  5. Teach me how to fish. Not metaphorically. Literally. I want to learn how to fish.
  6. Share a story with me.
  7. Teach me something that you are really good at.
  8. Invite me to a party (tbd-when we will be generally COVID-safe)
  9. Let me send you one of my photographs.
  10. Let me connect you with another one of my friends.
  11. Cook with me.
  12. Go camping.
  13. Go biking.
  14. Go kayaking.
  15. Open water swim together.
  16. I want to learn a new tool a month.
  17. I want to write something meaningful once a month.
  18. Help me perfect my pizza dough by eating pizza with me.
  19. Be kind.
  20. Write me a song.
  21. Be a good citizen of the world.

I’m so ready for this year to begin.

Seriously, where in the Bay Area can I get me one of these Mexican geletaria cakes?

Remembering Joseph Wong

Joseph Wong at Vonnie and Eugene’s wedding (August 1998)

Joseph was born May 1, 1937 in Faat Au Village, Toisan, Guangdong, China to Wong Yow and Yue Kam. He learned to be independent at a young age. In 1950, when Joseph was 13 years old, he boarded the “American President” steamship in Guangdong, China and crossed the Pacific Ocean. He landed at Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco. In January 1951, he was able to reunite with his father in Minneapolis.

Joseph Wong could accomplish anything he set his mind to do. As a teenager, he had a passion for building things. He enjoyed fixing cars, motors, and all things mechanical. He graduated from Minneapolis Vocational High School in 1954. One of his fondest memories is buying a “clunker” car with a rusted floorboard. Together with his cousin, they fixed it up and drove (sometimes pushing) the car around town and making trouble.

His hobbies included, fishing, stereo systems, listening to Chinese opera, flying airplanes, playing games – Pacman, shooting pool, placing bets sports games, eating well, telling jokes, and taking road trips. Mr. Wong served in the army from 1956 to 1960. Stationed in Ladd Army base Fairbanks, Alaska, his service included flying Cessna planes from Ladd Army base to Fort Lewis (Tacoma Washington).

After being discharged from the Army, he turned down a job offer to be Northwest Airlines pilot. Instead, he chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a restaurant entrepreneur. He had a strong work ethic often working 12-18 hour days to build his restaurant business. He did the best for his family and was proud of his ability to send support to his mother and sisters abroad while providing for his own family in the United States.

Joseph had a big heart and often provided financial support to those around him who needed it. He believed that many times, people sometimes just need a boost to get them over the hump. And, with this in mind, he never hesitated to offer assistance when asked.

Over the next 35 years, he operated several successful restaurants which included Lan’s Garden Café (Minneapolis), Wong’s Teahouse (Mound), Statesman Restaurant and Bar (Chaska) and Jerry’s Restaurant (St Paul).

After selling Jerry’s Restaurant, he retired in 1997. Not being able to sit still in retirement and having a desire to hit the open roads, he took on a part time job driving busses from Minneapolis to Chicago. In 2001, he entered full retirement and found his 4th career as grandpa. He enjoyed walking, traveling, meeting up with his friends, watching the news, and spending time with his grandchildren.

On Monday, November 9, 2020 at the age 83, he passed away peacefully following a fast moving liver infection complicated by low blood pressure at North Memorial Hospital.

Joe’s pride and joy were his children and grandchildren who learned from him that food, life, and love are interconnected.

This obituary was written as a collective effort by Joe’s children with support and input from his wife Zenaida Wong.

Joseph Wong, RIP

On a cold snowy morning, November 9, 2020, Joseph Wong peacefully transitioned from this life. His son, Wymond Wong, was by his side holding his hand in the hospital.

My father-in-law was many things, but first and foremost he was a family man who cared deeply about his family.

Here is the obituary and notice of the memorial service which will be held on Tuesday, November 17th.

Snapshots of Joseph Wong’s life.

It was Christmastime 1989 when I walked off the plane at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport and I met the family.

As I came out of the jetway and into the gate, I am greeted by all the Wongs, big-eyed and excited and I get hugged and welcomed to Minnesota.

This was back when visitors could go all the way up to the gate. Before 9/11 changed things.

The entire Wong family had come to pick me up not just Vonnie. If you have ever traveled to Asia or China, you know that this is how our people receive you at airports.

And this is how the Wongs do it—they come as a unit to greet you, to welcome you, to love you, and to check you out.

Dad was a restaurant guy who had recently sold his restaurant, the Statesman, and hadn’t yet bought his next restaurant, Jerry’s.

“Do you like steak?” he asks.

Because we’re in Minnesota, the heaviest snowstorm this California kid has seen is happening outside with snow that looks like a ticker tape parade down Wall Street.

Undeterred or maybe even unnoticed, Dad puts on his parka, shuffles out to the garage, opens the garage door, and fires up the barbecue. He proceeds to grill ribeyes in the garage, filling up the place with smoke.

In the oven, he has ten pounds of crab legs slowly roasting in a butter bath.

“Go get me more butter!” he asks Wylie, Vonnie’s brother. The butter comes in 1 pound sticks because that’s how restaurant people cook.

We had the best surf and turf dinner that Christmas.

Dad was an immigrant and his father, Vonnie’s grandfather, was also an immigrant. And so his story is also the story of America.

Joseph Wong was born in Toishan, China, a region in Guangdong province. His father was already in Minnesota and would come back periodically to visit his family every few years.

Joe immigrated to the United States when he was 13 or 14, getting on an American President Lines ship and landed, as many Chinese people did, at the immigration detention center in San Francisco. He was not a paper son in the true sense but was caught up in the mistrust, bureaucracy, and barriers that the government put up for immigrants who don’t come from Europe.

Immigrating to the United States before 1965 was an arduous and awful process.

I will miss how he would call us—with concern and care in his voice–when he saw on the news of something bad happening in California. It didn’t matter that the actual thing happening might be miles away.

We would get a phone call:

“I heard there was an earthquake. The bay bridge collapsed. Are you okay?”

“Oh I saw on the news that the fires are bad.”

“Be careful, I heard there was a shooting nearby.”

I will miss how much he loved dim sum and beef chow fun. We would inevitably be on the hunt for a dim sum restaurant whenever and wherever we went on vacation with him.

I will miss how he would drop into Toishan to speak with family and friends from the village. It was, in many respects, when he seemed most at home.

I will miss his unwavering love for his kids and grandkids. He worried about them and bothered them to make sure that we were taking care of ourselves.

At his 80th birthday celebration

Joseph Wong, age 83, is survived by his wife, Zenaida Wong, five children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Rest easy, Dad.

Toilet Paper: An Existential Thought Exercise

In the bathroom this morning, I started thinking about hoarding and impulse buying of toilet paper.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, toilet paper was plentiful and bountiful. Full stacked aisles were available at Costco, Target, and even at the neighborhood corner store.

No one worried about where they would get their next roll.

Then came COVID-19.

Toilet paper went from something you didn’t think about to a the Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020.

1/ Toilet paper was never that scarce.

The shortage came from panic buying, not from reduced production or supply. People got anxious and felt like they needed to get as much as they could while the getting was good.

The problem with this mentality is that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t scare until the people who were worried about it being scarce, made it scarce.

You imagined scarcity and got scarcity. Surprised? You people suck.

2/ Stores began rationing how much toilet paper a customer could buy.

Because customers didn’t have self-control and general consideration for others, stores needed to step in and regulate how much toilet paper customers could buy.

Buy what you need, but leave enough for others to get their share as well.

Stores are saying: “You have enough—leave some for your fellow shoppers.”

It turns out limiting how much toilet paper any one household could accumulate is a good thing.

3/ Many people who had toilet paper shared with people who needed toilet paper.

Meme: Sponge Bob next to a big pile of toilet paper
“Hey grandma what’s up with all the toilet paper in the garage” Grandma: let me tell you about the Coronavirus of 2020.

I was heartened to see in my social media feeds and texts, messages from friends and neighbors willing to share their stashes toilet paper.

I saw instances of friends telling others which stores had it in stock and even offering to buy some and drop off.

People had toilet paper and were willing to share toilet paper with others in need.

Are you with me so far? It seems almost laughable that toilet paper would be thought of in these ways and receive so much attention.

But I want to draw your attention to a thought exercise that stirred in my brain this morning.

Take out the word “toilet paper” and swap it with “money” instead. Reread what I wrote with that in mind and be prepared to discuss.

Your homework assignment is due tomorrow.