The Thing: Fire Chicken at Dancen

Picture this: it’s 9pm on a Sunday night, all is quiet and closed, and everyone else has popped their edible to lull themselves into a deep enough sleep to forget tomorrow is Monday, but as you walk past a storefront with blacked-out windows, seemingly closed as well, you realize the open sign is on and walk through two doors to a K-pop paradise where the party is alive and well fed. Projectors are streaming music videos with dance moves that harken back to your Backstreet Boy era. The flames are bursting from the kitchen. The vibe is hole-in-the-wall chill, like your fun friend’s living room on a Saturday in your 20s. This is Dancen and your order better be their fire chicken with cheese.

Dancen feels like a 2am hang with Soju cocktails and Korean beer to wash down the heat. The red walls and low-lighting make it seem like you should already be wafting in on a major buzz. But the kitchen closes between 10 and 11pm, depending on the day. So for someone edging towards 40, this is indeed late-night eating at its best.

The fire chicken is the signature dish and a well-known icon apparently with every table with at least one or two sizzling cast irons filled with spicy chicken covered in bubbly cheese. With reviews stating everything from the usual “yum” to “really good but beware going to work the next day,” alongside the sounds of sniffling and sweat wiping in between Blackpink hits, you may be understandably nervous. Fear not, on the first bite the chicken is sweet, then deeply smokey, you’ll think you’re in the clear but once you swallow the heat hits you just in time to go for another bite and return to the sweet side. The accommodating banchan assists with killing the burn if you struggle with spice.

Dancen is the kind of find where you feel in the know. It’s tiny and laid-back auspicious. Be the cool friend who cancels watching the latest episode of whatever show is sourcing the good memes and find your way into the doorway to a next-level Sunday night to start the week off right.

Dancen is located at 5114 N Lincoln Ave and is open Sunday through Thursday 5pm to 11pm (kitchen closes at 10pm); Friday and Saturday 5pm to midnight (kitchen closes at 11pm). If you have a taste for spice on Tuesday, you're out of luck, Dancen is closed.

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Caroline Huftalen

Caroline L. Huftalen is the food editor at Third Coast Review and columnist behind Dear Cinnamon. Her reviews and interviews can also be seen on Huftalen is the founder of Survivors Project, Inc. which raises awareness for domestic violence by sharing stories of survival. A graduate of the University at Buffalo and the Savannah College of Art of Design. Huftalen lives in Chicago with her family and is currently writing a novel.