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An Ode to the Pickled Daikons at CHIKO

And everything else at the menu at the Chinese-Korean fusion restaurant in Encinitas

I took my first bite of the bright, golden discs on the night before my 30th birthday in Washington, DC. I’ll go ahead and call that a good start to the year. One of six bowls served in CHIKO’s Full Monty Banchan (“banchan” is a term for Korean small plates or side dishes), the turmeric pickled daikon plays the perfect role of palate cleanser for the other fiery flavors in the group: spicy napa cabbage kimchi, steamed rice with luscious furikake butter, the cold heat of a potato-and-egg salad (take a bite to see what I mean), and crisp Sichuan spicy cucumbers. I’ve learned to place two orders for the Full Monty—one for myself and one for the table. Sabrina doesn’t share banchan. I do, however, try to leave myself some leftovers simply so that I can crunch on happiness the day after.

Less fusion and more playful takes, CHIKO (which opened its Encinitas location last November) draws inspiration from Chinese and Korean cuisines to create a menu that feels approachable, but still surprises the palate in the best of ways.

The crispy chicken spring rolls, wok-blistered Chinese broccoli, and pork and kimchi potstickers are no-brainer choices when it comes to the appetizers. They’re excellent staples cooked exceptionally well, setting the bar high for future spring rolls, stir-frys, and potstickers everywhere. The standout of the appetizer section is undeniably the XO garlic shrimp stir-fry. The creamy, textured rice porridge makes an ideal base for plump, succulent shrimp and just the right touch for the umami spice of XO sauce.

The soy-glazed brisket is the ultimate comfort-food dish, served with a generous dollop of furikake butter that melts into a bed of rice that nestles pickled peppers, a soy-glazed egg, and brisket. The brisket is brined, cured, and lightly smoked; then braised with soy, ginger, and bone broth; and glazed with the thickened braising liquid.

For a bold dish that serves up a hit of heat, look no further than the spicy cumin lamb stir-fry. The caramelized shallots and mushrooms play well with the robust cumin and lamb combo, giving a perfect balance of umami and a rush of dining-induced dopamine.

My ultimate advice (in addition to all of the above) is to get an order of the Orange-ish Chicken to go. Made with a crisp yet delightfully airy batter, studded with crispy garlic, and kissed with scallions, it’s ideal for next-day lunch and dinner. The Orange-ish Chicken can be reheated to perfection in the oven or in an air fryer. Plus, the tub of mandarin sauce it comes with provides enough leftover sauce to enjoy all week long. I’ve been known to douse plain rice with it, stir-fry veggies with it and, often, just dip my finger in it like a little kid.

It may not come as a surprise that I’ve never been able to eat dessert at CHIKO because I’m always bursting at the seams by then. I’ll just have to trust that, like the rest of the courses at here, it doesn’t disappoint. 

A sampling of the banchan at CHIKO

By Sabrina Medora

Sabrina Medora is a national food writer living with her husband and golden doodle Albus in San Diego. Her work has appeared in award-winning publications like Food & Wine Bon Appetit Wine Enthusiast and more.

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