A recent visit to Hot Fried Chicken To Go in Glendale left me with more questions than answers, and not just about the food.
A cursory glance of the Yelp and Instagram pages of HFCTG shows a foodie’s fever dream. There are chicken wings coated in 24k gold with a tagline on the menu that literally says “Warning: Instagram Worthy” and a $1,000 option in which 100 of the gold dusted wings are served with a Gold Bottle of Ace of Spades champagne. Pictures on Yelp even show plates with an attached book lamp for photo lighting. There are also menu items like “baller fries” covered in cheese, fried eggs and hot Cheetos. So I expected some strange, over-the-top food display. I could appreciate that they were pretty transparent in their pandering to the Instagram foodies.
For all the energy and food photography placed into HFCTG’s online presence, however, I (like many other reviewers on Yelp) was essentially bamboozled and about to have one of the strangest dining experiences of my life.
HFCTG has been open since December. The shop is on Cañada Boulevard with no banners or signage bearing its name. Instead, when GPS signals your arrival, the only visible signage is for a place called Leon. I circled around the block a number of times seeking any sign of the fried chicken restaurant, eventually spotting some fried chicken-related stickers along one of the windows in the corner of what looked to be a quarter of Leon that was converted into a side restaurant.
My dining partner and I cautiously walked in to find an essentially empty restaurant except for one man who was sitting alone at a table with no food or drink. There was a sign on the counter with a doorbell to push for service. As I went for a menu I noticed there were menus for three different establishments: Hot Fried Chicken To Go, O.M.G Pizza Company, and Glendale Poke Co. All of the menus featured the same address.
A man dressed more akin to a guest than any restaurant manager or employee I have ever seen came in the front door and asked if we had been helped or waiting for food. We indicated no, as did the man sitting without any food or drink.
Eventually, a boy no older than 14 came out and asked the same question. Once again I indicated no, and once again our server disappeared into the backroom of this seemingly workerless restaurant. It was in the absence of help that I began to try to process exactly what I had just stepped into. I looked around and one wall was layered in dark wood slats. Free standing glass shelves held — and I’m not kidding — prop money bags with dollar signs and gold ingots, like the ones in cartoons. The wall on the opposite side that runs parallel to the “money wall” was a chalk board covered in food-related sayings. My personal favorite was a banner that said “Hungry Ha” and the word “Hello” below it that had its own speech bubble that said “Welcome Everyone.”
At this point, I began wondering what the deal was with this place? Why were there no signs anywhere? Why were staff members going in and out via the front door? What did “Hungry Ha” mean?
Eventually, a woman in chef’s attire came to the counter. I had a lot of questions for this poor person. Unfortunately, she was scarce on details but informed me that there was no connection to Leon next door, but Glendale Poke and O.M.G. were in fact all housed under the same roof. She also informed me that there were hookah and cocktails available for order on the patio just in front of the restaurant.
Finally, I ordered the two-piece 24 karat gold wings ($6.95) the baller bites ($10.50), which are crispy chicken bites, oven fries, with flaming hot Cheetos and dynamite sauce with pico de gallo, and the HFC Waffle ($12.95), fried chicken tenders served with a waffle and a side of maple syrup and butter.
I ordered everything dine-in, hoping to have everything as fresh and warm as possible. But when my food came out it was all tightly packed into a plastic bag. Sensing my confusion, she informed me all orders are packaged to-go regardless of whether they are going to be eaten on site. Catfished again. I took the hint the tightly packed bags were not so subtly sending. Despite the backdrops and props inside, this is not a dine-in kind of place.
When I made it home I found my baller bites had been replaced by the similarly named baller fries ($9.95), which was not what I ordered but, at this point, it was more comical than upsetting. Some more in depth Yelp research revealed I was not the only person who experienced the baller bites/baller fries switcheroo. The baller fries were nearly identical to the baller bites, but instead of crispy chicken bites they are topped with two fried eggs. While the photos online show a solid dusting of hot Cheetos, my order looked more like someone had grated Cheetos over my plate. I do not know whether you have experienced the culinary joy of eating fried eggs that have been packaged for a 40-minute commute, but it is a joy to not only find surprise eggs, but to eat them after they have coagulated into a custard.
The 24K wings were pretty on the outside, but upon inspection, all that glitters is not gold. Behind the gold exterior was a taupe colored meat, cooked just enough to be safe to eat. They come with a side of buffalo sauce and ranch, but what is the point of ordering gold wings to flex on Instagram if you’re just going to douse them in buffalo sauce?
The HFC waffle was serviceable, but in much the same way an Eggo Waffle and most any breaded chicken is serviceable.
I wanted to find something positive in the experience, so while I went on a rainy night, there did seem to be some patio space where you could order the ingredients for s’mores for only $1, if you’d ordered a meal, and cook them over one of the fire pits. They also have a variety of beers available on tap, and on weekends they stay open until 2 a.m.
I cannot describe the experience any better than did Yelp reviewer Quirstyn P., who said, “Only eat here if you want to feel like you’re in an episode of the Twilight Zone, and not a good one.”