The great Chicago fried chicken renaissance of recent years has shown no signs of levelling off. These days, it seems like the city is awash in finger lickin’ options, from Nashville hot to buttermilk brined to Korean and upscale classic American takes to carry-out buckets and barbecue. We’ve tasted our way through Chicago’s ever-growing roster of crispy birds to determine which fried chicken dinners are truly winners.
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The best fried chicken in Chicago
Fried chicken is meant to be messy, but Mott St.’s Everything Wings take things to the next level. The massive slabs of poultry are glazed with a sticky soy-chili sauce and tossed with sesame, poppy seeds and fried shallots. They’re served with a cool-as-a-cucumber tzatziki sauce that will make you forget about ranch dressing. The result is a flavor-packed experience that’s bound to dirty up your fingers and face. But as some of the very best chicken wings in the city, they’re worth it (plus, the staff treats you to a hot towel after the bones are cleared).
Let’s get this out of the way: Roister is not your typical fine dining establishment. It’s loud, it’s boisterous and you sit at a bar. The concept from Alinea’s Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, with chef Andrew Brochu (Alinea, EL Ideas), also boasts some of the best fried chicken we’ve ever tasted. For $67, you'll get enough chicken to feed two to three very hungry diners; the platter offers bird three ways: braised, poached and fried. The fried version is arguably the single greatest part of the entire menu (and that’s saying a lot). The recipe involves dredging the chicken in cornstarch, buttermilk and flour and finishes off with a deep-dish massage (really). Dunk it in the bottle-worthy sunchoke hot sauce for the ultimate experience.
A cheerfully-hip aesthetic all but dares you to dismiss this Avondale spot as a trend-surfing lightweight. Boy, would that be a mistake. The namesake fried chicken—a mix of bone-in drumsticks and boneless breasts and thighs—wears a hearty breading that’s supremely crunchy and fragrant with smoked paprika. Slather it with the sweet, airy house honey butter, which melts and mingles with the poultry’s juices, and you’ve got one of the city’s best takes on fried chicken. Bonus: Chicken orders include petite, crispy-edged corn muffins, perfect for mopping stray butter and breading crumbles from your tray.
In 2015, our city became home to the first northern outpost of beloved Tennessee institution Gus’s. Lucky us; just like at the Volunteer State original, the chicken here has a kick that doesn’t scorch the palette, but rather lingers pleasantly. The breading—all golden-brown ridges and nooks and delicious craggy bits—maintains its structural integrity to the last bite, while the moist chicken beneath (particularly the thigh) practically demands to be picked clean.
As its name suggests, this public restaurant within Soho House Chicago is a purveyor of poultry. While you can order the fried chicken as a sandwich or atop waffles, don’t overlook the inconspicuous chicken nuggets. The childhood favorite is all grown up and served with a wedge of lemon and secret sauce. A crispy outer shell gives way to tender white meat that’s juicy to its core. The best part is, you can pop them in your mouth while sipping cocktails—no fork and knife required.
Whether you like your fried chicken solo or in a sandwich, hot or mild, Parson’s has just the cure—if you’re willing to wait. With a line that can easily set you back two hours, you know Parson’s is the real deal. The reward, however, is worth your time (and the negroni slushies aren’t a bad idea while you wait). The bird here is best enjoyed solo, and you can choose from two pieces, a half or whole bird or a skillet, which includes fixings. Boasting a perfectly seasoned crust and a mahogany-colored fry, Parson’s chicken is just right.
A trio of sauces—BBQ, Seoul Sassy and Buffalo—applied post-fryer give the chicken at this cheerful Lakeview Korean spot the power to assume multiple identities. Personally, we’re total suckers for the Sassy, a sweet but not cloying concoction of ginger and garlic over a deep, dark base note of soy. On occasion, the bird itself can lean toward the dry side—but chances are you’ll be too busy licking your fingers to take much notice.
Fluorescent lighting and canary yellow formica are about as much as you’ll get in the way of ambience at this neighborhood favorite, tucked down a side street just off of Archer Avenue in Garfield Ridge. But that chicken, though. Fried to order (veterans know to call 30 minutes in advance), it arrives clad in a mellow gold coating (or “butter crust”) that’s sturdy and salty and satisfyingly crunchy—a beautiful complement to the juicy chicken beneath.
Up until now, all attempts to bring Nashville-style hot chicken to Chicago have been hampered by unfortunate missteps, from texturally weird breading to too-viscous, barbecue sauce-like cayenne paste to wimpy spicing. Enter the Budlong, a snug new Lakeview spot frying up hot chicken that hits all the right notes. That is to say, the chicken is briny, the breading is shatteringly crisp, and the cayenne paste that coats it gets you sweating and stains your fingers just the right shade of atomic red. (Four heat levels—“naked,” classic, medium, and extra hot—are available; we find the medium packs a reasonable burn.) In true Nashville fashion, it’s even crowned with a skewer of cooling pickles and served up on a slice of white bread that draws in crumbled crust and spicy drippings like a delicious sponge.
A trifecta of fats—ham drippings, leaf lard and clarified butter—endow Paul Fehribach’s signature cornmeal-dredged fried chicken with richness and tremendous crunch. It’s served up (with sides of hoppin’ john and biting voodoo greens) in shareable half-bird portions, and while the smaller pieces can be overwhelmed by their crusty cornmeal encasements, the textural ratio clicks into perfect balance with the meatier thigh and breast, whose succulent strata conceal torrents of briny juice.
It seems like this haute diner’s burger gets all the love. And we’re fine with that, because it means more General Jane’s Honey-Fried Chicken for us. A playful reworking of the greasy Chinese takeout standard General Tso’s chicken, the dish is anchored by a half-bird that’s exceedingly soft in texture. An almost shell-like breading somehow retains its crunch despite being liberally sauced. And let’s talk about that sauce: It’s thick and sticky, heady with soy and ginger, sweet and at once possessed of a smoldering chili burn that takes a few bites to announce itself but leaves your lips tingling. Um, burger? What burger?
Attempting to put her finger on the essence of the chickens in her one-time home of France, Julia Child mused, “They were so good and chickeny.” A similar assessment fits the fried bird at one of Chicago’s most iconic dining institutions, Harold’s: It’s just so fried chickeny. The meat is tender, with a faint funky undertone of grease; the breading savors simply of salt and pepper, and fresh from the fryer, it boasts a pastry-like flakiness—a result, perhaps, of the beef tallow allegedly incorporated into the cooking oil. A vinegary hot sauce adds an optional acid zip.
If you crave something a little sweet to counter all that fried goodness, look no further than this South Side favorite that’s located just off the 47th Street stop on the Green Line. The sunny spot serves its fried chicken alongside cinnamon French toast and sweet honey butter (which you should slather all over the chicken, too). Each bite is the perfect blend of sugar and spice, a nice option for breakfast enthusiasts who can't decide.