Although Hainan chicken is one of the most popular dishes in Southeast Asia (particularly in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand), whenever a picture of the ungarnished poached bird is posted online, the internet collectively loses its mind.
On one hand, we get it. Americans are used to seeing chicken fried, grilled, or pan-seared, usually with crispy skin or smothered in barbecue sauce. Hainan chicken, however, is served poached and over rice, the result of a painstaking process in which the bird first boils in a pot over the stove then immediately hits an ice bath - like Roger Federer after a long match. Bare, pale, and almost translucent, to the untrained eye (or Instagram speed-scroller), the dish might look bland, undressed, or even raw.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Poaching renders the chicken soft and succulent, incredibly juicy and hefty on the fork. Instead of plain white rice, it’s served with one that’s been flavored with chicken fat and simmered in stock, creating a rich, oily consistency. Then, choose your own adventure using three types of sauces: chili, ginger garlic, and a sweet, dark black soy sauce. Confused? Don’t know where to start? Here are the best places serving Hainan chicken rice in Los Angeles.
If LA’s Hainan chicken scene were a kingdom, Pearl River Deli would be its emperor. This tiny Chinatown spot serves the best possible version of the dish in the city. Thick, juicy pieces of chicken lay upon a bed of rice, like an exhausted noblewoman in a renaissance painting. The chicken rice – which is equally as important as the poultry – has been simmered in a rich ginger-garlic broth then fluffed with chicken fat, down to each and every last grain. To say this dish is a masterpiece would be an understatement.
We love Steep’s version of the Hainan chicken because it combines big, tender pieces of poultry, well-made sauces, and pretty plating (we’re suckers for handmade ceramics). In addition to the rice and chicken, they’ve included some pickled cabbage with a good crunch and a surprising amount of spice. Instead of a fine, paste-like ginger scallion sauce, they’ve opted for one that’s coarsely chopped and thick, with a slaw-like consistency. Together, it’s a nourishing dish that should be an instant add to your “I’m feeling under the weather and need something to nurse me back to life” short list.
You’ll find everything from creamy mushroom pastas to shrimp pizza to escargot on the menu at this Alhambra restaurant, but what they’re known for is their Hainan chicken. So much so, in fact, it’s painted along the side of the parking garage - “Famous Hainan Chicken since 1982.” The dish itself is pretty simple - you won’t find any accoutrements or bone broths here, but instead a simple presentation of poached chicken, rice, and three sauces. The ginger garlic spread here is particularly garlicky – ask for extras.
Despite the on-the-go name, Cluck2Go is a casual sit-down restaurant with locations in Pasadena, Rowland Heights, and Diamond Bar. The otherwise Chinese-leaning menu has a few wild cards, like the French-style filet mignon, but what you’re here for is the Hainan chicken. For $10.50, you get two rows of soft, supple cuts of chicken stacked delicately on top of one another, plus half a container-full of rice. The ginger garlic sauce is nice and citrusy, and there’s a small container of pickles as well, ranging from tiny jalapeños to slices of carrots. Our only complaint is that the soup stock is a bit bland, and not nearly as flavorful as some of the other places on this list.
Located in the outdoor food court at the Westfield mall in Arcadia, Side Chick is a Hainan chicken specialist with a name that warrants a slight eyeroll. If the presentation looks familiar, that’s because this is Johnny Lee’s (the Prince of Poultry)’s old joint. Although he’s since moved onto Pearl River Deli, this casual San Gabriel Valley counter remains one of the best places to find Hainan chicken in Los Angeles. A healthy mix of both white and dark meat, accompanied by rice, cucumbers, and an over-easy egg, this is exactly what you want while building your stamina before a long day of shopping.
Hainan chicken might not be what you’d think to order at Thai Town institution Jitlada, but theirs is a wonderful dish nonetheless. Their version, the cow man kai, is prepared Thai-style, which means it’s accompanied by a side of clear chicken broth. The chicken itself is cut thinner than the others on this list (think more shredded than cutlets) and comes with a bright, tangy coriander sauce that tastes strongly of citrus, and is a little sweet and Very Spicy. The tart flavors go well with the herb-y dish, but definitely be prepared for some heat.
A relative newcomer to the scene, this to-go-only operation in Chinatown serves a deconstructed Hainan chicken that looks like a minimalist art project. The various elements are laid out delicately, and don’t touch each other at all. There’s Singaporean-style chicken, a mound of oily rice, thinly sliced cucumbers, three sauces, and a bone broth garnished with pickled vegetables. When it arrived at our house, it felt like opening a packed lunch, prepared with care by our mom.