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Howlin' Ray's
Photograph: Jakob N. LaymanHowlin' Ray's

Here’s where to find the best Nashville hot chicken in L.A.

These restaurants and stalls serve spicy, cayenne-packed Nashville-style fried chicken that's packing heat. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Written by
Stephanie Breijo
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Is it hot in here or is it just the chicken? The Nashville-style fried bird is a modern Southern staple, and here in L.A., it’s become just as beloved—and it happened faster than you can reach for a glass of water. Known for its bright red color and searing heat, Nashville hot chicken is packed with cayenne pepper and secret blends of spices that will make you sweat with every bite you take. Depending on whose chicken you’re chowing on, the spices usually get tossed into the batter before frying, or shaken over the top post-oil dip. (And if the chef is really crazy, it’s both.) Nashville hot chicken is popping up in backyards and parking lots and the restaurants of some of your favorite celebrity chefs—here’s your guide to the best of it. Just don’t try them all in one day.

Spice things up with some Nashville hot chicken

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Baldwin Hills
  • price 1 of 4

It's good to be queen. Kim Prince's wings, tenders and sandwiches are the real stars here—of course no Hotville star shines brighter than chef-owner Prince herself, descendant of Nashville’s iconic hot chicken restaurant, Prince’s. Prince slings piles of chicken at her own L.A. restaurant, serving it simply—and traditionally—with pickles and a few slices of plain white bread, a nod to back home but with her own spices and sides. It's all available on a scale that includes no spice at all (but still plenty of seasoning), and if you really want some heat, order it hot as it comes and weep for the next few days; Ms. Prince does not mess around, as we've learned from experience. Sides like kale slaw or the pepper-packed mac and cheese help cool things down and smooth things over, and the cakes and Southern hospitality only make those big booths all the more comfortable. Just remember no matter what or how you order, you’re getting a taste of Nashville royalty. Appreciate every bite.

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

Is it the most Instagrammed chicken in Los Angeles? You bet. Is the line usually around two hours long? Also accurate. And is Howlin’s succulent, mouth-searingly-hot fried chicken worth that wait? Absolutely. What else would you expect from Johnny Ray Zone, a chef who spent time in the kitchens of a few of the biggest names in the world? Of course the Nashville-style hot chicken that Johnny and his wife, Amanda Zone, bring to Chinatown is far from what he was whipping up with Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa—it’s simple milk-brined, hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, done with flair and a whole lot of heat. First handed out the window of a truck and now serving from a brick-and-mortar in Far East Plaza, Howlin’ Ray’s is a modern L.A. institution offering light or dark pieces, wings, sandwiches and, most recently, tenders—which you can even order as smothered with cheese. Choose from a basic “country”-level hot (with no heat whatsoever) to the terrifyingly spicy “howlin’,” but don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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  • Restaurants
  • East Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Started from the parking lot, now they’re here: One of L.A.’s biggest hot-chicken success stories, Dave’s began as a stand and worked its way up to a brick and mortar—and now it’s one of Hollywood’s late-night go-tos with a line out the door. They’ve only got one rule: no pickups. Don’t worry, the line moves quickly, as the menu is particularly limited. The bright-red hot chicken only comes in strips and (hefty) sliders, juicy and a little greasy and wildly hot, especially as you climb toward the “reaper” spice option. You’re gonna need a side of those cheese-topped crinkle-cut fries to cool things down.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Fairfax District
  • price 1 of 4

Redbird’s Neal Fraser technically calls his hot chicken “Memphis-style,” though he admits there’s really no difference when it comes to the Nashville-inspired dish. You can find his take tucked into the Original Farmers Market, where the chef’s fast-casual chicken shack, Fritzi Coop, sells it in wing, boneless-wing and sandwich form—and the sandwich is where it’s at. Fraser isn’t fooling around with the spice (available as “hot” or “super hot”), and on the sandwich, the fried dark meat gets some added oomph from a spicy slaw. Cool off with whatever the daily agua fresca is. You’re going to need it.

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  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Historic Filipinotown
  • price 1 of 4

Find the quaint yellow brick building with the hand-pained lettering declaring “FRIED CHICKEN” and “ICE COLD BEER,” and you’ve reached your destination. Crawford’s is one of the best dives in town for a game of pool and some frosty mugs of cheap beer under the red neon glow of a “BAR OPEN” sign, but it’s also one of L.A.’s top spots for fried chicken. You’ve only got two options here—regular and hot—and for a kick of spice tha’s not as searing as some of the specialists (but still packs some heat), you already know we go for the hot. An order will only set you back $10, and it comes with white bread and a side of your choosing, which is some real Southern hospitality if we ever saw it. (Our tip? Don’t skip the pie, either.)

  • Restaurants
  • Los Feliz
  • price 1 of 4

Thai Town’s Angry Birdz is a bit of a dive, but that’s just fine by us—we’re not here for the frills, we’re here for the fried goods. The setting is sparse, the menu straightforward. The Nashville spice? Way hot. Like Howlin’ Ray’s, the basic level is “country,” but here, the hottest setting warns you that you should probably sign a waiver. (It’s hot, but it’s not litigation hot.) The birds here come in slider and tender form, but what it lacks in poultry option it makes up for in sides, with choices like mashed potatoes, slaw, mac and cheese, fries and even buttered rice—in ode to the owners’ Middle Eastern heritage—available until midnight every day of the week, for all your late-night hot cravings.

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