Just off Highway 99, halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield, lies the small community of Goshen. It’s mostly known for its ethanol plant, but among the warehouses and agricultural supply stores that line its commercial streets, there’s a jewel of a joint whose popularity goes well beyond even state lines: a food truck that serves Lao fried chicken and rice.
The truck sits in the parking lot of a large store that sells plastic dinosaurs, stuffed animals, and novelty items for vending machines. Lady Chicken & Rice is hand painted in candied red letters on its front. Lady Chicken is named for the woman who created the deep fried Lao chicken recipe that’s so popular here.
“I call her Lady. She’s my Lady,” said Bounthong Sang, who runs the business. He was talking about his wife, Bounleuk. Bounthong didn't give her the nickname, though. Fame did. Well, fame among the locals here in Goshen who love her chicken.
“They didn’t know her name. They call, ‘Oh that’s Lady Chicken,’” he said.
The food truck serves as many as 500 customers a day. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and lines form as soon as the first batch of chicken is out of the fryer.
Bounthong says he’s met travelers from as far away as Virginia and Texas who find rave reviews on Yelp or other food apps. But there are also plenty of regulars like Tony Solis, a UPS driver who comes here at least once a week.
“Great food, good price, friendly people, awesome,” Tony said.
The friendly people include Bounthong’s employees whom he calls family even though they’re from Mexico and he’s from Laos. Ramona Villa, who was inside the truck prepping the $3 plates of golden brown chicken and sticky rice, said they stay busy all day.
“We never stop cooking until it’s time to go home,” she said. Ramona has a large colorful tattoo just below her neck that said Robert.
“My husband,” she said, looking down at the word and smiling. Robert. Lady Chicken. Love is written all around here.
Speaking of love, people also return for the homemade green jalapeno sauce that goes with the chicken, she said.
“Everybody always comes back over and over and that’s the first thing they always say is, ‘the chile,’” she said.
Villa packed two wrapped plates in a brown paper lunch bag, threw in a couple containers of sauce and handed them to Marbella Sotelo. Marbella ran the cash register and took orders, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish.
“Un pollo con arroz, unas spring rolls, y...gracias,” she said to a customer.
She said everyone who works here knows how to do all the tasks: ring up orders, make rice, deep fry the egg rolls, deep fry the chicken, twice. The second time it’s fried at a higher temperature to make it extra crispy, she said.
“I think it’s the flavor you know, they’ve got something,” she said, explaining why the chicken is so popular. “The chicken, you know, it’s a good flavor and the way that they cook, it’s crispy, and soft inside. So it’s really good.”
Apart from the chicken, fresh spring rolls are also on the menu. Egg rolls, too. That’s why Erendira Aranzazu comes here. Often.
“More often than I should!” she said, laughing loudly. “Very, very good food. You can taste the authenticity of it, and my favorite are the egg rolls. Egg rolls by far are the best in town. For sure. Hands down.”
A few other customers in line shared why they visit:
“It’s close by, the food is good, and the ladies are friendly,” said one woman ordering for herself and her co-workers who work at a nearby grocery store.
“Quality, I guess you could say. Because I’ve tried a lot of chicken and rice and it’s not the same,” said a young man named Brian.
“The authenticity of it. It’s not like anything else. You can’t really get this anywhere else other than here,” said Jonathan Zavaleta.
Bounthong knows he’s got a good thing going here. Regulars he greets daily, people who come from far away to enjoy the food, employees he views as family, and a popular chicken recipe created by the woman he loves. He said he never stops telling her. “Oh, maybe I say ‘Hey Lady, I love you.’ Something like that everyday,” he said. “We have to.”
Have to, he said, because how can you run a popular food truck without letting the woman behind it know how much she’s appreciated. Without Lady Chicken, he said, there would be no Lady Chicken & Rice.