Photography by Grace Stufkosky
Asian libations, K-pop and rambunctious, Seoul-inspired street food make for a fine time in west Mesa.
It’s no coincidence that Tipsy Chicken, a drinking game akin to Truth or Dare, is also the name of an appealing new Korean restaurant and bar in Mesa, specializing in chicken (the Korean fried kind) and booze. Like the game itself, this dim, neon-lit space seems aimed at Gen Zs and Millennials, the age group most likely to appreciate K-pop artists dancing on three TVs and a lively, affordable menu built upon Korea’s favorite street foods.
The backlit, center-stage bar dispenses Cass (one of Korea’s most popular beers), soju (Korea’s clear, vodka-like spirit), somaek (shots of soju in beer, à la America’s boilermaker) and a handful of modern soju-based cocktails.
By 5:30 on a recent visit, the place is packed with customers, and most of them are there for the chicken. However, the first dish to hit our table is kimchi-fried rice, and it’s stellar. Topped with an oozy fried egg and bolstered with smoky bits of pork belly, the dish is a garlicky, spicy-sweet riot of texture.
Swathed in a remarkably light batter that creates plenty of crags and crunch, the chicken is equally wonderful. Had we known each wing would be three times the size of a standard-issue Buffalo wing, we wouldn’t have ordered 21 of them in all three available flavors – original (plain old crispy fried chicken), garlic and soy (savory, but drizzled with honey), and sweet and spicy (sticky and sweet, with just enough heat to create a pleasant tingle). Hard to pick a favorite when each has its charms.
Bulgogi – the classic Korean dish of sweet, soy-tenderized beef, here enriched with caramelized onions and served with rice – makes for a terrific entrée. (Next time, though, I’m trying the sexier-sounding bulgogi fries.) We also get a kick out of pork belly corn cheese, a name that doesn’t do justice to this ultra-rich amalgamation of sizzling corn, melting mozzarella, green onions and grilled pork belly, torched tableside. It’s sort of a Korean version of a queso dip.
The only disappointment is dense Korean sausages skewered with chewy, cylindrical rice cakes, brushed with spicy-sweet glaze. I blame the cultural disconnect, not necessarily the kitchen.
Bottom line: Tipsy Chicken is delicious fun – even when you’re not tipsy.
Contact: 1933 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-265-8766, tipsychickenaz.com
Hours: M-Th 4-11 p.m., F-Sa noon-1 a.m., Su noon-10 p.m.
Highlights: Korean fried chicken ($12.95-$35.95); kimchi-fried rice ($14.95); pork belly corn cheese ($15.95); bulgogi beef with rice ($17.95)