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$20 Dinner

$20 Dinner: The Superlative Rokstar Chicken Now Kickin’ at a Supermarket in Long Island City

Mark Lee's Korean fried chicken is among the city's best.

Bone-in fried chicken tossed in hot soy garlic BBQ sauce, $15.99 for “half size.” (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Rokstar Chicken kicks ass. Located in a pair of shipping containers facing the parking lot of a Food Bazaar in Long Island City (not the most scenic of sites, to be sure), this Korean fried chicken spot started slinging some stellar bird, tossed in a variety of sticky sauces, at the beginning of December.  

They put up a parking lot, but at least now there's fried chicken too . (Scott Lynch/Hell Gate)

The founder and owner is Mark Lee, who ran Spot Dessert Bars in Flushing and on St. Mark's Place before turning his attention to chicken. This is actually his second Rokstar location in Queens—the first, also at a Food Bazaar, has been open for about a year, but it's in Douglaston, and thus like 100 miles from the nearest subway, leaving non-driving people like me yearning from afar. 

Not that the LIC Rokstar isn't situated in car-friendly environs. Despite a newish, fairly well-protected bike lane on this stretch of Northern Boulevard, the whole area still feels more thruway-and-strip-mall than strollable city street. 

Yes, there are crosswalks. Yes, they are nerve-wracking to walk across. But Rokstar is only a few blocks from the E, M, and R trains, there's a whole seating area right inside the Food Bazaar, and the chicken is delicious.  

Rokstar's killer chicken sandwich, $7.99 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"I'm Korean, I came here when I was eleven, but Rokstar is a New York City brand, born and bred," Lee told Held Gate before we feasted. "It's Korean flavor with a New York attitude."

You can eat your chicken a number of different ways here. There are wings, and fried boneless tenders—and, the preferred Hell Gate way, for maximum meat and flavor—hacked up into bone-in bits. The exterior crackles, the interior remains juicy, and, if you get it tossed with sauce, the whole thing makes for a glorious mess. Neat-niks should consider ordering their sauce on the side, for dainty dipping.    

Rokstar seating, and a bathroom, is inside the Food Bazaar. Vibe was downcast when we arrived, as Morocco was about to lose to France :(  (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Good Korean fried chicken is defined by its light, super-crispy coating, and Rokstar (the "ROK" stands for Republic of Korea, by the way) definitely delivers in this regard. But the sauce is pretty key as well. You can just get it "plain," but I'd suggest slathering this sucker with either the Korean sweet chili, the hot sweet chili, or the hot soy garlic. The Cajun garlic and hot Buffalo options are also likely to satisfy.

The sleeper hit, though? Rokstar's chicken sandwich, made from fried thigh meat and topped with creamy coleslaw. There are a ton of well-executed chicken sandwiches all over the city these days (Have they surpassed the cheeseburger in ubiquity? Not yet, but maybe soon), and this is one of the absolute best I've had all year.  

The offerings. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The sides are serviceable. Decent fries, crocks of pickled radish, some interesting puffy cheese balls that were too sugary for my taste. Those kimchi dumplings sound good though—next time!    

Most Rokstar customers are of the take-it-to-go variety, but the Food Bazaar food court accommodations are comfortable enough. The vibe was admittedly a little grim when we went, sitting down to eat towards the end of Morocco's loss in the World Cup semifinals, but in general this is a fine spot to scarf a pile of chicken.  

"We're a growing brand," said Lee, "looking to open stores next year in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, standalone spots and places like this at a Food Bazaar. It's a simple concept: super easy to order, high quality food, amazing customer service. Our goal is to become the Shake Shack of Korean fried chicken."  

The new Long Island City Rokstar Chicken is located in front of the Food Bazaar at 42-02 Northern Boulevard, between 36th Avenue and 42nd Place, and is currently open on Sunday to Thursday from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 12:00 noon to 10:00 p.m. (347-988-5553)    

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