We’re living in a golden brown-crispy age for fried chicken, with trendy new contenders frying up alongside classic soul food joints in every part of town. Here are the 10 best, with only one caveat: we're ranking actual pieces of chicken, so no chicken sandwiches or dinosaur-shaped nuggets. Let's get to it!
Korean restaurants making fried wings with an Asian touch are a thing at this point, but only one's doing it well enough to crack this list: Dak, whose big, meaty wings can either come with a soy-ginger sauce (which is great) or spicy Korean marinade (which is... spicy!... and great).
9. The Roost
A food truck with a new, permanent storefront on Irving Park Rd, the focus here is chicken sandwiches, but they also do buttermilk-brined chicken by the piece. It’s a little on the greasy side, but there’s some real kick to the crust (and the heat only goes up from there, when you order it spicy or Nashville Hot).
8. Khan BBQ
West Rogers Park
“Broasting” is a trademarked process for making juicy chicken, which you mostly see at old-school fried chicken places in America. And, it turns out, in foreign countries like Pakistan, where they keep the process but tailor the recipe to their own tastes. The result here is succulent nubbins of Grandma-crispy chicken with a spicy, red curry kick that Grandma would have approved of about as much as your girlfriend with the tattoos.
Bronzeville, Evanston, Oak Park
Weird but true: the oldest references to chicken and waffles come by way of the Pennsylvania Amish. It’s an African American thing now, though, and juicy chicken with a crispy waffle is basically the perfect Sunday breakfast, especially here. Hard-to-believe side note: the same chicken under the onion gravy might be even better.
6. Mini Hut
Hidden on a one-way side street past Midway in a location that would make a pool hall feel classy, this is the Southwest side’s antidote to everything trendy about fried chicken: just perfect bird, breaded and fried to order all day long, only for those who know where to go.
Almost violating our bone-in requirement (everything’s deboned but the drumsticks), Honey Butter overcomes your chicken-fingers-for-grownups prejudice with excellent, paprika-spiced breading and unusual, fresh-tasting sides like the Thai curry corn or kale salad, which diet-wise totally cancels out the schmaltz-mashed potatoes... right?
Usually chicken wings are the alternative poultry choice at BBQ joints, so you wouldn't expect them to be a serious contender on a list like this. But at Smalls, the fried chicken -- with its lightly crispy crust -- is so good, it might actually be better than the BBQ (and the 'cue already receives high marks).
3. Uncle Remus
Yes, we know there’s a classic Chicago chicken chain called Harold’s. But the thing is, they vary a lot from one seemingly random-numbered outlet to the next. This is a much smaller chain, all in the Austin neighborhood (except for one inside the Humboldt Park Wal-Mart), and they all nail it. The perfectly crispy chicken is served with the finest bowl of smoky-red, high fructose corn syrup you've ever dipped your bird in. Just ask for it on the side if you don’t want to end up wearing it.
2. Big Jones
Chef Paul Fehribach is a connoisseur of Southern cookbooks (and currently working on his own), and his fried chicken claims a high-saluting pedigree in a recipe from the legendary Edna Lewis. But no bird’s putting on airs with these fluffy, crunchy pieces of leaf lard-fried goodness, accompanied by biscuit, greens, and butter beans.
It’s one thing to fry a bird beautifully, but it’s another to season it just so. That’s where Evanston's Chicken Shack stands above all the rest -- the balance of salt and pepper in the breading is pretty much perfect (as in, not shy about either), and they fry it just as well. Be sure to ask for the complexly spiced house BBQ sauce for dipping. Pro tip: get the great house-made biscuits, too. Other pro tip: in the Summer, they’ll deliver straight to Evanston and Rogers Park beaches, for an instant picnic.
Mike Gebert is a James Beard Award-winning food video producer and writer and Founder of SkyFullofBacon.com. Follow him on Twitter @skyfullofbacon.
1. Dak1104 W Granville, Chicago
2. The Roost Carolina Kitchen1467 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago
3. Khan BBQ2401 W Devon Ave, Chicago
4. Chicago's Home Of Chicken & Waffles3947 S King Dr, Chicago
5. Mini Hut6659 W Archer Ave, Chicago
6. Honey Butter Fried Chicken3361 N Elston Ave, Chicago
7. Smalls4009 N Albany Ave, Chicago
8. Big Jones5347 N Clark St, Chicago
9. Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken5611 W Madison St, Chicago
10. Evanston Chicken Shack1925 Ridge Ave, Evanston
Dak takes its name from the Korean word for “chicken,” a nod to its specialty: delicately crisped wings. Food is made to order, so it’s guaranteed to be fresh, and portion sizes are generous. Though it’s fast-foodish, Dak makes you feel right at home with wood and tile accents in a contemporary setting. Try the wings, wings and more wings. Indulge in as many mild or spicy sauces you can handle.
If you're craving crispy fried chicken and mouth-watering chicken sammies, head to Lakeview. Head to The Roost, a food truck with a permanent BYOB storefront on Irving Park Road, for Carolina-style recipes like crispy, spicy fried chicken on a flaky buttermilk biscuit topped with dill pickles, coleslaw, chipotle buttermilk ranch, and cheddar or blue cheese. Heat things up even more by ordering the Nashville Hot, Habanero BBQ, or Buffalo variations. Creamy mac and cheese and sweet peach cobbler round out the feast.
Khan BBQ in West Rogers Park excels in sizzling Indian and Pakistani barbecued goods, particularly of the poultry variety. Dishes here, like chicken boti and tandoori fish are exceptional for their smoky flavor, the steamy evidence of which floats up to Khan’s tricked out chandelier that protrudes from the neon blue and green ceiling. To be frank, Khan’s is not a destination for atmosphere; staff scurry hurriedly and the experience is often frenetic. The good news is you’ll have too much naan, goat, rice, and chicken stuffed inside you to care.
The South Side locale of this Chicago hotspot is doling out just-as-delicious Southern breakfast foods at all hours -- head here on a drive home and get the mac and cheese.
Hidden on a one-way side street past Midway in a location that would make a pool hall feel classy, this is the Southwest side’s antidote to everything trendy about fried chicken: just perfect bird, extendedly marinated and slow-fried for 20 minutes, with a famously rich, buttery breading. The frill-less décor -- a tiny weather-beaten canopy outside, stark walls and low ceilings inside -- proves to be the ultimate Chicago restaurant bluff.
This Avondale quick-serve is a fried chicken lover's mecca that's doing great things for fast-casual dining and antibiotic-free, cage-free, humanely-raised chicken. The menu includes stellar sandwiches complemented with toppings like jalapeño mayo, Thai green curry, and the namesake honey butter; plus two, four, and eight-piece fried chicken plates served with corn muffins. There are quintessential Southern sides (we see you, pimento mac & cheese), plus dump cake for dessert. A balanced meal indeed.
Smalls is a Filipino smoke shack that's got a tasty mix of American barbecue and Asian comfort food in a snug Irving Park space. If you are looking for a menu full of unique cuisine, a cozy atmosphere, and some of the best food in Chicago, look no further than Smalls.
If you’re looking for real Southern comfort in Chicago, then Big Jones in Andersonville is for you. The menu is filled with authentic Lowcountry dishes adapted from antique cookbooks, like cornbread muffins taken from an 18th-century plantation recipe and traditional Cajun gumbo. The sustainable menu changes seasonally, but no matter what, expect the signature fried chicken every night. Big Jones’ weekend brunch is also a stunner, especially if you nab a table on the back patio.
Fried, crispy, and tender, that's what you get when you order at Uncle Remus'. This saucy fried chicken joint is carryout only.