Korean fried chicken: It’s more than finger–licking good. It’s heavenly. After a long day of classes, office hours, and meetings, a combination of perfectly tart radish, soy garlic chicken, and fries might just be a spiritual, out–of–body experience. That first crunch biting into Korean fried chicken is simply magical. 

On campus, three Korean restaurants are battling to be the king of the fried chicken hill. Bonchon is the established chain, with franchises spanning across the country. It’s known for its wide variety of dishes and, of course, juicy chicken. Pelicana is a certified Penn classic, even though it's only been open for five years. With late–night hours targeted toward college students, Pelicana is conveniently right across the street from the high rises. CM Chicken is the underdog in this competition, opening recently in 2022. However, its chicken quality and presentation have placed it as a frontrunner in the Korean fried chicken scene.

So, I decided to put these three restaurants to the test—the ultimate Korean fried chicken showdown—to determine a winner worthy of the KFC crown. I judged using a five–category rubric: flavor and seasoning, texture and crispiness, variety of menu, presentation, and service and atmosphere.


What we ordered: seafood bibimbap, tteokbokki, soy garlic and spicy soy garlic chicken combo, bulgogi fries, and Korean fried donuts.

Photo: Weining Ding

Bonchon’s bibimbap, which translates to “mixed rice” in Korean, is beautifully plated. What sets their dish apart is the bits and pieces of shrimp and octopus, a creative twist on the usual bibimbap variations. Another surprising element is the incorporation of quinoa, which contributes a unique texture, a nutty flavor, and enhances the perceived nutritional value of the dish. However, the rice itself is a letdown. It's mushy and lacking the crispiness that should occur at the bottom of the clay pot. Still, better than Hill rice. 

The next dish is tteokbokki, which are cylindrical rice cakes simmered in a typically sweet and spicy gochujang–based sauce. At Bonchon, the tteokbokki is too salty, bordering on what in Chinese cuisine might be termed "xia fan," or a strong, salty flavor meant to complement rice. As someone with high expectations for tteokbokki after eating in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, the tteokbokki do not stand out.

The chicken has a thin, crispy crust with generously–sized pieces. Although the accompanying radish is a bit too sweet, the chicken itself is exactly what you’d want for a KFC meal. 

The best part of the dinner is the bulgogi fries, a mouthwatering combo of creamy mozzarella, spicy mayo, marinated steak, and chopped green onions. Imagine loaded nachos with an Asian twist and the satisfaction of fries.

The surprising highlight of this meal is the Korean fried donuts. The donuts’ twists make them easy to share, plus providing a good structure for the cinnamon and sugar to stick to. The cold condensed milk on the side adds a welcome contrast to the warm, fluffy donuts.


What we ordered: Everything Combo with white powder cheese fries, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, soy garlic chicken, and spicy soy garlic chicken.

Pelicana’s "Everything Combo” delivers on its deliciously light chicken, with a perfect balance of spicy soy garlic and soy garlic. The chicken is definitely the highlight of the meal: super juicy yet still crispy. The radish on the side is also perfectly tart, striking that perfect balance between sweet and sour. The side dishes are unimpressive, but not anything to look down on. The white powder cheese fries are fresh and crispy, but the cheese is tasteless. The mozzarella sticks and onion rings frankly taste like dining hall food—nothing to complain about, but nothing special, either.

The main complaint with Pelicana is their long wait time, not due to too many people, but because of understaffing. With only two tables filled, food took upwards of half an hour to get on the table. The final product, while delivering in flavor, has a straightforward presentation, ultimately focusing on delivering the essence of the dish without excessive frills.

CM Chicken

What we ordered: Tikku soy garlic chicken, snow onion chicken, and cheese fries.

Photo: James Tran

CM Chicken presents their two flagship chicken flavors: Tikku soy garlic and snow onion chicken. The Tikku soy garlic is a crispier version of the traditional Korean fried chicken but is exceptionally juicy. Yet, there's a strong charcoal–grilled flavor reminiscent of its thinner–crusted KFC counterparts. The snow onion chicken is also incredibly unique in its presentation, with a bed of caramelized white onions on top of the well–breaded chicken. Although the idea is novel, the flavor profile compared to the Tikku isn't as intense—even erring on the side of blandness. However, the quality of the chicken is still on par with the Tikku and competitors. The cheese fries are definitely stronger than Pelicana’s, but still nothing to write home about. They serve their job as a satisfying complement, but don't provide a “wow factor” like the bulgogi fries at Bonchon.

Final Rankings


  • Flavor and Seasoning: 7/10
  • Texture and Crispiness: 8/10
  • Variety of Menu: 8/10
  • Presentation: 9/10
  • Service and Atmosphere: 9/10

Overall: 41/50


  • Flavor and Seasoning: 9/10
  • Texture and Crispiness: 9/10
  • Variety of Menu: 8/10
  • Presentation: 7/10
  • Service and Atmosphere: 6/10

Overall: 39/50

CM Chicken:

  • Flavor and Seasoning: 9/10
  • Texture and Crispiness: 9/10
  • Variety of Menu: 7/10
  • Presentation: 8/10
  • Service and Atmosphere: 9/10

Overall: 42/50

After thorough review, the underdog CM Chicken narrowly beats out Bonchon and Pelicana for the Korean fried chicken crown. Although the location next to Hill is slightly out of the way for some residents, the emerging KFC joint is definitely worth a try. The quality of the chicken here is undeniable, and the restaurant's dedication to presentation and atmosphere adds to the overall experience. Even the cheese fries, while not exceptional, play their role in enhancing the meal's satisfaction.

But, go to Bonchon if you’re looking for Asian dishes that remind you of home. The restaurant tries to put creative twists on traditional Korean staples, which either creates a minor letdown or a beautiful combo. Although I wouldn’t order the bibimbap or tteokbokki again, the chicken will still hit the KFC spot. The bulgogi fries and Korean fried donuts are must–tries, demonstrating when the fusion of flavors works.

The same goes for Pelicana. You’re either going for the good chicken, late closing times, or soju. Its wait times and customer service are definitely not highlights, but when the KFC calling comes, Pelicana does the job.

So, whether you're seeking creative takes on classic dishes, a consistently satisfying chicken fix, or something entirely different, these three restaurants have something unique to offer. The KFC crown may sit on CM Chicken's head today, but the Korean fried chicken scene is undoubtedly vibrant and one prime for exploration.