I love fried chicken. Hell, I love fried anything, but fried chicken especially. We have plenty of fried chicken options in Los Angeles. Aside from the usual fast food options like KFC, Popeye's, and Church's, there's also Dinah's, Roscoe's, and Honey Kettle. But my all time favorite, which most of my friends know, is Pioneer Chicken. Young people today probably don't remember Pioneer, but back in the '80s they used to compete directly with KFC, back when they still served center breasts.
There is only the one Pioneer Chicken left in LA now, and that is Irene's Pioneer Chicken on Olympic Blvd. There used to be two others, one in Echo Park and one in Silver Lake, but these have since closed down. Besides, I don't believe that they used the original recipes anymore. According to Irene, the owner of the Olympic Pioneer, there are still two others left in Southern California. At one time I had also heard of a mystical Pioneer in the Arizona desert, but cannot confirm that.
I have a relatively long history with Irene's Pioneer Chicken, even before she owned it. When I was a young child, the nearest Pioneer used to be less than ten blocks away. When it closed and became a fast food Chinese takeout, that left either the Echo Park and Olympic locations as the closest options. I like gizzards and the Echo Park location either didn't offer them or had such a poor rendition that we instead went to the Olympic location.
At the time, that Pioneer was owned by an amiable Korean gentleman, and over the years we learned quite a bit about him. He had been a high ranking diplomat in Korea, a truth visible from his demeanor which was always dignified and professional. He had moved his family to the US in order that his children would have more opportunities to succeed. The fact that he left a high ranking position only to find himself in a much more blue collar job never kept him from dealing respectfully with both his customers as well as himself.
Pioneer Chicken lay along the route between my home and university, so I found myself dining there more frequently while I was in college. The other members of my family were also frequent customers, and he would often greet us with a smile, tossing in a free drink or another piece of chicken whenever we went. In a world where fewer and fewer businesses are family operated, and where employees come and go, it was nice to have some familiarity and an interpersonal connection. So imagine my shock when a couple of years ago I stopped by the Pioneer and there was Irene, whom I had never seen before, standing behind the counter.
Irene explained that the previous owner's wife had been wanting him to retire. However he didn't want to just close the business, so he ended up selling it to a relative, Irene. He couldn't have made a better choice. Irene is a very friendly and generous lady, not much unlike the older gentleman who had previously occupied her post. I've continued on as a regular customer, and have gotten to know her as well. She still prepares the food using the same recipes and methods along with the help of Lorenzo, the cook and a holdover from the previous ownership. It looks as though business has grown since then, and I hope it continues.
In all of this I realize I have talked very little about the actual food. It is good. Very good in fact. I could write volumes on what I like about their chicken. But I don't think I have to. Most of that has already been summed up in my feelings about the people who run it--for without them, it would be just another fried chicken place.
This picture was taken at a previous date. It only shows the gizzards and spicy rice. I had Pioneer Chicken tonight, but it was pretty much gone by the time it hit the table, so I wasn't able to take a picture.
Irene's Pioneer Chicken
5970 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Closed on Sundays