The hospitality group Unapologetic Foods is responsible for more of NYC’s finest restaurants than most operators ever achieve in a food and drink generation. Dhamaka was last year’s best new opening. Adda Indian Canteen enjoyed similar accolades in 2018. Semma—which started service last October—is still booked up weeks out. Rowdy Rooster, a fast casual Indian fried chicken destination that opened in February, draws lines out the door, even on weekdays.
The narrow storefront is bursting with color inside. A kaleidoscopic bird with lush plumage is pictured opposite a low banquette and a few tables with backless stools that are more or less comfortable enough for the duration of a brief lunch. You order at the counter in the back and they’ll pack it up and bring it over when it's ready a few minutes later.
The menu is more robust than the seating arrangement. Chicken sandwiches, those reliable old discourse starters, are available both as the hearty, two-hand Big Rowdy ($12) and slightly smaller Lil’ Rowdy ($9). Both dark meat cuts are bathed in a secret ingredient yogurt-based marinade for two days, coated in an also hush-hush spice blend spanning five possible heat degrees, fried to impeccable texture and finished with mint, yogurt and pickled onion.
Aside from size, the sandwiches are served on two different vehicles that each have their own effect. Soft as it is, the former’s larger potato bun stands up to the hefty fowl, lending what could be a messier affair welcome manageability. The latter is served on a smaller, pillowy pao, light with a gleaming crown–a pleasantly surprising real ringer for the wonderful buns that come with the sensational gurda kapoora over at Dhamaka. These are the best new fried chicken sandwiches in New York City.
Fried chicken pieces are also nice, prepared with the same mystery and batched by four on the bone or three off, served with cooling mint chutney for $9 in either case. The required amount of that soothing balm will vary based on where your preference is calibrated on a spectrum from entry-level to “crazy hot” with gradations between.
On a recent visit right before the rush that struck at about 1pm, I ordered the spiciest option as a matter of course, but acquiesced one level back due to a personal policy of typically accepting any good faith staff recommendation. The four alarm variety has a solid scorch that scratches eye-watering, but it won’t set alarm bells for previously torched palates. For practical purposes, it will likely still land on the higher end of fiery for most. And, to be fair, the max level threatens to obscure the sandwich’s other expert seasonings. The penultimate option still allows its fragrant spices to shine.
Chicken in whichever form is Rowdy Rooster’s main event, but supporting acts are strong, too. Crispy bits of eggplant pakora disappear as fast as movie theater snacks, and the lovely ‘Lil Rowdy bun makes another appearance in the vada pao, its patty’s light golden fried exterior enveloping the tender potato inside. Mango lassi and Indian sodas like Limca and Thumbs Up are notable on the drink menu.
The Vibe: Vibrant, fun and teeny-tiny with just a few seats and lines that form out the door.
The Food: New York City’s best new fried chicken sandwich with some great ancillary items.
The Drinks: Mango lassi and Indian sodas like Limca and Thumbs Up, plus other soft drinks.
Time Out Tip: Do not count on getting a table. Have a takeaway plan.
Rowdy Rooster is located at 149 1st Avenue and is open Tuesday–Sunday from 12pm to 3pm and 4pm until they're sold out.