Mei Lin’s giving us the poultriest thing to Nashville hot chicken on this list, and the Top Chef winner adds some haute to the hot. In lieu of the traditional bird, she uses the daintier, more refined quail, which gets brined in soy and buttermilk, fried, dipped in a house chili oil, then placed atop Japanese milk bread. And because Nightshade draws on Chinese tradition to bring us something nostalgic but new, the chef’s Nashville-hot blend involves both red and green Szechuan peppercorns—in addition to around 20 other spices such as cardamom and fennel—for a bird that’s got a slightly numbing bite. $26.
Are you crying because it’s too good, or are you crying because it’s too spicy? Practically glowing red with cayenne pepper and crunchy from a dunk in the deep-fryer, Nashville-style hot chicken is juicy, searing and craveable enough to keep Angelenos waiting hours in line for a taste at the likes of Howlin’ Ray’s and pop-ups in parking lots. The Tennessee classic is such a hit in L.A., in fact, that it’s got local restaurants thinking beyond the bird for totally unique spins on the dish that don’t involve chicken at all. Here’s where the most creative takes go to roost, ranked in order of spiciest.