Birdland – Restaurants

Birdland – Restaurants – Restaurant Review

I ASKED A MECHANIC IN A MUFfler shop on Whittier Boulevard for directions to Chicken Box in La Habra. He pointed me on my way, then smiled, cocked his head, and said, “And bring some with you on your way back.” Chicken Box is a small restaurant that over the past 30 years has become an institution by countering trends. Instead of economizing with a monthly frozen vegetable delivery, it buys its watermelon and corn from one of the last roadside stands in Orange County. In an increasingly impersonal world its chicken is delivered by a driver who has a key to the back door and mops the floor on his way out. In a fast-food landscape it reminds us that good food takes time.

Located in a freestanding building near the La Habra Bowl, the restaurant has firehouse-red shutters and a white picket fence that encloses a handful of plastic tables. Inside there’s a collection of chicken-themed ornaments, a quirky touch that reflects the personality of owner Cheryl Christy. “This whole restaurant is built around what I like to eat,” she says. Christy likes her chicken broasted, rice in her soup, crushed ice in her drinks, and honey on her rolls.

She was introduced to the broasting technique–in which the birds are fried under high pressure–by her uncle, who owned a restaurant on Chicago’s North Side. The family brought along the tradition when it moved to Southern California. Today the restaurant is so much a part of the community that even when locals move away they return to Chicken Box to eat. “They come from Dana Point, from Temecula,” says Christy. “People who come here come back.”

On a recent afternoon, as Whittier Boulevard glimmered in veils of heat, Christy paused while serving watermelon, corn, three-piece specials, chicken-wing dinners, charred ribs, and her own mix of boysenberry punch long enough to consider the chief reason for her success. “People expect to wait,” she said. “They come here because it’s not cooked until they walk in.”–PK.

Chicken Box, 330 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, 562-691-1701.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Los Angeles Magazine, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group