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Review: PIONEER CHICKEN (Sunset/Fountain)

for lunch yesterday i had what is, in my opinion, the best fried chicken in los angeles. pioneer fried chicken has the perfect coating. from appearance alone it looks airy and yeasty. while it is both of those things it is still very substantial and crunchy. the chicken underneath is moist, salty, and has the perfect amount of rangey-ness. like you can taste the farmhouse. this is gourmet fried chicken. it is comparable to the 26 dollar fried chicken that you get at the so-called nuevo-american restaurants such as cynthia's or memphis.

there is a scene in serial mom where beverly (kathleen turner) is spying on this couple that goes to her husband's dental practice. she is looking through their window during dinnertime and the couple is eating fried chicken like there's no tomorrow. they are ravenously picking, prodding, and chewing every last morsel off of every bone as the skin hangs from their mouth. yes, that was me yesterday. after i went through the drive-thru at the corner of sunset and fountain i parked my car in their parking lot and dug in with the air conditioning blowing and "misty" playing on the radio. i never chew chicken bones like i never eat in the dining rooms of fast food restaurants. but with pioneer chicken it's a whole different story. the coating is so good it's a necessity to chew it off of every rib and thigh. my chicken came with a side of fries that were deliciously crisp never soggy or greasy. to top it all off, pioneer chicken sells individual cups of hagen daaz ice cream in every flavor. i chose dulce de leche. i love dulces!!!

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  1. I just came back from there. It's where I get my gizzard fix.

    1. Is this the same Pioneer Chicken that used to be a chain?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Grubber

        Yes...there are a few independently owned locations in So Cal still. This is one of the last remaining.

      2. The chicken is indeed good. But it doesn't travel well. KFC or Dinah's is great for picnics but Pioneer seems to get greasy when it cools. Why?? I don't know.

        1. Yes this used to be a chain...there used to be a lot of them back in the day. Now I only know of two...the aforementioned East Hollywood one (next to Circuit City) and one down the street (Sunset) in the heart of Echo Park. My parents used to get this for take-out every Sudnay. I loved it but we had it too much and I got sick of it, hsha. Whoa! Now I'm having flashbacks of my youth...Pioneer chicken, fries, gizzards and cole slaw with Pepsi eaten at a Griffith Park picnic...And I'm holding my hot wax observatory souvenier in one hand.

          But I hadn't had it in years, despite the fact I live nearby. yeah I remember them gizzards.

          Actually I did go there a couple years ago, but I had the chicken kebab and nothing of the fried variety (sacrelige!!!)
          They seem to have other stuff there like middle eastern dishes, fish fillets, burgers and sandwiches...Their menu used to look spartan, now it's a chaotic wall of various signs.

          1. There are a few remaining franchises scattered throughout LA:

            Pioneer Chicken [Bell Gardens]
            6323 E. Florence

            Pioneer Chicken [Boyle Heights]
            904 S. Soto St.

            Pioneer Chicken [Echo Park]
            1321 Echo Park Ave
            (213) 481-1232

            Pioneer Chicken [Miracle Mile]
            5970 West Olympic Blvd
            (323) 954-0454

            Pioneer Chicken [Silver Lake]
            4376 West Sunset Blvd
            (323) 663-2441

            1. I sometimes pass this location, and have seen it mentioned on the board before. The way you describe it, is soooo not the way I remember it. I remember liking it, but the word gourmet never would have come to mind in a million years. (the last time I had it was maybe 20 years ago)I remember an unusually hard crunchy, unnaturally orange colored crust --tasty, but not lip smacking delish (I do remember the chicken being moist -although even as a kid, I went for the gizzards mostly). Is todays Pioneer a far cry from the Pioneer of my childhood. Perhaps it's time to give it a try. Thanks for the review.

              2 Replies
              1. re: debra

                i didnt mean that it is in any way gourmet in terms of the ambiance of the restaurant or the exoticism of the ingredients. i felt that the chicken was very high in quality and the coating was light, airy, crunchy, delicious. i have ordered the fried chicken at an "expensive" southern food place like cynthia's on third street and i felt the quality and taste of the chicken at pioneer is comparable to that of the more high-end "southern" restaurants.

                1. re: love2eat

                  Interesting, thanks for the clarification. I'll have to give it a try next time I'm in the area. Pioneer holds fond childhood memories for me.

              2. I used to love Pioneer Chicken! It was the crust that did it for me. Does anyone here remember Golden Bird Fried Chicken? That was like Pioneer in style, only better. Golden Bird made the best fried chicken I've ever had anywhere. My folks used to take out from the one in the Crenshaw area all the time and I just loved it. I guess they're out of business now, though, aren't they?

                1 Reply
                1. re: monkuboy

                  There are still Golden Birds out and about in SouthCentral. The one in the Crenshaw area is still there:


                2. There's a Golden Bird over near USC.

                  1. This really takes me back. Pioneer Chicken was a staple of my diet back in the 70's.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                      I need to check this out - I loved Pioneer as a kid too. I still haven't found anything close to it.

                      Didn't the late Chick Hearn, the Lakers announcer used to do commercials for them back in the 70s and 80s?

                    2. I'm not looking to pick a fight here, but ummm, are you serious? I lived walking distance from that Pioneer for ten years and ate there exactly twice. And both times, the chicken was, essentially, utterly inedible. Tiny portions, badly crusted, virtually non-spiced, and served lukewarm, as in clearly had been sitting around all day under a heat lamp.

                      Not that this is definitive -- there are most certainly exceptions to the rule -- but any chicken place that also serves Mexican food, burgers, and everything else under the sun trying to please everyone is unlikely to please anyone, especially Chowhounds. But hell, I've been wrong before, and who knows, maybe someone bought it and improved everything. I'm certainly curious to have others try it and weigh in. But my stomach is too precious to be the guinea pig.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: deadorinjail

                        Yeah, are you kidding me? I remember back when Pioneer Chicken was a fairly big chain around here. And their fried chicken was terrible. Incredibly greasy and no flavor. Next, someone will be saying that the fried chicken at Church's is good too.

                        1. re: slacker

                          I love Churches... especially the new spicy kind.

                        2. re: deadorinjail

                          I went to the Pioneer Chicken on Olympic near Fairfax last night after reading the original post. (I recall eating at Pioneer Chicken years ago, I think there was one on San Vicente in Brentwood.) Last night I ordered a three piece meal with cole slaw and mashed potatoes as my two sides. The meal came with a biscuit. I took the food home because the inside of the restaurant was depressing looking.

                          The chicken (thigh, drumstick, and breast) did not have much flavor and the crust was similarly lacking in flavor. The cole slaw was soupy and not up to KFC. The mashed potatoes were what mashed potatoes out of a box taste like. The biscuit was not very good.

                          Not the worst fried chicken I have ever had but not worthy of a return trip.

                          I remembered seeing the Shakey's across the street from Pioneer and thought about the tastey chicken and mojo potatoes I could have gotten there if I had gone with my "gut" instinct.

                          1. re: FKA Andrew

                            maybe they are all individualy owned and operated now...each with its own standards....i can only speak for the sunset/fountain branch. i ordered a breast and a thigh with a side of fries and hagen daaz. the chicken was just out of the fryer so maybe i got lucky?

                        3. "I remember back when Pioneer Chicken was a fairly big chain around here. And their fried chicken was terrible."

                          You mean they can never, ever improve?

                          1. I wouldn't say that Pioneer was terrible in it's heyday, but I will say that quite a few Pioneer customers probably had triple bypass surgery eventually. That stuff was the juiciest/greasiest chicken in fried chicken history. You'd bite into a piece and get a squirt in the eye.

                            I still loved it.

                            1. I forgot to mention that my family preferred Pioneer over KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken, as it was known back then).

                              1. In the small Cali town I grew up in, a weekly trip to Pioneer was my Fiday night treat after a long work week. One thing they did that i liked was they had a speciial "sauce" you could put on your chiken, and I quickly became hooked on it. It wasn't an "official" franchise product, more likely just something the owner thought up and decided to share with the customers. It was simply a mixture of mustard and vinegar, in a squeeze bottle on the counter. But it tasted really great on that bird. Must be twenty years since I've had that; I'd like to try it again soon.

                                1. Back in the day I preferred Church's over Pioneer or KFC, and still do. Also, a newer chain, Pollo Campero, is excellent--crispy outside, tender juicy inside. Go for the wings at Church's, they are HUGE, include half the breast. I go to both of these in Long Beach on Long Beach Blvd, but there are more scattered around. Worth the trip IMO...

                                  1. We used to live close to the one on fountain and the family tried it once. It was even worse than KFC give me popeyes anyday.... This is one of those places you have better memories of as a kid then when your taste buds grow up....

                                    1. Not so hot on Pioneer nowadays, but I do remember my mom and I always driving over to Santa Ana for the Pioneer Chicken across from Centennial Park. There was also a Pup N' Taco next to it that had tasty french fries. Definitely worth it back then!

                                      1. I heard they have gizzards...that's worth the trip for me...don't know of many places that sell them...besides Dinah's.....If anyone knows of others please fill me in!

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: Darnelle

                                          had them not too long ago. GF used to be crazy over them too.

                                          This time they were bad. Really, really bad. Way too greasy and just flat out bland. Would rather buy KFC

                                          1. re: Darnelle

                                            Roscoe's Chix and Waffles have gizzards. Very Good ones.

                                            1. re: Darnelle

                                              I have memories of eating really good gizzards from the Pioneer Chicken that used to be on Western and Hollywood. Not so long ago I tried them at the Echo Park location and they were terrible. Dried out, over-ly fried and tasteless. Inedible, really. A big disappointment.

                                              1. re: hpcat

                                                Agreed about the Echo Park location. I make the drive to the Sunset location even when both Echo Park & E. LA Soto locations are closer.

                                                1. re: JAB

                                                  Have you have the gizzards at the Sunset locale? Would you recommend?

                                                  1. re: hpcat

                                                    Yes, it's all that I really go for.

                                            2. Yum yum Pioneer orange (color, not flavor) chicken. Growing up this was my mom's favorite, for the fish especially. My great aunt & uncle ran a beauty supply in the 70's and 80's on Sunset across the street from Rock & Roll Ralph's. I remember walking over to Pioneer for lunch and how all the "working girls" would be having their $1.25 "snack baskets" for a filling cheap meal. Recently checked out the Pioneer in Downey and it's as I remember... glowing orange, greasy and super crunchy. Dee-lish.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Oh Robin

                                                Pioneer was my favorite until Golden Bird came along. Loved that orange greasy chicken. Also, still enjoyed Jim Dandy's many moons ago.

                                                1. re: Clinton

                                                  Jim Dandy's YUMMMMMMMMMM! I loved their fried clams. Now that was some good stuff in the day!

                                              2. So, does Pioneer still have the corn-carusols, swimming laps around in butter? I was allways held spellbound as a kid by this!

                                                Me and my family loved Pioneer chicken in the 1970's. It was unique, what with the neon-orange, yet delicious coating. Yes, it could be really greasy- that was part and parcel of Pioneer!

                                                When I come down to visit family in LA, I should check this out for myself. I know, I know..The cherished flavors of our innocent youth can rarely be recaptured today. I won't expect miracles, just a little taste of 1977.

                                                Waaahh! Pup'n'Taco!! I loved loved loved this place! Give me a grape slushie, 2 tacos and an order of fries....HEAVEN. I wonder when I reach the Pearly Gates, will I see Pup 'n' Taco??? *LOL* Probably not.

                                                9 Replies
                                                1. re: Honeychan

                                                  I think I would be willing to go to hell for Pup-nTaco; but of course being hell, the taco's would come without hot sauce and the dogs without the chili.

                                                  1. re: Honeychan

                                                    Whoa...Pup n'Taco! I used to work at the PNT in Gardena back in the 60s and knew the owner Rick and his partner Wayne before they sold it off to Taco Bell. Tacos and hot dogs were 15 cents apiece along with grape and cherry slushes. You could feed whole family for a couple of bucks!

                                                    1. re: Clinton

                                                      Ah, those glorious .19 cent pup n' tacos. Even though I was just a kid I felt like I was stealing them at those prices. Sauce was tasty too. Very sad when they were folded into Taco Hell. I've found just one place that even comes close, on Figueroa north of the 101, in a shopping center with a Superior (formerly Vons) supermarket around 46th ave. Seems a shame these recipes never last so we future generations can at least try to simulate our old favs.

                                                      Anybody got a time machine I could rent?

                                                      1. re: broncosaurus

                                                        YES! We used to go to the Pup N Taco on Victory in Van Nuys in the 70's (kitty corner from the now-gone Cupid's Hot Dogs). I still dream about their tacos. Sheesh they were great! The ones at Taco Treat in Arcadia come a little bit close, so when I need my fix I head there for their tacos and great fried burritos (not to mention their sauce that I just drink straight from the cups!!). Memories!
                                                        Back to the main subject. I miss Pioneer. There was one by Reseda High and we used to go in there all the time after school. My brother and I still remember fondly their little chicken sandwiches which were just chicken, a piece of lettuce and some kind of white sauce on a small, soft dinner roll. Alas, when I spotted the one in Silver Lake I cut straight into the lot, but they did not have those anymore. Now they have weird things like ribs and such. Sigh.

                                                        1. re: WildSwede

                                                          Arcadia, eh? This calls for sending an emissary to the region for further exploration. Apparently Taco Treat has a semi-famous neon sign for easy navigation at night. We'll see.

                                                          1. re: broncosaurus

                                                            Yes! And they pack it with a lot of finely shredded yellow cheese - like PNT used to! I sometimes add onions to shake it up a bit. Be sure to get a lot of the salsas (not hot, but good)!

                                                    2. re: Honeychan

                                                      OMG Pup n' Taco chicken burrito... yummy!!! I remember when the Taco Bell in Lakewood (Del Amo & Bellflower) was a Pup n' Taco. Memories!!!

                                                      Also miss Naugles meat & cheese burritos and taco-in-a-cup. *sniff*

                                                      1. re: Oh Robin

                                                        Robin, let's build a time machine and go back to 1982 and order a PNT chicken burrito.

                                                        Can there possibly be a better use of one?


                                                        1. re: BeenThereAteThat

                                                          Only if I can get my body from 1982 also!!!

                                                    3. Thanks a lot love2eat!!! Because of you I had to make a trek to the Pioneer on Florence/Garfield yesterday. Never had the gizzards before and they were amazing!!! I've been wanting some gizzards since Guy Fieri went to "Gizzard City" on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. So addictive. Had a drumstick too... that salty orange crunchy batter still rings true. Think I'm going to bring mom here for some of her beloved fried fish. Wowsers!!!

                                                      1. Pioneer Chicken was also a good childhood memory for me (used to love their dinner rolls). However its crowning achievement has to be its mention in Warren Zevon's classic song "Carmelita":

                                                        Well, I pawned my Smith Corona
                                                        And I went to meet my man
                                                        He hangs out down on Alvarado Street
                                                        By the Pioneer chicken stand

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: mistertoast

                                                          Del Taco could only dream of such praise.

                                                          As a kid going to Pioneer chicken the main things I remember are A.) the orange coating and B.) you could get vanilla pudding as a dessert. To a 7 year old this is very important.

                                                          1. re: Wheggi

                                                            I graduated from KFC (in the late 70's) to Pioneer in Studio City, previously next to Dupar's. I too loved the crisp orange greasy coating but what did I know? I was in my late teens and early 20's. Then many years went by before I started eating fried chicken again when I started eating at Roscoe's in Pasadena. One night, not feeling too good and not wanting to take my chances on what I was going to get (sometimes their portions can be really scrawny) I decided to take a chance and do the drive through at Popeye's. OMG! I am hooked. It might be a while before I take my chances with Roscoe's again even though I love their greens, smothered potatoes and sweet potatoes!

                                                            1. re: Fru

                                                              Last time I went to Roscoes, I ordered the three wings with gravy and a waffle. One of the wings was about the size of my thumb (okay, maybe a little bigger), but I showed it to the waiter and he went and got me another one. I like when a place owns their mistakes and fixes them.
                                                              I love Popeye's biscuits!

                                                              1. re: WildSwede

                                                                I can so relate!!! Several years back they had a GREAT waiter who would do just that only he would give us an extra wing and tell us when putting the food down the first time rather than waiting for us to complain. I hate to point something out as blatant as the skimpy size so I just avoid going now unless I can't help my cravings. You'd think Southern Hospitality meant generous. I have family from Texas so I know from what I speak.

                                                                1. re: Fru

                                                                  I hate when I am hungry reading threads about food I can't have anymore...Pup n Taco...yummm....Naugles...oh my gosh I forgot about them..they used to have this super huge breakfast burrito...can't believe I used to eat that...and did not gain weight....sigh***now if I even look at it I gain weight....those were the days my friends...

                                                                  1. re: Darnelle

                                                                    Put me down as a Roscoe's skeptic. I've been there a couple of times and just don't get it.

                                                                    1. re: Darnelle

                                                                      NAUGLES! I was just trying to remember their name the other day- my first pastrami burrito from the old one near the Orange traffic circle- that was eatin'!