The Ultimate Guide to Fried Chicken in Chicago

Although great anytime of the year, fried chicken is perhaps best enjoyed outside on a warm night with a cold beer, sitting at a picnic table. Happily, it’s delicious hot or cold. Sure, you’ve got your KFC and Brown’s Chicken, and while they’re consistent—the hallmark of a long-running franchise—they have no personality. These 15 chicken joints are all Chicago originals. (Note: The following are listed in no particular order, although I confess that Honey Butter Fried Chicken has my heart.)

Local Chicken Specialists:

Honey Butter Fried Chicken 

Honey Butter Fried Chicken
Photo courtesy of Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

In my opinion, HBFC sets the bar high. Chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp use only Miller Amish Farm’s humanely raised, antibiotic-free poultry from Indiana. They buy whole chickens and break them down in-house, give ‘em a good brining, then batter and fry the boneless breasts and thighs (and bone-in drumsticks) in trans-fat-free canola oil. And then, best of all, they serve it with soft honey butter. They get the spice just right, and the sides are killer, too, like the Pimento Mac’n Cheese or the Kale and Cabbage Slaw. And the bar is throwing down some killer adult beverages and brews. I want to go to there. Right now. 3361 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, 773-478-4000

Leghorn

The original West Town location and its highly focused menu (a few chicken sandwiches offered on bun or biscuit, tenders, and a kale and quinoa grilled chicken bowl option) has been joined by a River North outpost, which adds some breakfast choices (hello, cheddar tots!) to the mix. The pickle-brined chicken is intriguing. 600 N. LaSalle St., Chicago, 312-944-4444; 959 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 773-394-4444

Evanston Chicken Shack  

This E-town institution has a nationwide reputation, and there’s no denying the juicy meat and superior crunch they attain here. Plus, all dinners include fries and bread (a biscuit with mashed potatoes and gravy will run you an extra $1.19). These are bargain prices, folks. There are eight different sauces on offer (love the Jamaican Jerk and the Zesty-Hot) at this no-frills joint. 1925 N. Ridge Ave., Evanston, 847-328-9360

Parson’s Chicken and Fish 

The menu here is inventive, not a surprise given this is a side project from the Land and Sea Dept. (Longman & Eagle). So whether you opt for Chef Hunter Moore’s Fried Amish Chicken Sandwich with slaw, aioli, cheese and pickles or the Pimento Toast (and c’mon, you have to get that), you’ll want to wash it down with their trademark frozen Negroni Slushy. Fantastic patio scene here. 2952 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-384-3333

The Roost Carolina Kitchen  

Joe Scroggs started out with a fried chicken food truck in 2012, and opened his brick-and-mortar store last year. He keeps the menu fairly simple—Chicken Bone In or Bone Out, six sides and a few breakfast sandwiches. When he says “spicy,” he ain’t playin’. 1467 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, 312-261-5564

Crisp 

This is Korean fried chicken, and the spicing and marinade are a little different. Try the Seoul Sassy prep with a sweet and spicy sauce with plenty of ginger, soy and garlic. The Whole Jumbo Wings get rave reviews. 2940 N. Broadway, Chicago, 773-697-7610

Big City Chicken 

Lettuce Entertain You’s recent entry into the increasingly crowded fried chicken market, BCG is already pulling in the crowds. Head up to the counter and order from the tiny menu (fried chicken or chicken strips, three chicken sandwiches, three kinds of fries, two floats), designed by M Burger’s Tim Hockett. The chicken is crispy, the fries are skinny—but you won’t be once you eat here. Navy Pier, 900 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, 312-546-7440

Smalls Smoke Shack 

Yes, Smalls is a BBQ joint (with a twist…smoked tofu is a thing here), but they make some kick-ass buttermilk-brined fried chicken, available in quarters or halves, dark or white meat, and served with hand-cut fries, Texas toast and “not slaw.” 4009 N. Albany Drive, Chicago, 312-857-4221

Luella’s Southern Kitchen  

Chef Darnell Reed named his new counter service place after his great grandmother, who moved to Chicago from Mississippi. It’s a love letter to the food of the South, and his Bourbon Chicken and Waffles is an outstanding version of the classic (but you should totally order the She Crab Soup and the Shrimp and Grits, too). 4609 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-961-8196

dining-fried-chicken-Luella's
Photo by Cindy Kurman, Kurman Photography.

Sit-Down Restaurants That Are Killing the Fried Chicken Game:

Little Goat Diner 

Stephanie Izard’s three-piece fried chicken (breast, wing and leg) is served with tangy slaw and a side order of sass. 820 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-888-3455

Table Fifty-Two  

Art Smith’s down-home Buttermilk Fried Chicken comes with impossibly yummy roasted garlic mashed potatoes. 52 W. Elm St., Chicago, 312-573-4000

Big Jones 

Big Jones
Photo courtesy of Big Jones.

No ordinary fried chicken, Paul Fehribach’s award-winning chicken is dredged in cornmeal, then fried in a combination of leaf lard, clarified butter and ham drippings and served with voodoo greens and butterbeans. It’s awe-inspiring. 5347 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-275-5725

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab 

Sure, the stone crab claws are impeccable. But did you know they make some of the best fried chicken in town? Heard that from a trusted chef source. Check it out. 60 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, 312-379-5637

Dove’s Luncheonette 

Super chef Paul Kahan of One Off Hospitality (The Publican, Big Star, Blackbird, avec, etc.) can pretty much do no wrong. Add this to his greatest hits list: Chicken Fried Chicken, smothered in green chorizo gravy. Holy moley! 1545 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, 773-645-4060

Bonus Entry, and One More to Watch For:

Lush Wine & Spirits  

Check out Fried Chicken & Champagne Mondays at this West Town wine bar, where they are soaking the Amish chicken in a well-spiced buttermilk mixture, breading it and frying it in a cast-iron skillet in a sinful combination of four fats: lard, duck and bacon fat, and clarified butter. Pair that with a flaky biscuit, coleslaw and, of course, champagne, and you’ve got a Monday worth remembering. 1412 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 312-666-6900

dining-fried-chicken-lush-wine-and-spirits
Photo courtesy of Lush Wine & Spirits.

As Yet Unnamed DMK Fried Chicken Joint

Coming in September 2015 to Noyes Street in Evanston: the newest project from the DMK team (led by Michael Kornick and David Morton), which will feature antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken, executed with the high culinary standards DMK is known for. Sure to be a big hit with the NU students. You heard it here first!