Whether around midnight or for dinner with a side of mac and cheese, fried chicken is one of the country’s most beloved meals. Once considered a cheap, serve-it-cold picnic staple, fried chicken now appears on the menus of some of the restaurants belonging to the best chefs in the world. Not all birds are battered equally, though. Making perfect fried chicken is an art.
Do you prefer white meat only or dark, too? Brine and batter or dredge and flour? Each cook has a technique all their one, and maybe a few family secrets to throw into the mix.
From NYC to Nashville, here are our top picks for finger-lickin’-good fried chicken, in no particular order.
1. Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill – Las Vegas, Nevada
Sure the name implies that Blue Ribbon is all about seafood, but this Vegas restaurant (with sister spots in NYC and LA) has a hidden secret: they fry some of the best chicken in Sin City.
The bird is ultra-crunchy thanks to a matzo-meal crust that fries up unbelievably crispy. It’s served with wasabi honey for a sweet and spicy effect that can’t be missed.
2. The Colonnade – Atlanta, Georgia
Our first meal in Georgia. The Colonnade Restaurant. Featured on The Layover with Anthony Bourdain and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Best southern food I've had. Country Fried Steak, Fried Okra, and Whipped Potatoes. And our waiter awesome! (They also have the best fried chicken ever.) #TheColonnadeRestaurant #SouthernHospitality
Founded in 1927, this family friendly spot has been a fried-chicken institution in Atlanta for decades. An hour wait for a table is not uncommon and almost everyone in the place is waiting for their on-the-bone Southern-style fried wing, breast or thigh.
3. Ma’ono Fried Chicken & Whiskey – Seattle, Washington
The name says it all. Originally only available on Mondays, the fried chicken at Ma’ono became so popular that owner/chef Mark Fuller had to make the dish available on a daily basis – although you do need to make fried chicken ordering reservations.
The James Beard-winning chef pays homage to his Hawaiian heritage by twice-frying and umami-spicing local chicken for the in-demand dish.
4. Fuku – New York, New York
New York food world favorite David Chang had a hit on his hands when he introduced fried chicken on his menu at Momofuku noodle bar. So much so, he opened a shack totally dedicated to the dish.
Lines wrap around the block daily for his habanero and buttermilk-soaked thighs fried to perfection, smeared with fermented chickpea butter and layered on a steamed potato bun.
5. Wayfare Tavern – San Francisco, California
Tyler Florence is one of the Food Network stars who can really cook and still does it whenever he can in his San Fran restaurant, Wayfare Tavern.
His secret to the famed fried chicken is baking it at 200 degrees for 2.5 hours before coating and frying. He dredges the pieces in seasoned flour then fries it in a garlic-and-herb oil.
6. Barbecue Inn – Houston, Texas
The name may indicate that you should go with the BBQ, but don’t be fooled: the chicken is where it’s at. Open since 1946, not much of the decor has changed here, and thankfully, neither has the family recipe for fried chicken.
Served golden brown and with a crust that you can peel off, you get your pick of all white or all dark, but will wait at least 30 minutes from ordering no matter what.
7. Gus’s Fried Chicken – Memphis, Tennessee
Over 60 years ago, Tennessee “Na” Vanderbilt started frying chicken out of small storefront. It was so good, racial tensions took a back seat so the entire community could come and eat it together.
Originally called Maggie’s Short Order, Na’s son Gus took over and today, it has franchise locations all over Tennessee with some in Georgia, Chicago, LA and more. What makes the chicken so good? We have no idea.
As Gus once said, “This is a dead man’s recipe [and] I ain’t telling.”
8. Martha Lou’s Kitchen – Charleston, South Carolina
Walk into the pretty pink shack and you’ll find Martha Lou Gadsden in the kitchen. She’s most likely working on a batch of made-to-order fried chicken.
She’s been at the helm of Martha Lou’s for over 30 years, sharing the stage with her daughters and granddaughters. The chicken here is lightly dredged in flour and dipped in milk before being fried Southern-style in peanut oil and cooked until bronze – at least a 20 minute affair. Traditional soul-food sides like okra soup, collard greens and Lima beans are available on a rotating basis.
9. Willie Mae’s Scotch House – New Orleans, Louisiana
There’s a chance you won’t actually get to eat the chicken at Willie Mae’s. The place opens at 10am and the line starts forming at around 9.
Their ‘wet-batter’ frying method (meaning it goes from brine to batter, no dry rub) results in super juicy chicken that crunches – loudly – at the first bite.
10. Beasley’s Chicken + Honey – Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh sweetheart Ashley Christensen has herself another cult following. This time the crowds flock for her fried chicken, cooked in air high-tech pressure fryers that Christensen built herself.
Each order comes with a healthy drizzle of honey for a sweet counterpart to the chicken’s salty crunch.
11. Watershed on Peachtree – Altanta, Georgia
This Atlanta mainstay has gone through a few changes, but it remains a consistent leader in the fried chicken game. Joe Truex took over in the kitchen, but he knew well enough to leave their legendary recipe of buttermilk-brined and ham hock-fat fried chicken alone.
Get there early, though. The chicken is usually gone by 7:30pm.
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