There is no "best" type of chicken wing. Great wings win hearts and stomachs with well-balanced flavors and quality meat regardless of whether they're naked, dredged, sauced, or smoked. So instead of tracking down the best wings from Buffalo or Chinese restaurants or women wearing tank tops three sizes too small, we tracked down the best chicken wings of any kind. Competition was fierce, but, in the end, these 21 wing joints distinguished themselves on meat quality, innovation, and overall atmosphere.
You'll surely decide this list is "invalid" when you discover that your favorite place isn't mentioned. By all means, take this fury to the comments. But now, on to America's finest fowl:
East Aurora, NY
First things first: Anchor Bar, recognized for inventing the glorious combo of poultry parts & spicy sauce we now know as the Buffalo wing, does not appear on this list. There are a few reasons; Bar Bill is one of 'em. This mug-club-havin' roadhouse earned its stripes slinging beef on weck to Western NY drinkers 'til 1983 -- the year a full-service kitchen started flinging out the fiery wings that would catapult the Bill into city- and nation-wide conversations. They remain mostly unchanged: big-not-huge, crispy, doused in a dozen sauces (try honey butter BBQ!), and plated with BBT's blue cheese dressing. Locals adore this place so much that the now-retired former owner (whose name was Joe, not Bill) apparently used to organize Caribbean vacations with groups of regulars, which presumably doubled as reconnaissance missions to uncover what the West Indies' wing game was cooking up.
Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN
They’re known for their Blucy burgers, stuffed with bleu cheese instead of the Jucy Lucy's cheddar. And you should definitely get one of those as well. But not before you’ve dug into their made-from-scratch sauced wings. They have eleven different styles, including the amazingly named “Steal Your Face”, but the move here is to split between the original Buffalo and the Frogtown special, which come tossed in a spicy peanut butter sauce that tastes somewhat Asian and somewhat like magical culinary wizard crack.
The first time I went here was in college with a friend who grew up a few towns away. We were hungover (college!), and she kept repeating it, like a mantra: I need Buff Joe's. I need Buff Joe's. This was annoying, but after I bit into those damn perfect crispy, spicy wings, I started in on the mantra too. Founder Joe Prudden spices them with secret and simple things, so don’t look for different sauces: they’ve just got the one. Add in the bonus Cheddar Chips, which are waffle-cut fries covered with thick, heart-stopping cheddar, and you'll say it too.
It’s in a random spot in Newton that you wouldn’t really pass by unless you knew where you were headed. It doesn’t bother with frills or tricks. They know why you are coming there; after all, they’ve got the best wings in Massachusetts. I mean, look at their g-damn name. Anyway, the move here is to split between the honey hot and the regular Buffalo classic wings, and then wash it all down with one of their pale ales brewed by Harpoon. Then be prepared to talk about the Patriots. A lot.
The name says it all, really. These twice-fried Korean style beauties have a flawlessly textured skin that yields to a juicy interior and thoughts of tearing into another one before you've even finished the one you're presently dispatching. Get them BBQ style (a harmonious marriage of American and Korean flavor profiles) or go for the Seoul Sassy, a symphony of ginger-soy-garlic goodness.
Just a short MetroNorth ride North of Manhattan lies Westchester County. It's through this wooded tract of wealth, privilege, and divorced bankers that Candlelight Inn (candleless and also not an inn) has shone like a beacon of hope since 1955. The wings here are meaty & generously fried to a crunch, then slathered even more generously with enough sauce to add to follow-up bites. They're cash-only, always mobbed, and surrounded by a never-ending glacier of strip malls, but when you first cross the threshold and the spicy tang of Chernobyl sauce hits your nostrils, none of that matters. You might even say those issues don't hold a candle... to... uh, nevermind.
What can you say about a people's-favorite Irish pub that's also a Packers bar that's also a Nats bar that's also a go-to pregame spot for the best concert venue in our nation's capital? You could say, "That was a run-on sentence bro, get ahold of yourself", or you could just point out the obvious: Duffy's wings are DC's best. "Traditional medium" is plenty hot for casual eaters, and that's just one of a half-dozen familiar flavors available from the 9:30 Club-adjacent mainstay. The move here is the Old Bay Chesapeake finish -- a poultry-specific dry rub based on Maryland's beloved seasoning that's applied to charbroiled wings.
The "2" in the 1-2 Western NY punch that sunk Anchor's chances at glory is Gabriel's Gate, an Allentown favorite set up inside an old row-house from 1864. They just do 'em better -- not only better than the original, but better than almost anyone in the country. A single order of medium-heat wings is the move: crispy, saucy, and utterly enormous, these may not be Buffalo's first... but they're the ones you need to eat when you're here.
Chef Jonathon Sawyer has made his name taking lowbrow cuisine -- we’re talking full roasted pig heads, burgers, and fried fish -- and transforming the dishes into spectacular, highbrow comfort food. None are more renowned than his confit chicken wings, which are cured in a sweet-and-spicy marinade for a couple days before taking a 12-hour immersion bath in pure fat from pretty much every animal that grazes on the restaurant’s menu. The resulting wings are impossibly crispy and intensely tender with a garnish of roasted jalapeño, lemon, garlic, and scallion adding layers of flavor that render sauce completely unnecessary.
When you visit Nashville, you go to Prince’s or Hattie B’s or, these days, even fancier spots like Acme, and you get some type of hot chicken -- that spicy dry-rubbed, battered, and deep-fried poultry that is as synonymous with Music City as cowboy hats and sweltering humidity. But once you’ve gotten that basic fried bird, move on to Hattie B’s platters of mouth-tingling whole wings. After they come out of the deep-fryer, the wings bathe in a mixture of oil and a paprika-cayenne-spice explosion. The result? The flavors soak deep into the crispy bird. Order ‘em Damn Hot with blue cheese and let your tongue dance with as much of that heat and flavor as you can handle.
The dirt on J. Timothy's is dirt. That's what this Connecticut institution calls its signature fried-sauced-fried-again preparation, allegedly named after the oldest player on a softball team of bar regulars. The result is delicious: that double-deep-fried shell finishes a few shades darker than hot-sauce orange and delivers super-crisp bites. The dirtying process puts sauce into the fryer, which mucks it up and necessitates frequent oil changes, so you know you're getting the good stuff. Timothy's was founded in 1985, but the building it's in was built in 1789, so it's pretty much as old as dirt, too. (That's it for sentences about dirt. Promise.)
It seems like a typical Irish pub you’ve seen in a lot of cities: Guinness and Harp signs outside, a long dark wood bar inside, full perfect pours of Guinness... you know the drill. But those wings. Good Lord, no typical Irish man cooks up wings this crispy and succulent and spicy and tangy. They call them Philly’s best on the menu, but they’re being modest: they just might be the best in the whole damn state.
New York, NY
New Yorkers love to complain about the disappearance of the "old New York", mostly because they want to give you the impression that they remember the city in its former state, despite the fact that they're about your age. That's called "being misleading", and it's the precise opposite of everything Old Town (established 1892) stands for. Its wings are nothing if not straightforward -- bathed in traditional buffalo sauce, they're neither dredged nor spicy, and the meat, though ample, isn't as abundant as at some other spots in this story. Nevertheless, they're damn delicious, and this ancient Gotham tavern's unparalleled charm (even its urinals have won accolades!) makes them a national treasure.
Getting your wings at this Milwaukee joint takes time… mainly because each batch is prepped to order, and, instead of taking a dip in the fryer, they’re fired up on a grill. Luckily, the place is old-school gritty/charming enough that you won’t care. Order at the bar, snag a few beers, and kick back in the cozy neighborhood joint. In 30 or so minutes, the cook himself will deliver some of the best wings in the Midwest, grill-charred and loaded with flavor thanks to a secret dry-rub that manages to penetrate every fiber of the meat. If the Packers are playing, your wait’s going to be considerably longer. Thank heavens for good company. And Leinenkugel.
Brooklyn, NY & Portland, OR
Portland chef Andy Ricker’s pretty famous: he’s toured Thailand with Bourdain, written a book, and even starred in his own documentary. But the chef has nothing on his most famous creation: Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings, which laid the foundation for Pok Pok’s expansion to New York and (soon) LA. They’re basically meat candy. Giant, full-wing meat candy. A marinade of fish sauce and sugar, these Vietnamese wings get a dose of garlic after the fry, coating the crispy, caramelized skin with an explosion of flavor unlike anything you’ve ever had. Get them with extra spice and a very cold beer.
San Francisco, CA
The Richmond has long been an Asian enclave in SF, a place many went after leaving Chinatown and Japantown, which are both closer to the city center. And so you see places like San Tung all over that neighborhood, with Chinese characters in the sign and on the windows and that typical takeout Chinese menu with the numbers. But the wings at San Tung are by no means typical, and you can usually tell by the crowds lining up for lunch and dinner. So do yourself a favor and get the 72: the original dry-fried chicken. They have a wet version as well, but those don’t compare to the simple, ginger and garlic crunch of the dry ones.
In a land whose traffic-choked highways take you by plenty of (actually decent) franchise options, it takes a special something to make a wing run worth it. Luckily, Sobban's got two special somethings: a Korean chicken know-how and a bloodline of Southern barbecue. Owned by the heroes behind Atlanta's beloved Heirloom Market BBQ (where the wings are also damn good), this low-slung roadside diner is helmed by Chef de Cuisine Jiyeon Lee, who fries her wings up in a flavor-trapping sweet chili ginger sauce and swaps out boring celery & carrots for pickled veggies. Bonus: there's a patio, and you should consume your wings on it.
A Bricktown institution housed in one of the Motor City’s oldest buildings (well, at least the original location is… they’ve got four now), Sweetwater ditches the practice of offering a bajillion different sauce options to specialize in only one, and it’s frequently heralded as Michigan’s best wing. Using meat straight from the Eastern Market, each wing takes a 24 hour marinade bath before arriving at your table cooked to perfection: not too saucy, with spice, salt, and vinegar permeating every bite.
Despite being way down there, Miami simply isn't in "The South". This point is pretty much indisputable unless you're trying to make it from within Swine, a two-story barnhouse reclaimed from South Carolina, reconstructed on the Gables, and populated with some of the finest practitioners of BBQ in the land. Obviously, pork is the party animal here, but the wood-grilled, dry-rubbed, oversized wings are downright mental. Served with Alabama white sauce, they deliver a glorious mishmash of Deep South flavors that's been M.I.A. in MIA ever since Tobacco Road closed and Yardbird (Swine's older bro) dropped wings to focus on its award-winning fried chicken.
Prolific James (and actual) Beard'd chef Tom Douglas clearly loves wings, as the hot pepper ones at his famed Palace Kitchen have long been considered Seattle's best. But he's topped them at his newest restaurant, where the Asian-inspired wings come in two flavors (salty caramel, serrano & garlic and smoked chili with kimchee ketchup) and are fried about the same number of times you actually watched Wings: twice.
Iowa City, IA
From the sauce-stained mouth of executive editor Kevin Alexander, "For personal reasons I won’t get into, we make a pilgrimage every year to Iowa City to watch an Iowa basketball game. The first year we did, we asked around for a place to go before the game. Everyone said the The Vine. So we strolled in, and, as far as we could see, people of all ages -- grandpas in Hawkeyes sweatshirts, kids in Iowa jumpers, college kids wearing a shit-ton of Axe body spray -- were all quietly pigging out on wings, their faces covered as if they were old French prostitutes who put orange lipstick sloppily around their lips. So we sat at the bar and got a pitcher of beer and an order of the maple hot wings, and, soon, we, too, looked like old French ladies of the night, gleefully tasting that sweet maple flavor mixed with some spice. And it was so damn delicious, I don’t think I wiped my mouth again until we left the city."