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Photograph: Boka Restaurant Group

Where to find the best fried chicken in Chicago

Get your hands dirty with the best fried chicken Chicago has to offer—from Nashville hot to sweet and saucy

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Written by
Morgan Olsen
&
Zach Long
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Napkins at the ready! Fried chicken has never gone out of style, but the recent fast food Chicken Sandwich Wars have inspired even more of Chicago's best restaurants to add crispy bird to their menu. Alongside breasts served between buns and more conventional baskets to golden-fried goodness, you'll find everything from chicken doused in Nashville-style hot sauce that lights your taste buds on fire to Korean lollipop-style wings served with white rice. Long revered as one of the best cheap eats Chicago has in its arsenal, fried chicken is a delicacy that we'll order for breakfast, lunch or dinner without shame. (Thankfully, it's a staple on plenty of Chicago brunch menus.) Prepare to get your hands greasy when you dig into the best fried chicken Chicago has ever seen.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • West Loop

Named after chef Kristen Ashley’s grandmother, Cleo’s Southern Cuisine melds beloved family recipes with Creole classics. At Ashley’s Bronzeville restaurant (not far from her childhood home), she serves authentic comfort food that leaves a lasting impression long after your final bite. No order is complete without Cleo’s wonderfully crunchy, addictively juicy fried chicken, which can be ordered by itself, atop waffles or on a stacked sandwich. After just one bite, you’ll understand what all of the hype is about.

Best fried chicken in Chicago

  • Restaurants
  • Wicker Park

On a quiet corner in Wicker Park, chef and owner Brian Jupiter is whipping up some of the best fried chicken this city has ever seen. Purists will dig the three-piece meal, which is served with habit-forming hot honey and buttermilk drop biscuits. But the Nashville fried chicken po' boy is not to be missed: Golden poultry is pulled straight from the fryer, bathed in tongue-tingling hot sauce and topped with slaw, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, avocado and mayo. Open wide!

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 1 of 4

Up until a few years ago, most attempts to bring Nashville-style hot chicken to Chicago were hampered by unfortunate missteps, from texturally weird breading to barbecue-tinged cayenne paste to wimpy spicing. But then came the Budlong, a growing chain of Chicago shops frying up hot chicken that hits all the right notes. The meat is briny, the breading is shatteringly crisp, and the cayenne coating will make you sweat. In true Nashville fashion, it’s even crowned with a skewer of cooling pickles and served up on a slice of thick white bread that draws in crumbled crust and spicy drippings like a delicious sponge.

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  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

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. The bird itself is fried to crispy, golden perfection, making every bite a home run. Just be aware that these are whole wings (drum and flat), so an order of five is more like ten wings.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Avondale
  • price 1 of 4

The 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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Logan Square
  • price 1 of 4

This small but mighty Logan Square newcomer specializes in exactly one thing: lollipop (or tiger) chicken wings. The poultry here is known for its barely-there batter, juicy meat and a signature sticky sauce that takes hours to prepare. Get your wings with a side of jasmine rice or upgrade to deeply savory musubi rice, which is studded with kimchi and hunks of Spam.

  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • River West/West Town

Right now, the patio at Perilla in River West has been transformed into a bonafide chicken shop (dubbed Sir Chicken) serving crispy dark and white meat on white bread with cooling coleslaw. The birds are broken down in-house and cured before they're dredged and fried to golden, craggy perfection. But it's the spice blend that really sets this recipe apart: a satisfying mix of hot and sweet that's finished off with sesame seeds, toasted seaweed and dehydrated scallions. And you if you prefer your chicken between two buns, you can snag a new K-pop-themed sandwich every month.

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  • Restaurants
  • Ukrainian Village

Owner Zoe Schor spent years perfecting her fried chicken recipe for family and friends, and the finger-licking results of her labor are yours to enjoy at her West Town restaurant, Split-Rail. The classic four-piece order arrives with a split boneless breast, plus a bone-in leg and thigh—all perfectly crispy and not overwhelmingly breaded. Plus, there are alternative recipes available for the gluten-free and vegan diners in your group so that no one feels left out. Load up on sauces like curry mayo, honey-mustard and sweet BBQ for endless dipping possibilities.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Lincoln Square
  • price 1 of 4

Chef and owner Darnell Reed honors his grandmother Luella's southern roots with his iconic Lincoln Square restaurant. There's not a single dud on the menu, but the buttermilk fried chicken is hard to beat. Get it served with smoked honey and collard greens or order it atop a sweet liege waffle. No matter which route you go, it's not hard to see why Reed's signature poultry has taken on a life of its own.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Greater Grand Crossing
  • price 1 of 4

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 (or mild sauce) adds an optional acid zip and the complimentary slice of white bread allows you to soak up all the delicious juices once you've picked the bones clean.

Acclaimed chef Lee Wolen was planning to open a rotisserie chicken shop inside a food hall back in March—and then, like everything else, his plans came to a screeching halt. Instead, he pivoted the brick-and-mortar concept to a delivery-only joint operating out of Boka's Lincoln Park kitchen. Oven-roasted chicken is still at the core of the menu, but you'd be foolish to skip the crispy fried chicken sandwich, which gets some help from spicy mayo, cabbage, bread and butter pickles and a pillowy brioche bun. You're not going to want to share, so order enough for everyone.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

In 2015, our city became home to the first northern outpost of beloved Tennessee institution Gus’s. 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 until the last bite, while the moist chicken beneath (particularly the thigh) practically demands to be picked clean.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Andersonville
  • price 2 of 4

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 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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Austin

With four locations scattered around the city and the suburbs, Uncle Remus has established itself as a fried chicken destination in Chicago. But not many residents realize that the restaurant's roots trace all the way back to 1963, when Gus and Mary Rickette opened G & G Chicken Shack in West Garfield Park. The concept has changed names and locations over the past six decades, but the quality of the chicken remains. These days, wings can be ordered by the piece and customers can specify exactly how they want it served (i.e. half hot/half mild or plain chicken with mild sauce on the fries). You can try it every which way, but we love the simplicity of Uncle Remus's mild sauce.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Uptown

What started as a food truck has blossomed into a brick-and-mortar business with two locations (the other is in Humboldt Park). And it's not hard to see why—the indulgent eats at Lucy's deserve to be consumed while sitting down. Diners can indulge in stacked burgers, fried chicken, loaded fries and decadent milkshakes. Here for the poultry? Go with the spicy fried chicken sandwich, laced with cooling coleslaw and American cheese. Looking for something richer? The Juicy Lucy's double patties are hiding a pocket of melty American cheese. Get your sugar fix in the form of a milkshake, vintage soda or soft serve cone.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Garfield Ridge
  • price 1 of 4

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 meat beneath.

  • Restaurants
  • River West/West Town
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Culinary vet Larry Tucker moved his North Lawndale chicken joint to West Town in 2019, pulling longtime fans north and introducing a new neighborhood to his pristine crispy poultry. For $11, you can secure two pieces of the good stuff plus a side of your choice (the mac 'n' cheese and collards are stellar). The namesake sandwich comes dressed up with your choice of honey chipotle, tangy buffalo or Sriracha mayo, and you can even toss on a helping of duck bacon to seal the deal. End with a slice of pound cake, made by Tucker's wife, and you have a very solid lunch.

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  • Restaurants
  • Bridgeport
  • price 1 of 4

You can get wings, breasts, thighs and tenders at this Bridgeport fried chicken joint, but for the real Big Boss experience, you need to order the Big Boss Sandwich. The house specialty coats a comically large piece of boneless fried chicken in your choice of spicy sauce (ranging from mild spicy to Big Boss hot) and places it between a small butter bun with coleslaw and jalapeños. You're going to end up with sauce all over your fingers no matter how daintily you try to eat it, but that's what napkins are for. If you're still hungry, add a couple of curry puffs, curly fries or a tower of French toast sticks to your order.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Logan Square
  • price 1 of 4

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 chicken here is best enjoyed on its own, 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. Swing by Parson’s locations in Logan Sqaure, West Town, Andersonville and Lincoln Park.

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  • Restaurants
  • Bridgeport

There's no false advertising going on here: Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream wears its menu on its sleeve. And like its name suggests, golden poultry from Kimski chef Won Kim is at the heart of the menu. The chicken tenders come with your choice of sauce—buffalo ranch or honey mustard—and you can add some sides to round out your meal. Want to carb it out? The chicken sandwich is tossed in Korean fire sauce and topped with gochujang aioli, napa cabbage and Asian pear slaw, pickles and greens.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Grand Boulevard
  • price 1 of 4

No, there's no relation to L.A.’s famous Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. But you can still get that sweet and salty duo of fried chicken and waffles any time of the day here, and that’s really all that matters. Both the Bronzeville and Oak Park locations of Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles serve waffles topped with your choice of fried chicken (both white and dark meat options are available), plus sweet add-ons like apple, blueberry, banana, strawberry, chocolate chip or pecan. And if you're not a fan of the restaurant's namesake combo, you can add fried wings, thighs, breasts and legs to anything on the menu.

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Lake View
  • price 1 of 4

With locations in Lakeview, River West, Wrigleyville and the Loop, it's never terribly difficult to get your hands on the Roost's buttermilk-brined, hand-breaded chicken. The same level of care goes into the buttermilk biscuits, which are made from scratch in small batches throughout the day, so you'll never get a day-old pastry. Try both menu highlights when you order a fried chicken sandwich on a biscuit, which includes two sides (coleslaw and creamy mac are the way to go).

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Grand Boulevard

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.

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