Before I ate Krispy Krunchy Chicken for the first time, I had heard about it for years, though as more of a tale than an explicit recommendation.
Coworkers, neighbors, strangers in Lyfts, elevators and at parties had all spoken about Krispy Krunchy Chicken in the same way that someone talks about a great love affair: elusive, sublime, not meant to be talked about too loudly, so pleasing that it broaches corporeal sin. Krispy Krunchy, the mythology goes, is the best fried chicken that you haven't heard of because it only exists, elusively, in gas stations, waiting to be partaken in by those who are lucky or intentional enough to find it. "That gas station chicken," it's described as they shake their head. "So good," they punctuate forlornly.
Krispy Krunchy Chicken locations are nestled in gas stations all over the Philadelphia area and the entire country, for that matter. But the one that most people are talking about when they recommend it is talking about the one within the Lukoil at the corner of Spring Garden and Columbus Blvd. This one is near Sugar House Casino, making it easy to imagine revelers of life schlepping or vaulting themselves there in light of whatever chance has brought them that night.
The second most popular Krispy Krunchy in the Philadelphia area is located at the Sunoco at 18th and Oregon, and it's here that I had an epiphany of desire. While eating this Krispy Krunchy Chicken, sitting on the edge of a wooden plant bed full of rocks and weeds, I realized that all I want is the feeling of innocence and wholesomeness that this chicken provides. I felt in touch with something good and positive and pure of essence while watching a 16-wheeler refuel the station right in front of me.
I suspect that most of the cause for this feeling is that Krispy Krunchy Chicken is truly as delicious as the mythology that precedes it says it is. The chicken is indeed crispy and crunchy, and the simple fulfillment of the promise made by the name is enough to make me a believer. The skin of the chicken provides exactly the right amount of resistance against the teeth that results in a bite that's so satisfying it can be felt in the toes and soul.
Having been injected with seasoning, the chicken oozes a Nickelodeon-orange sheen after being bitten into, which amazingly comforts all of the senses at once.
The chicken options — dark or white meat thighs and breasts, cajun chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, regular wings, buffalo wings, “Sweet & Sour” wings and a very recent addition, boneless wings — are everything someone could ask for from a fried chicken restaurant in a gas station.
They also offer a few seafood options, including Cajun shrimp and Cajun fish filets.
But the sides are just as good. In fact, the honey butter biscuit should be treated not as a mere side but as a main dish unto itself. These biscuits are adorned with a honey glaze that hardens into a glistening sheath as it simultaneously seeps deep into the biscuit – under the warming light.
Eating them tastes so right it feels wrong, like dessert before dinner. Krispy Krunchy also offers the usual fried chicken accompaniments as sides: macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes with gravy. But the shining stars are the red beans and rice and the jambalaya featuring cut-up chicken tenders. And some locations have boudin bites, a Cajun specialty of rice and pork fried in the shape of a ping pong-sized ball.
“The skin of the chicken provides exactly the right amount of resistance against the teeth that results in a bite that's so satisfying it can be felt in the toes and soul.”
The fact that Krispy Krunchy includes carefully chosen Cajun items on its menu feels like a genuine homage to its Louisiana roots, which is refreshing in comparison to other Cajun chicken fast food restaurants that have fully embraced it for the sake of a brand.
It's possible that Krispy Krunchy Chicken makes me feel particularly wholesome because the people serving it seem to love it just as much as the clientele. Almost all of Krispy Krunchy's 2,294 locations are located inside of gas stations or convenience stores, which is a foundational part of the franchise model.
It turns out that putting food businesses inside of businesses that already exist works excellent: overhead is low and foot traffic is high. Franchise operators pay for only the equipment and graphics. They order their inventory from Krispy Krunchy and keep whatever they make in sales. It works, and people prosper.
However, I know the real reason I felt such a palpable sense of wholesomeness and innocence while eating Krispy Krunchy. It's because Krispy Krunchy didn't try to persuade me to go there.
I've never seen a single advertisement for it.
I went there because other people told me to. With one butt cheek on the edge of a planting bed outside of a gas station in deep South Philly, I thought about how unadulterated word-of-mouth, of one person relaying their pleasures gained from something to another person verbally, is becoming rarer all the time. Yet word-of-mouth is what led me to a place where I can eat delicious chicken and think about how I'll describe it to the next person.
DINNER FOR 20
This delicious rundown at some of the best dishes around the city – for $20 or less.
Little Thai Market in Reading Terminal
There is almost guaranteed to be a line, but it's worth it for the salmon curry ($8) that they're known for, as well as a plethora of Thai soups ($2-$3). | 51 N. 12th St. readingterminalmarket.org/merchant/little-thai-market
A South Philly staple that never fails to please, serving both Mexican and Honduran food. Die-hards recommend the bean and cheese pupusas ($6) and the huitlacoche (corn fungus) quesadillas ($4). | 1163 S. 7th St. facebook.com/TamalexPhilly
This Indonesian restaurant serves everything buffet-style over rice. A plate with vegetables and a protein (try the spicy beef or tempeh) goes for about $7. | 1740 S. 11th St. facebook.com/ramayanadepot
Reggae Reggae Vibes
A classic Jamaican restaurant with touches of neighborhood sandwich shop. Go for the jerk chicken ($8), the fried whiting hoagie ($9) or the fried plantains ($3). | 517 W. Girard Ave. reggaereggaevibes.com
The best pho in South Philly — depending on who you ask. A regular bowl of pho with brisket, flank, chicken or meatballs is $7.75, and a large is $8.45. | 1122 Washington Ave. phoseventyfive.com