Whether you're gearing up for football season or just craving fried chicken because you're, well, human, chicken wings are a vital part of our meat ecosystem. But which wings fly above the rest (figuratively, because they're, y'know chickens)? We turned to an esteemed panel of food writers to vote on the best wings the Windy City has to offer.
Chicago's best chicken wings, as picked by 10 local food writers
Here's a closer look at the Top-5:
A new contender taking the wing world by storm, DAK makes a splash in part because of the enormity of its drumsticks. Wings come twice-fried to achieve the trademark Korean-style, thin and crispy skin before getting sauced in either soy-garlic or the spicy BBQ sauce.
The judges say:
-- "Big honking wings expertly fried then dunked in an excellent, not too sticky/gooey soy-ginger sauce." - Mike Gebert
-- "DAK has taken the mantle of best Korean-style wings in Chicago, perfecting just two flavors of maddeningly addictive gargantuan fowl appendages served with moo (pickled radish)." - Daniel Gerzina
4. The Fifty/50
If you're seeking a trifecta of quality wings, ample craft beer offerings, and an abundance of flat-screen TVs, look no further. The spicy jumbo wings -- coated in an aged, housemade hot sauce -- earn high marks.
The judges say:
-- "The massive Four-Courser sandwich gets much of the attention here, but the wings are freakishly large and cooked perfectly in the style that put Buffalo wings on the map... slathered with enough sauce to garner a small country's moist towelette supply." - Daniel Gerzina
3. Lillie’s Q
Whether it's fried chicken or chicken skin BLTs, Lillie's knows how to smoke poultry, especially when it comes to its smoked chicken wings in Buffalo sauce and Maytag blue cheese dressing.
The judges say:
-- "The smoked wings appeared as a menu special for the 50th anniversary of Buffalo chicken and quickly became the wings to beat, because that's how you do it right." - Darryl Holliday
-- "How to improve upon the classic Buffalo wing template? By smoking said wings a la Lillie's Q, and imbuing an intense, heady undertone with each sloppy-but-worth-it bite." - Matt Kirouac
2. Great Sea
If you've found this hidden gem of a Korean-ized Chinese restaurant, then you know the hot and spicy chicken wings are the stuff of legends.
The judges say:
-- "The fact they're Frenched make these more chicken lollipops than wings, but it's the crazy-addictive sweet/spicy sauce that makes them hauntingly delicious." - Steve Dolinsky
-- "Resistance is futile against the endorphin surge instigated by the gampongi... fried hard and saturated in a sticky, sweet, malevolently spicy glaze." - Mike Sula
The winner and still the heavyweight wing champion of Chicago, Crisp's non-traditional approach to Korean chicken results in the perfect skin texture and flavor. And with their equally popular BBQ-style in hot pepper paste and ginger soy garlic Seoul Sassy wings, they could arguably lay claim to both the top two spots on this list.
The judges say:
-- "There's something so richly satisfying about the sticky, spicy, and sweet Seoul Sassy wings at Crisp. Although Buffalo gets most of the attention in the wing world, my heart belongs to these soy-splashed Korean morsels." - Matt Kirouac
-- "I’d eat Seoul Sassy sauce on my cereal, so this is a no-brainer." - Carly Boers
Barn & Company ("In addition to great barbecue, Barn and Company makes fantastic wings that are smoked then fried; try the different dry rubs -- I like the classic BBQ, but the 'Fire' variety will delight the heat-lover in you." - Robyn Nisi), Bird’s Nest ("You’ll travel a long way to find meatier wings, and the honey barbecue and hot barbecue sauces are terrific." - Phil Vettel), Carriage House ("These are pretty much the best wings I have ever had. They're fried and glazed in a sweet sauce, like lots of wings, but before that they're smoked, which no wings ever are. The combination of sweet, fried, and smoky all at once is fantastic." - Mike Gebert)
Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap ("Tried and truly some of the most consistently cooked wings in the city -- each one is covered in a choice of standard or painfully hot Buffalo sauce." - Sarah Freeman), Cactus Bar & Grill ("Cactus is all about the heat; the mildest wings are called 'spicy-barbecue', and they offer three levels of 'Death Valley' wings, the hottest of which requires a signed liability waiver." - Phil Vettel), Mott St. ("The everything wings are a commitment -- step one involves coming to terms with the fact that these sweet and spicy wings are indeed covered in everything bagel seasoning, and step two is getting said seasoning all over you fingers while devouring them." - Sarah Freeman), Old Town Social ("I've been known to describe duck as pork of the pond. Hence, the plump, spicy duck wings at Old Town Social are my dream bar snack, especially when smeared with zesty cucumber-mint raita." - Matt Kirouac)
Toons Bar & Grill ("It's axiomatic that these classic wings, served with real, chunky blue cheese dressing, are the meatiest, and most faithful to the buttery, vinegary Buffalo ideal." - Mike Sula), Cafe Orient 33 ("Spicy-sweet sauce that gets all over you, plus a crispy crust that reminds me of when people use Kellogg's Corn Flakes on their fried chicken." - Mike Gebert) Emerald Isle ("Tucked away in the far Northwest reaches of the city, this Irish pub does very respectable Buffalo-style wings, but it’s the extra crispy, bitingly garlicky romano-garlic wings that curl my toes." - Phil Vettel), Frontier ("There’s none of that annoying search-for-the-meat work required on their voluptuous 'lollipop' rendition." - Carly Boers)
Harding Tavern ("I wouldn't have expected wings on the menu at Harding Tavern, but they do a remarkably good job -- you don't get a huge portion, but they are much better quality than what passes for wings elsewhere; the Thai and Buffalo are well-seasoned and not overbearing." - Robyn Nisi) Joong Boo Market ("The lollipop wings at the bustling Korean market in Avondale are a delicious hidden gem of on-the-go euphoria that every wing fanatic should not miss." - Daniel Gerzina), Spicy Thai Lao ("Chicagoland's only Lao restaurant traffics in unbreaded wings marinated in tamarind, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, and chilis, alchemizing into a delicate crust that bonds with a peanuty dipping sauce, sweet with tamarind, and loaded with fish sauce." - Mike Sula), Take Me Out ("These are the daughters of the Great Sea’s family, and their Pilsen storefront is still a hidden gem. I love the crispy, meaty wings; each one is a sticky-sweet indulgence." - Steve Dolinsky), Union Sushi ("Coming in at about four times the size of a traditional Buffalo wing, the Buffalo duck wings are also at least four times the flavor with a sweet chile glaze covering every inch of the crispy skin." - Sarah Freeman)
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Thanks to our judges, follow them: Carly Boers (@Chicarly), Steve Dolinsky (@stevedolinsky), Sarah Freeman (@SarahIsChi), Mike Gebert (@skyfullofbacon), Daniel Gerzina (@DanielGerzina), Darryl Holliday (@d_holli), Matt Kirouac (@Mattsland), Robyn Nisi (@robynnisi), Mike Sula (@MikeSula), and Phil Vettel (@philvettel).
1. Dak1104 W Granville, Chicago
2. The Fifty/502047 W Division St, Chicago
3. Lillie's Q1856 W North Ave, Chicago
4. Great Sea Chinese Restaurant3254 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
5. Crisp2940 N Broadway, Chicago
6. Barn & Company950 W Wrightwood Ave, Chicago
7. Bird's Nest2500 N Southport Ave, Chicago
8. Carriage House1700 W Division St, Chicago
9. Jake Melnick's Corner Tap41 E Superior St, Chicago
10. Cactus Bar & Grill404 S Wells St, Chicago
11. Mott St1401 N Ashland Ave, Chicago
12. Old Town Social455 W North Ave, Chicago
13. Toons Bar & Grill3857 N Southport , Chicago
14. Cafe Orient 334829 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago
15. Emerald Isle Bar and Grill6686 N Northwest Hwy, Chicago
16. Frontier1072 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
17. The Harding Tavern2732 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
18. Joong Boo Market3333 N Kimball Ave, Chicago
19. Spicy Thai Lao5357 State Rd., Burbank
20. Take Me Out1502 W 18th St, Chicago
21. Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar230 W Erie St, Chicago
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.
The 50's a tri-level sports temple serving gluttonous fare like in-house smoked meats (ribs, pulled pork, wings), mac 'n' cheese toppable with everything from chicken to chili, and the "Double-Secret Probation"-esque "Triple Secret:" a tri-meat fatburger with a classified recipe.
LQ's a patio-abetted 60-seat temple of slow-n-low BBQ, decked with butcher's hooks outfitted with Edison bulbs, tables made from reclaimed barn boards, and seriously delicious barbecue-style smoked, fired-up meat. We think that Lillie's serves up the best BBQ in Chicago, and locals agree.
Located in Albany Park, Great Sea is known for having some of the best wings in the Chicago area. The wings come in lollipop form, and the Gampongee Chicken (hot and spicy) ones are a must have.
This Korean counter-serve in Lakeview serves up all sorts of Korean-American comfort food. The kimchee and bibimbap-like Buddha Bowls are just the setup for the main event: jumbo fried chicken lacquered in the restaurant's signature sweet-and-sticky Seoul Sassy sauce. The spot is BYOB, so be sure to bring some ice cold potables to wash down that damn good chicken.
B&C serves up some of the best wings, burgers, and BBQ in Chicago, in an appropriately decorated joint full of wood from a barn.
This modest Lincoln Park sports bar is known for its amazing chicken wings, which are only 45 cents on Thursday and Sunday nights. The drink specials are also notable, with offerings of seven to nine dollar pitchers.
Carriage House brings the internationally-tinged flavors of regional South Carolina to Wicker Park. A portion of the menu is dedicated to bold, interpretations of select traditional dishes, a broad collection of spirits, and family-inspired meals. This restaurant tempts you to stay for a long, Southern minute.
Jake Melnick's Corner Tap is a beer bar in River North, Chicago that's serving up some killer hot wings and other bar foods.
Cactus, located in The Loop, is great for happy hour drinks and wings. Tuesday night specials include one dollar pints and five dollar pitchers.
Tucked away in an unassuming red brick storefront in Wicker Park, this vaguely Asian restaurant from the Ruxbin crew serves an eclectic menu of family-style plates inspired by the comfort food cravings of the restaurant team. Mott St truly does cook up a little bit of everything, from steamed pork dumplings and soy-glazed wings to congee and udon. If small plates aren't for you (we get it, sometimes you just want an entrée all to yourself), then perhaps the double chuck patty Mott Burger is. The restaurant's communal tables fit all too well with the tapas-like menu.
Setting out to seamlessly infuse some turn-of-the-century elegance into your classic neighborhood bar, OTS mixes luxurious touches like marble bartops, a fireplace, and a vintage shoe shine station with a menu crafted by a Blackbird vet.
They serve smoked-up slabs of regionally appropriate BBQ during game days at Toons, which the Jayhawk alum owner says makes the place smell like a tailgate outside Arrowhead (hopefully not during the 2008 season, because if a tailgate smells, and nobody is there to smell it, does it really smell at all?).
Cafe Orient 33 is a neighborhood favorite. This informal, family-run Japanese-Korean spot in Albany Park is BYBO and offers some of the crispiest, most delicious wings in the city. The supremely flavorful sweet and spicy wings are a must, as is the Bibimbap. You’ll for sure get your dollar’s worth of taste. The place is warm and welcoming with high ceilings and soft yellow interior, and the family is very sweet.
This Edison Park Irish Pub/sports bar boasts a laid-back environment and plenty of cheap drinks, but their main draw is their buffalo chicken wings, offered at 50 cents a pop.
It may not be the final frontier, but with ice-taps pouring 16 traditional and seasonal brews, a meat heavy menu featuring specialty sausages, steaks, and "Animal Service", flat screen TVs, and a beer garden, you won't need to explore any further. Allied: Ready yourself for Animal Service with some Smith & Forge, the hard cider that's built strong -- built from Apples and built to Refresh.
Amidst the Logan Square boom and located in the old Harding Theater, this American pub fare joint is serving up seriously unique 'tails and scorching, juicy burgs.
This hot spot is one part supermarket, one part fast-food Korean restaurant. The Avondale market is packed floor-to-ceiling with the all of the best Korean products, including housewares and kitchen utensils. Come to shop, and stay for the chicken wings and pork wang dumplings, served in the back of the market. For years, it’s been one of Chicago’s best kept secrets for good, inexpensive eats.
The exceptionally flavorful Thai-Style Chicken Wings are a definite must-have at this Burbank spot, known for being the only place in the area that serves Lao food.
Take Me Out is a Chinese... well, take-out restaurant and wing palace that serves up some of the finest "hotties" (seriously, that's what they call their wings) in all of Chicago.
A towering two-level sushi bar with graffiti-covered concrete walls and a custom-made Robata grill, Union's Sushi-Wabi-vet chef's using said flame to work up prosciutto-wrapped scallops and garlic-soy lamb, while also kicking out noodle creations.