Fried chicken fans are flocking to Hacienda Heights. Is this new, viral joint worth the hype?

The first time I visited J&G Fried Chicken in Hacienda Heights, I left without any chicken. It was about 2 p.m. on a Saturday and the line of customers stretched to the door and onto the sidewalk outside. I estimated there were about 50 people waiting, not counting the people inside.

The restaurant is the first U.S. location of the popular Taiwanese chicken chain and was opened in partnership with 85 Degrees Bakery Cafe. It began in 1973 on Jiguang Street in Taichung and has since grown to over 400 locations worldwide. The April opening sparked a rush, with nearly nonstop lines for the restaurant's signature popcorn chicken, chicken sandwiches and chicken fillets.

However, when I saw the crowd from my car, I aborted the mission.

Read more: Where to find the best Taiwanese chicken in the San Gabriel Valley | The Bucket List

But the lure of a flat, deep-fried, pancake-sized chicken thigh is persistent and strong. I returned around 1pm on a Tuesday, determined to get my chicken.

My hopes were raised when I found only six people in line. How those six people managed to take 5 minutes each to order from a menu that only offers five flavors of fried chicken is beyond me. After walking through the door, I finally had my bag of chicken in my hand.

Chicken cartilage from J&G Fried Chicken in Hacienda Heights.

Chicken cartilage from J&G Fried Chicken in Hacienda Heights. (Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

I went first with the fillet ($7.99), which was hidden in a paper sleeve. The two women at the table next to me were both halfway through their fillets, the paper protecting their fingers as they ate and chatted. It wasn't as huge as the ones you find at the 626 Night Market or the actual night markets in Taiwan. I still regret the loss of the Hot Star vendor at Smorgasburg, whose specialty was the XXL chicken schnitzel.

The J&G version is an adequate substitute, with its vast, craggy terrain encased in tiny golden balls of shattered breading. The chicken thigh is pounded thin, like a giant piece of popcorn chicken popped on the kitchen counter. The crunch factor is high, but it's still juicy enough to drip if you tear off a corner. Although I ordered the fillet spicy, there was only a hint of heat from something that tasted more like white pepper than chili.

The popcorn chicken ($5.99) is wrapped in a delicate batter reminiscent of McDonald's chicken nuggets and the funnel cake at the State Fair. Each piece is a little sweet and erupts in a mixture of juice and hot fat.

Original chicken sandwich from J&G Fried Chicken in Hacienda Heights.Original chicken sandwich from J&G Fried Chicken in Hacienda Heights.

Original chicken sandwich from J&G Fried Chicken in Hacienda Heights. (Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The Original Chicken Sandwich ($5.99) is comparable to your favorite fast-food chicken sandwich: soft bun, large chicken fillet, dill pickle chips, and mayonnaise. In case you've been following the fast-food chicken wars and must know, the chicken in the Popeyes sandwich is crispier.

There's a yuzu variant ($7.49) that I want to try next time, and a smoked salmon chicken sandwich ($8.99) that I couldn't order on a Tuesday. If you like smoked salmon slices over a seared chicken fillet with a slice of pineapple, a pile of coleslaw, some red onions, and honey mustard sauce, come on the weekend because that's when it's available.

The one I would wait the longest for is the cartilage meat ($6.99). It tastes as good as popcorn chicken and is also tender and crispy.

If you want to avoid the crowds, make sure you go during the week. Unless you want that smoked salmon and pineapple chicken sandwich, you'll have to wait in line for that.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.