CenPho’s favorite micro-diner makes holy matrimony of two deep-fried favorites.
Fried chicken and doughnuts, it should go without saying, is a combination we can get behind. So the question we'll put to Welcome Chicken + Donuts, now the undisputed epicenter of fried food in Central Phoenix, isn’t so much “Why?” but “What took you so long?”
Hard to believe the Valley’s best-known trailblazer of salty and sweet – Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles – opened all of 13 years ago. Since its debut late last year, Welcome Chicken + Donuts has carried the mantle proudly and deliciously, giving Valley diners their long-overdue union of perfectly fried fowl and ring-shaped breakfast cakes.
Conceived by the owners of Downtown’s beloved Welcome Diner, this is unabashed guilty-pleasure food, but it’s done with a certain farm-to-table flair, using local boutique ingredients such as all-natural Red Bird Farms chicken and non-GMO flour. Chef/owner Michael Babcock has kept the menu tight, a tidy listing of chicken-piece combo meals, wings, sides and around 20 artisanal doughnuts.
Inhabiting a former Kentucky Fried Chicken, Babcock serves a remarkably tasty and different kind of KFC: Korean fried chicken. Twice-fried in a light batter, the tender meat features an almost impossibly crisp skin. You can order it au naturel with a bit of salt and pepper or get it tossed in one of three thick, clingy Asian sauces: an intense Vietnamese fish sauce that gets even better with squirts of Sriracha; a tangy version of a Japanese tonkatsu barbecue sauce; and a ginger-laced Korean chili sauce that goes best with the chunky whole chicken wings. Only after sinking your teeth into the wings will you understand the collective groan from the line of customers when a “sold out” sign appears on the counter.
Sides also come by way of the Pacific Rim, and they are small enough that you could order all three: crunchy, peanut-y Thai Yum slaw; fresh corn with bits of onions and jalapeños stir-fried in miso butter; and a bright cucumber salad with ginger and scallions.
The doughnuts, a magnificent mix of old-school styles and unusual flavors, employ ample chew, the pastries themselves delicately sweet with just the slightest crunch on the outside. Purists could make a case for sticking by the very good plain doughnut and the classic glazed, but should know glorious maple bacons, hefty apple fritters, and ring cakes rolled in a tongue-tingling chipotle and lemon sugar await if they want to step out of their comfort zone. For those who crave something eclectic – like doughnuts iced with a red wine glaze, or prettified with a blackberry liqueur gel – this is your place.
On most days, it seems half the city has lined up for a taste in the bright six-booth restaurant, where an overabundance of napkins and moist towelettes stand at the ready. Given the conspicuous absence of knives, it’s pretty much expected that things will get messy.
No matter. The universe has given Phoenix chicken and doughnuts, and that makes us smile – even if we do have crumbs and sauce left on our faces.
Welcome Chicken + Donuts
Cuisine: Chicken and doughnuts
Contact: 1535 E. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602-258-1655, facebook.com/welcomechickenanddonuts
Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. M-Sa
Highlights: Two-piece chicken combo ($8); half-dozen wings ($6); half-dozen assorted doughnuts ($10); individual doughnuts ($1.30-$3)
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