Say what you will about the food-truck fad being “so over,” there are still a handful of trucks out there with serious cult followings. So whenever a food-truck owner jumps into the brick-and-mortar restaurant world, there’s always a strong buzz among foodies. That’s what happened earlier this year as word began to spread that Jerry Misa and Sandra Lenska were ditching their Dragon Grille Asian-fusion food truck to open Mochiko Chicken. Despite numerous delays, the place is finally open.
Mochiko is a small, quick-casual spot near Decatur Boulevard and Sahara Avenue, with counter service. The couple doesn’t use it to re-create any of the recipes from Dragon Grill, since the truck now has new owners offering those dishes. Instead, the focus is strictly on Asian-fusion preparations of chicken. At this point, Mochiko offers Hawaiian-influenced fried tenders and three grilled-chicken bowls, with more bowls expected to be added soon. Meanwhile, a selection of salads has already been slated for elimination because of lack of interest (which is a shame because the one I tried was actually pretty good).
Born in the Philippines, where his family ran six restaurants and a bakery, Misa insists the secret to all of his dishes is “in the sauce.” And there’s no denying these folks take their sauces seriously. There are nine dipping options available for the tenders: the signature Mochiko Sauce; coconut curry; buttermilk ranch; Polynesian; Mandarin sweet chili; sriracha sambal aioli; wasabi ranch; honey Dijon; and Twisted Teriyaki. Despite doubling or even tripling up on recent visits, I still haven’t made it through all of them. Clearly, these aren’t your basic McNugget sauces; each is complex and clearly made with love. (The restaurant also creates other versions for various weekly specials.)
As good as those sauces are, however, I refuse to concede that they’re the secret to the success of the tenders. Each large white-meat strip is plump and juicy, wonderfully tender, coated with a lightly seasoned flaky batter and fried until perfectly crisp and golden. Served in combos starting at $7, they’re everything you could ask for in a fried chicken, except the bones and the dark meat.
You’ll find that dark meat in the bowls, which are made with grilled thigh meat. While none of the bowls I’ve tried has lived up to the near-perfection of the strips, they’re often more enjoyable, thanks to their complexity and (relative) healthiness. I loved the Mochiko Bowl ($7): steamed rice sprinkled with Nori Komi Furikake seasoning, then topped with chicken, stir-fried veggies and Mochiko sauce. I was a little less impressed with the Hawaiian Hen House ($8). The fried egg was overcooked, and the sweet and tangy Polynesian sauce is probably my least favorite of the ones I’ve tried. (I should note that an egg I ordered on another occasion was slightly undercooked, demonstrating that making a perfect egg is not easy.) Finally, for your beverage, make sure not to overlook the sweet lychee lemonade.
Given the fact that Mochiko is extremely new and makes everything to order, it should come as no surprise that service might be slow at first. But even in a forgiving mood, the 15-plus-minute wait during my first visit was unacceptable. Things were better just a few days later, however. With Misa and Lenska almost constantly present, I’m sure they’ll continue to improve now that they’ve ditched the wheels and found this chicken a permanent roost.
2101 S. Decatur Blvd., 702-789-7103. Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon–Sat, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Sun. Dinner for two, $10–$20.