Evanston Chicken Shack Regulars at this roadside dive know to call in their orders ahead of time so they don’t have to drool for 20-plus minutes waiting for their fresh-from-the-fryer, juicy birds. A steady stream of NU students and fried-chicken fanatics go bonkers for the slightly peppery, battered chicken dinners, complete with fries, cole slaw and bread for sopping the grease. Wings—served with hot, smoked or honey-barbecue sauce—rival nearby Buffalo Joe’s for hometown favorite. 1925 N Ridge Ave, Evanston (847-328-9360). El: Purple to Central. Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $7.
Harold’s Chicken Shack #24 Out of 50 or so locations of this “chicken king” empire, why did we choose to highlight this one? After sampling our weight in wings, we believe it’s the best. Order the four- or six-wing plate, ask for it “fried hard” (extra crispy) with pepper (lemon-pepper if you want zing), and get both mild and hot sauce on the side for dipping. If you can’t make it home without tearing into the bag, prepare for your car to be covered in crunch. 407 E 75th St (773-488-9533). El: Red to 79th. Bus: 75. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $5.
Hearty There are other, lighter paths to take at Hearty, but why not go the route of extreme gluttony, starting with fried mac-and-cheese squares followed by glorious fried chicken with creamed collard greens. Start with a cocktail (all of them are solid) and end with the warm and fragrant New England Indian pudding. 3819 N Broadway (773-244-9866). El: Red to Sheridan. Bus: 22, 36, 80, 151. Brunch (Sun), dinner (Wed–Sun). Average main course: $20.
Ina’s Judging from the long lines on weekends, people seem willing to wait forever for the Scrapple (a crispy, slightly spicy polenta-like dish flanked by eggs and chorizo) and Heavenly Hots (sour-cream pancakes). The question is, now that Ina has added some new breakfast items—chicken and waffles; breakfast sandwiches; salmon patties—will the regulars be willing to try something new? They should, because Ina has suspended dinner service until the spring—so if they want the fried chicken, they gotta put the Scrapple down. (Or eat both.) 1235 W Randolph St (312-226-8227). El: Green, Pink to Ashland. Bus: 20. Breakfast, lunch (Mon–Sat) (dinner suspended until spring). Average main course: $9.
one sixtyblue At this West Loop favorite, chef Michael McDonald amplifies classics with seasonal ingredients in dishes like the Sonoma duck breast with acorn squash and black kale. Specials like $4 burgers (and $4 craft beers) on Thursday nights in the bar and the $8 fried chicken on Wednesdays are hard to resist—and even harder to find a seat at. 1400 W Randolph St (312-850-0303). El: Green, Pink to Ashland. Bus: 9, 20, 65. Dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $25.
Pearl’s Place We’ve learned the hard way to be patient with the long waits. But don’t worry: The fried chicken is so damn juicy and sealed in a crunchy, pepper-flecked exterior; the collard greens so tender and flavorful with pork bits; and the sweet-potato pie so fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg that we’d wait forever. 3901 S Michigan Ave (773-285-1700). El: Green to Indiana. Bus: 1, 29, 39. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $12.
Toreore Chicken is the main (okay, only) thing on offer at this fast-food spot in the mega Korean market Super H Mart. Thanks to patented mixed-grains crust and fryers bubbling with 100% vegetable oil, the finished product is trans fat–free and nearly greaseless, but far from tasteless. Purists should stick with the plain marinated, dipped and fried version, while those game for vaguely odd but addictive flavors should venture out and order half garlic and half sweet-and-spicy. Super H Mart, 7801 N Waukegan Rd, Niles (847-965-0311). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $16.
West Town Tavern We wish every neighborhood had a cozy spot like this—unfussy food, fun wines, and jeans and suits mingling sans attitude. Chef-owner Susan Goss and her husband, Drew, keep us coming back weekly for different nightly specials, like Monday’s killer buttermilk biscuit–and–fried chicken platter, made with Goss’s great-grandma’s recipe. 1329 W Chicago Ave (312-666-6175). El: Blue to Chicago. Bus: 9, 56, 66. Dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $18.