Food & Drink

Garden & Gun’s Fried Chicken Bucket List

A state-by-state guide to the best birds in the South

Photo: Margaret Houston

Southerners eat fried chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which is why so many of us are self-professed experts. For this list, though, we turned to real professionals—seventy-some people who truly know fried chicken, from chefs with their own famous recipes to seasoned food and travel writers and G&G contributors. Chains proved surprisingly popular. Both Popeyes and Publix earned high praise from a dozen different sources. So did staples like Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, in Memphis, and Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans. But there were still plenty of surprises, too. Who knew you could order outstanding fried chicken off-menu at OvenBird, chef Chris Hastings’s Birmingham temple to open-fire cooking? Nashville’s Karl Worley did, and now the secret’s out. Start scrolling or click to skip around and see where the pros brake for yardbird in your state.

North Carolina
South Carolina

Washington, D.C.
West Virginia
National & Regional Chains

Dyron’s Lowcountry
Mountain Brook |

“The chef, Randall Baldwin, worked with us at one time, and he does a twenty-four-hour buttermilk soak and double-dredge. The result is juicy fried chicken with the best crust. It’s so good that my daughter will be serving it at her wedding this spring.” —Frank Stitt (Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham)


Johnny’s Restaurant
Homewood |

“Full disclosure: Chef Tim Hontzas is like a brother to me, and he makes some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat.” —John Currence (City Grocery Restaurant Group, Oxford)


The Hotel at Auburn University
Auburn |

“It’s not listed as a regular menu item, but folks that are in the loop can order Mrs. Annie Cook’s fried chicken. Mrs. Annie has been working for the hotel for 14 years, and in that time, she has gotten the fried chicken on lock. Just ask for it and you’ll see.” —Rob McDaniel (SpringHouse, Alexander City, Alabama)


Miss Dots
Mountain Brook and Tuscaloosa |

“Everybody who’s hunted at Alabama’s Sawtooth Plantation knows that we all really go there for Miss Dot’s cast-iron fried chicken. It’s so good that Sawtooth’s owner, John Cassimus, built her two restaurants.” —David Bancroft (Acre, Auburn)


Birmingham |

“Not on the menu, limited, and cooked the way God and Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis intended: in a pan with a few different fats. My favorite fried chicken on earth!” —Karl Worley (Biscuit Love, Nashville)


Saraceno’s Restaurant
Fairhope | 251-928-1116

“This is the place I eat at least twice a week when I’m down there on the coast. I don’t really like a steam table but I like this one, and the reason I do—besides the nice people who own it and run it and the fresh vegetables in season—is the fried chicken.” —Rick Bragg (author and Garden & Gun contributor)


Seafood and Chicken Box
Birmingham |

“The chicken, cooked to order, comes dusted with a seasoning mix they call ‘goo,’ though it’s dry, powdery, and crystalline—like incredibly fine sea salt. It’s unusual, and gets most visitors off Birmingham’s beaten paths.” —Phillip Rhodes (Garden & Gun)


Alexander City

“When you wake up to a beautiful Alabama sunrise on Lake Martin, the only way your day can get better is with brunch at SpringHouse and chef Rob McDaniel’s smoked and fried chicken—drizzled with Poirier’s cane syrup. Then it’s back home to nap!”
David Bancroft (Acre, Auburn)

The Cotton Boll Café
Malvern | 501-229-1516

“Soaked in buttermilk and dredged in seasoned flour, this soul-satisfying dish will make that afternoon nap a requirement.” —Matthew McClure (The Hive, Bentonville)


The Hive
Bentonville |

“It’s light, crispy, and bold in flavor—both the meat and the crust. I’m not sure if it’s a brine or just perfectly seasoned breading.” —Anthony Lamas (Seviche, Louisville)


K Hall and Sons Produce
Little Rock | 501-372-1513 

“This small, family-owned grocery store dishes up some of the best food in the state. You have a choice of a two- or three-piece order—wings, legs and thighs only, as it should be—and the crispy skin loves a bit of hot sauce. Don’t miss out on a slice of the sweet potato pie!” —Matthew McClure (The Hive, Bentonville)


Maddie’s Place
Little Rock |

 “This is a chicken breast, pounded just a bit before breading and served with a hot sauce glaze, mac and cheese, and braised greens. Damn, it’s good!” —Matthew McClure (The Hive, Bentonville)


Monte Ne Inn Chicken
Rogers |

“This lakeside institution in a cinderblock building has been serving comfort food family-style since long before it was a trend. Mostly dark meat fried chicken comes with mashed potatoes and gravy, string beans, and rolls, among other traditional favorites. Oh, and it’s all-you-can-eat.” —Matthew McClure (The Hive, Bentonville)

Joe’s Stone Crab
Miami Beach |

“The hidden secret on the menu. Everyone goes for the stone crabs and never think of ordering it.” —Giorgio Rapicavoli (Eating House, Miami)


Fodder & Shine
Tampa |

 “This is cornmeal-dredged chicken fried without skin. Taking the skin off isn’t something I would normally agree with—but when the result is that crispy, who am I to argue?” —Matt Bolus (The 404 Kitchen, Nashville)


Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
Miami Beach |

 “Well-seasoned, juicy, and complimented perfectly with cheddar chow chow waffles, spiced watermelon, and bourbon maple syrup.” —Kenny Gilbert (Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, Fernandina Beach, Florida)

Bennie’s Red Barn
St. Simons |

“A local institution known for its steaks. I’m all about the half-a-bird dinner, buttermilk battered and fried to order for sixty-plus years.” —Griffin Bufkin (Southern Soul Barbeque, St. Simons, Georgia)


Big Chick
Washington | 706-678-2214

“My husband, Ben, grew up on this. Old-school, takeout only. Small-town, bone-in, crispy skin.” —Whitney Otawka (Greyfield Inn, Cumberland Island, Georgia)


Blakely Chicken
Blakely | 229-723-4201

“If we follow the original definition of a three-star restaurant set by Guide Michelin—that it is an establishment worth a special journey—then Blakely is worthy of those three stars! Crisp skin and cravable flavor in an authentic place.” —Linton Hopkins (Resurgens Hospitality Group, Atlanta)


Buckner’s Family Restaurant
Jackson |

“I’ve been going here with my family since I was a kid. They have amazing fried chicken every day of the week—and the best part is that it’s all-you-can-eat!” —Kevin Gillespie (Red Beard Restaurants, Atlanta)


Busy Bee Café
Atlanta |

“An American classic. Nothing lets me know I’m in the South like their counter seats, cornbread muffins, and fried chicken.” —Nicole A. Taylor (author, The Up South Cookbook)


Chicken Delite
Ocilla |

“A friend of mine turned me onto this little place. We always get the owner, Rusty, to fry us up a bunch of chicken when we are down that way quail hunting. It’s loaded with black pepper and super juicy.” —Kevin Gillespie (Red Beard Restaurants, Atlanta)


Chick-fil-A Dwarf House
Hapeville |

“At this little diner in Hapeville, Georgia, a famous fried chicken sandwich—and Chick-fil-A—was born. Sitting at the counter and eating it on diner china with the bun toasted to order is a bucket-list experience.” —Linton Hopkins (Resurgens Hospitality Group, Atlanta)


Dillard House Restaurant
Dillard |

“This old-school spot holds a special place in my heart. The fried chicken here tastes like what my granny used to make when I was a kid.” —Kevin Gillespie (Red Beard Restaurants, Atlanta)


Fried Chicken and Biryani at Third Space
Atlanta |

“I am a skillet-fried chicken enthusiast and largely a purist. Asha Gomez is the only person who I trust to put spice on the bird. Asha’s Kerala Fried Chicken, currently available from an every-other-Friday pop-up at the Third Space in Atlanta, is brined in spices and finished with coconut and mango drizzles and utterly amazing.” —Ronni Lundy (author, Victuals)


JCT Kitchen
Atlanta |

“Straightforward, clean flavor is the hallmark of their fried chicken—and the rest of the menu.” —Greg Baker (The Refinery, Tampa)


K&K Soul Food
Atlanta | 404-685-1073

“K&K is my favorite cafeteria in the city, hands down. Everything they serve is tops, including the fried chicken.” —Allen Suh (Ronen Knife, Atlanta)


L.T.’s Wings
Atlanta | 404-349-0006

 “One of my dearest friends turned me on to this southwest Atlanta joint—his go-to. L.T.’s stays busy, with lines out the door.” —Nicole A. Taylor (author, The Up South Cookbook)


Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room,
Savannah |

“Back in the day, locals would walk up to the back door of Mrs. Wilkes and pick up a brown paper bag loaded to the brim with pan-fried chicken for five bucks.” —Griffin Bufkin (Southern Soul Barbeque, St. Simons, Georgia)


Narobia’s Grits and Gravy
Savannah | 912-231-0563

“Narobia’s is a family-owned gem. Friendly people and delicious food.” —Mashama Bailey (The Grey, Savannah)


Atlanta |

 “It’s just so crispy! It comes with two dipping sauces—a spicy sauce and a ranch to cool your mouth off at the same time—and I love that yin and yang.” —Duane Nutter (Southern National, Mobile)


Nick’s Buffet 
Brunswick | 912-265-1172

 “Get in line early at this mom-and-pop joint.” —Griffin Bufkin (Southern Soul Barbeque, St. Simons, Georgia)


Parker’s Gas Station
Brunswick |

 “Display-case fried chicken, tater logs, gizzards, and livers by the paper-sack-full.” —Griffin Bufkin (Southern Soul Barbeque, St. Simons, Georgia)


Atlanta | 

“Kevin Gillespie takes comfort food seriously, and he’s engineered an elegant, paper-thin crust for the chicken at his modern meat-and-three. Don’t miss the cornbread either.” —Jed Portman (Garden & Gun)


Richards’ Southern Fried
Atlanta |

“This is the best hot chicken in Atlanta—and those sides…” —Allen Suh (Ronen Knife, Atlanta)


Thank U Chicken
Duluth | 470-875-9000

“Probably the best Korean fried chicken in Atlanta right now, with a shattering crust.” —Allen Suh (Ronen Knife, Atlanta)


Suwanee |

“I can only guess how the crew at this small ramen restaurant gets boneless skin-on thighs so crisp. Miraculously, they resist soggification in a rich roasted chicken broth with a soft egg and wood ear mushrooms. Once you try that chicken, you will crave it for life.” —Dean Neff (PinPoint, Wilmington)


Watershed on Peachtree
Atlanta |

“You can’t go wrong here. They adhere to Edna Lewis’s superlative recipe.” —Whitney Otawka (Greyfield Inn, Cumberland Island, Georgia)


Augusta |

“This local fast food chain started in the founder’s front yard, as a fundraiser for his son’s polio treatment. The chicken—any style, including fingers—is so good, and the sides rival it.” —Margaret Houston (Garden & Gun) 


Decatur |

 “Get the Chicken 65, a fantastic take on fried chicken from northern India.” —Asha Gomez (The Third Space, Atlanta)

Beaumont Inn
Harrodsburg |

“Their ‘yellow-legged’ fried chicken was a favorite of Duncan Hines. It’s still worthy of your fidelity.” —John T. Edge (Southern Foodways Alliance)


Bryant’s Pic-Pac Supermarket
Frankfort | 502-875-3651

“Great fried chicken. You can get a little lunch box or go for the bucket.” —Ouita Michel (Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants, Midway, Kentucky)


Chicken King of Louisville
Louisville |

Get a ten-piece dark, spicy—and maybe an order of wedges—and move along. There isn’t really any signage that tells you that they have spicy fried chicken, so this is inside information. The spicy fried chicken is a beautifully brined bird that leaves a lingering heat in the back of your throat. They manage to give you a beautifully crispy crust and a seasoned-to-the-bone interior so moist with rendered fat it’s practically dripping. You think ten pieces will be way too much for a couple of people and then, the next thing you know, you’ve zoned out and crushed half the box driving to your destination.” —Ryan Rogers (HiCotton Hospitality, Louisville)


Dasha Barbours Southern Bistro
Louisville |

“The owners get their chicken from their brother, Andre Barbour, in Hart County. He also grows their collard greens, and other vegetables in season.” —Ouita Michel (Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants, Midway, Kentucky)


Greyhound Tavern
Fort Mitchell |

“Great fried chicken. The folks who own the Greyhound are related to the folks who own the Merrick Inn in Lexington. So I think that’s the first family of chicken frying around here.” —Ouita Michel (Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants, Midway, Kentucky)


Indi’s Fast Food Restaurant
Louisville and Lexington | Various locations

“This is probably my favorite fried chicken. A good friend of mine used to bring it down from Lexington. Later on, I finally got to try it fresh—and I still dream about it.” —Elliott Moss (Buxton Hall Barbecue, Asheville)


Merrick Inn
Lexington |

“Fried chicken has been on the menu for the thirty-seven years I’ve been eating here, and you can get it with corn pudding and slow-cooked green beans. I feel like this place doesn’t get the credit it deserves for serving really good old-fashioned Lexington-style food.” —Ouita Michel (Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants, Midway, Kentucky)


Louisville |

“The smoked and fried chicken wings are life-changing.” —Jeff McInnis (Root & Bone, New York)


Save-a-Lot on Southland Drive
Lexington | 859-276-1467

“This used to be Slone’s Signature Market. The name changed, but folks still swear by the chicken. It definitely has a following.” —Ouita Michel (Ouita Michel Family of Restaurants, Midway, Kentucky)


Shirley Mae’s Café
Louisville |

“At this soul food spot, Shirley Mae and her daughter can be found making everything from scratch daily. The fried chicken is hot and crispy with just the right spices, fried the old-fashioned way in lard.” —Annie Pettry (Decca, Louisville)


Wallace Station
Versailles |

“Soaked overnight in buttermilk and a little hot sauce, this chicken comes out meltingly tender with just a tickle of heat. I love the sage in the breading, which gives the crust a touch of earthy flavor.” —Edward Lee (610 Magnolia, Louisville)

Brothers Food Mart on Carondelet Street
New Orleans | 504-592-1113

“We were introduced to this convenience store fried chicken the opening week of Josephine Estelle in New Orleans and it kept us alive. We’d get done with a long day and realize there wasn’t anywhere to eat still open near the hotel, so the staff would take us to Brothers for fried chicken.” —Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman (Enjoy A|M Restaurant Group, Memphis)


Chester’s Cypress Inn
Gibson | 985-446-6821

“My mom says this place hasn’t changed at all since she started going in the ’70s. You can get the fried chicken mild, peppery, or fried without batter.” —Melissa Martin (Mosquito Supper Club, New Orleans)


New Orleans |

“For the all-you-and-eat-and-drink fried chicken and champagne dinners.” —Melissa Martin (Mosquito Supper Club, New Orleans)


Dooky Chase Restaurant
New Orleans |

 “Leah Chase’s chicken is to die for. Shatteringly crisp and juicy, with insane flavor. Without a doubt worth standing in line for if you are anywhere near New Orleans.” —Karl Worley (Biscuit Love, Nashville)


High Hat Café
New Orleans |

“It reminds me of the chicken that I grew up eating. They use a dry dredge with cornmeal, which makes the crust light and super crispy.” —Alex Harrell (Angeline, New Orleans)


Li’l Dizzy’s Café
New Orleans |

“This one I love for the homey vibe and the sweet-as-pie waitresses who’ll call you sweetie while serving you up sweet tea you can stand a spoon in. The fried chicken is a pretty standard soul food-style preparation, but the seasoning is on the money and it’s always perfectly cooked. Get it as part of their lunch buffet, but show up early or all the dark meat will be gone!” —Paul Fehribach (Big Jones, Chicago)


McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin’
New Orleans | 504-949-0000

“Nice black pepper flavor. The epitome of what fried chicken is supposed to be. It gets us through the parades every Mardi Gras. We order sixty-plus pieces and it’s just as delicious ten hours later.” —Donald Link (Link Restaurant Group, New Orleans)


Willie Mae’s Scotch House
New Orleans |

“Easily my favorite fried chicken anywhere. The finely-textured batter, which shatters off the bird in shingles, is singularly unequaled for both that fine yet substantial crackle of the crust, and its pepperiness tempered by the intoxicating aroma of peanut oil.” —Paul Fehribach (Big Jones, Chicago)

The Hen House
Frostburg |

“It’s in the middle of nowhere, and they do prime steaks, seafood, and fried chicken. The chicken is simple, but it’s delicious.” —Damian Heath (Lot 12, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia)


Royal Farms
Statewide |

“As far as Maryland gas station chicken goes, this is the highest.” —Damian Heath (Lot 12, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia)

Jackson | 601-362-0484

“The chicken is golden and salty. A medium crust locks in a moist, flavorful surprise. Just can’t say how much I love this place. Smothered oxtail and smothered turkey necks run close second to the fried chicken.” —John Currence (City Grocery Restaurant Group, Oxford)


Carriage House
Natchez |

“Literally the best-kept secret in Mississippi. The women frying these birds have been doing it just right for twenty-plus years. They keep the recipe and technique to themselves, but they are more than generous in delivering some of the best fried chicken on planet earth.” —Kelly Fields (Willa Jean, New Orleans)


4 Corners Chevron
Oxford | 662-234-0275

“After leaving the college bars, locals walk right past the fried chicken joints to a gas station. Inside lie piles of boneless battered chicken on a stick sitting in a hot display cabinet, perfect for a walk to a house party. (Bars close early here.) This chicken defies all expectations of what gas station chicken on a stick should be.” —Ryan Rogers (HiCotton Hospitality, Louisville)


Dinner Bell
McComb |

“The family-style service at the giant round tables here suggest you might end up in a fight for a piece of fried chicken and guarantee your heart will race at the proposition. The impossibly small pieces of chicken are tender, with a thin crust and sweet bite.” —John Currence (City Grocery Restaurant Group, Oxford)


Greenwood |

“Folks usually pile in for steaks and fish, but the chicken is peppery and delicious and super crispy.” —John Currence (City Grocery Restaurant Group, Oxford)


Jackson |

“Penn’s chicken on a stick is the fried chicken of my dreams. It’s a kebab of chicken, potato, dill pickle, and onion all battered and deep-fried. So good that I developed a recipe and served them at my wedding here in North Carolina.” —April McGreger (Farmer’s Daughter Brand, Hillsborough, North Carolina)


Two Sister’s Kitchen
Jackson | 601-353-1180

“As an undergrad, this was my go-to spot for fried chicken and southern vegetables.” —April McGreger (Farmer’s Daughter Brand, Hillsborough, North Carolina)

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey
Raleigh |

“Ashley Christensen is an authority on how to make things with purpose and execute them consistently. Her chicken and waffle restaurant is no different. The chicken here is brined, which means juice-dripping bites of fried goodness. It so happens to be right down the street from me, and I fight the urge to just grab and go several times a week.” —Joe Kwon (The Avett Brothers)


Bida Manda
Raleigh |

“The crispy chicken wings with spicy peanut sauce are so, so good.” —Mike Moore (The Blind Pig Supper Club, Asheville)


Booty’s Soul Food Restaurant
Wilmington | 910-763-9373

“Just as most Wilmington restaurant kitchens are shutting down for the evening, Booty’s is getting ready for service. This elusive chicken is only available Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from roughly 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. This chicken is crispy, delicious, and, maybe most importantly, scarce as hen’s teeth.” —Dean Neff (PinPoint, Wilmington)


Buxton Hall Barbecue
Asheville |

After gorging on the outstanding barbecue and the perfect hash and rice, I somehow found room for the famous fried chicken sandwich. The craggy crust, the kiss of pit smoke, the pimento cheese and pickles… It was truly the best example of fried chicken on a bun I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.” —Maya Lovelace (Mae, Portland, Oregon)


Carolina Master Fried Chicken
Elizabethtown | 910-862-3248

“This standalone hut serves some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. While it’s great piping hot, I prefer to eat it cold with summer corn and pickled field peas.” —Sarah Simmons (Birds & Bubbles, New York, and Rise Gourmet Goods & Bakeshop, Columbia, South Carolina)


Crook’s Corner
Chapel Hill |

“Nothing takes me back to my childhood more than cold fried chicken. Bill puts this on the menu during the summer months. It is the perfect fried chicken, served at room temperature with salads and lots of love.” —Karl Worley (Biscuit Love, Nashville)


Fuller’s Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q
Fayetteville |

“A great North Carolina–style buffet. The chicken is the best bet here, and the sides are amazing.” —Jason Alley (Comfort and Pasture, Richmond)


Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant
Durham |

“Locals know this place as one of the few dim sum restaurants around here that’s worth a damn. It also happens to be home to one of my favorite fried chickens. It isn’t readily available, and you have to call the day before to order it. They call it ‘whole roast hen,’ but there’s nothing roast about it. It’s a fried whole bird chopped and served with a ginger scallion sauce. It’s simple, crisp, and always hot.” —Joe Kwon (The Avett Brothers)


Jack’s Seafood & Soul Food
Raleigh | 919-755-1551

“This is an old-school soul food joint with a different special every day. They have good fried trout, turkey necks and, yes, the best dang fried chicken in town. We often get the family plate for special staff meals—with paper bags of hushpuppies and an extra-large Styrofoam cup of mac and cheese.” —Cheetie Kumar (Garland, Raleigh)


King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffles
Asheville |

“John Stehling does the two essential things: starts with a bird that has flavor itself and gives it time in the skillet to marry with the crust and develop full flavor. This is my favorite pan-fried, worth-waiting-for chicken since my mother went on to fry chicken in heaven.” —Ronni Lundy (author, Victuals)


Mama Dip’s Kitchen
Chapel Hill |

“Classic, solid, delicious and right down the road. My local haunt.” —April McGreger (Farmer’s Daughter Brand, Hillsborough, North Carolina)


Newbridge Café
Asheville | 828-712-8900

“Wednesdays only. They serve their delicious chicken with all the right stuff: slow simmered green beans, homemade slaw, and potato salad. It’s family-reunion chicken in a place that feels like your grandma’s cluttered kitchen, if your grandma was a bluegrass music freak into memorabilia.” —Ronni Lundy (author, Victuals)


Greenville |

“Their fried chicken is the baseline for what I think fried chicken should be. There’s nothing extra and nothing missing. It tastes like what you’d make at home if you went to the trouble.” —Vivian Howard (Chef & the Farmer, Kinston, North Carolina)


Price’s Chicken Coop
Charlotte |

“I grew up in Charlotte, and I went here after school all the time. It was packed with old-school Charlotte folks, white and black, young and old. It really had a community feel. The chicken was great—crunchy, not greasy—and even though it came out in huge batch pressure fryers, it was gone in seconds, so you always knew it was fresh.” —Ryan Pera (Agricole Hospitality, Houston)


Asheville |

“As far as I know, chef John Fleer was the first to make sweet tea–brined chicken a thing—when he was cooking at Blackberry Farm. It is every bit as satisfying and perfect as you would hope. Rhubarb is more than a chicken joint, but Fleer could open one and just serve this.” —Dean Neff (PinPoint, Wilmington)


Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack
Asheville |

“I’m pretty sure I eat there at least once a week. Why? Well, they’ve managed to pull off the holy trinity of fried chicken: The crust is crisp and sprinkled with a perfect dry rub. The texture is perfectly juicy—even the breasts. Then there’s the flavor: spicy, salty, a hint of citrus, a hint of sweet. It’s served on two pieces of white bread with bread-and-butter pickles and classic sides like mashed potatoes and corn pudding.” —Meherwan Irani (Chai Pani Restaurant Group, Asheville)


Soo Café
Raleigh | 919-876-1969

“My guilty pleasure, solo-night-in-front-of-the-TV takeout: Korean Fried Wings from Soo. Crispy, double-fried chicken with the hot and spicy—gochujang-based—and original sauces. White rice and kimchi on the side. Extra wet naps! Extra order for later.” —Cheetie Kumar (Garland, Raleigh)


Ted’s Famous Chicken
Pfafftown | 336-945-0299

“Dipped chicken is a local riff on barbecue tradition, and this roadside joint with bars on the windows is the place to try it. The red-orange fried chicken dip is electric with hot sauce and vinegar.” —Jed Portman (Garden & Gun)


Time-Out Restaurant
Chapel Hill |

“As a college kid, I found myself there on many late nights after rock shows at the Cat’s Cradle. Time Out is known for the technique of frying chicken breast on the bone, and then ripping it from the ribcage to order and serving it up on a steaming hot, cake-like biscuit. I top the juicy chicken with a swipe of Duke’s mayo, and a few dashes of Texas Pete hot sauce. For a buck, they’ll drop a pile of the stripped ribcages into the deep fryer, caramelizing the bits of meat that remain on the bone, and then serve them in a paper bag. It’s called a ‘bag of bones,’ and it’s one of the offerings for which Time Out is rightfully famous.” —Ashley Christensen (AC Restaurants, Raleigh)


Whole Truth Lunchroom
Wilson | 252-237-5595

“This cafeteria is run by church ladies serving honest-to-goodness soul food, including pan-fried chicken. You can get a full plate of food for about six dollars.” —Mike Moore (The Blind Pig Supper Club, Asheville)

Aunt M’s at the Kangaroo Express
Inman | 800-627-3999

“Everyone knows small-town gas stations are the best places to find kickass fried chicken, made by the same ladies who were there when you were in high school. Here, the skin is so crispy and well seasoned that I could just rip it off the chicken and eat it alone. Make sure to get some jo-jos (fried potato wedges), too.” —Amanda Heckert (Garden & Gun)


Columbia | 803-256-2888

“A must whenever we’re in Columbia—or just passing by, even. It’s way worth the detour from I-26. Their shattery-crisp-salty fried chicken is perfect. Pro tip: use the super-fine-cut coleslaw like a condiment for each bite like you would hot sauce (and with hot sauce, too). Messy, but you’ll thank us!” —Matt Lee and Ted Lee (cookbook authors and Garden & Gun contributors)


Bertha’s Kitchen
Charleston | 843-554-6519

“Always crispy, juicy, and fall-off-the-bone tender.” —BJ Dennis (personal chef, Charleston, South Carolina)


Charleston |

“I’d feel like a fool if I didn’t mention this. I have really fond memories of watching chef Sean Brock’s devoted preparation. From the sweet tea brine to the careful dredging to the ritual rendering and mixing of five fats, it’s one of the coolest recipes I’ve ever seen and a major influence on my own.” —Maya Lovelace (Mae, Portland, Oregon)


Leon’s Oyster Shop
Charleston |

“This place does such a good job. Juicy, a little spicy, and a hit of Old Bay.” —Jason Alley (Comfort and Pasture, Richmond)


Martha Lou’s Kitchen
Charleston |

“Martha Lou’s is one of my favorite places on earth. The hospitality is spot on, the dining room reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen, and the food is to die for. The fried chicken is phenomenal and served at above-nuclear temperatures. I remember the first time I stuck my plastic fork into a thigh and pulled it out to find it warped and bent by the heat.” —Maya Lovelace (Mae, Portland, Oregon)


McCabe’s Bar-B-Que
Manning | 803-435-2833

“McCabe’s might be my favorite restaurant. Rightfully renowned for its whole-hog barbecue, this small-town joint also serves the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. I was devastated when it closed due to family illness last year—and elated to hear that it’s reopening any day now. Go as soon as you get word. You can’t take this chicken for granted, I’ve learned.” —Jed Portman (Garden & Gun)


OJ’s Diner
Greenville |

“Awesome family-owned cafeteria. The fried chicken is moist, with super crispy skin.” —Mike Moore (The Blind Pig Supper Club, Asheville)


Stax’s Original
Greenville |

“You want to go here for the Sunday meat-and-three. The fried chicken breast option is best paired with the creamed potatoes and gravy.” —Amanda Heckert (Garden & Gun)


Zesto of West Columbia
Columbia |

“Solid pressure-cooked chicken with mid-century atmosphere. Eat it with lots of hot sauce and a cheeseburger on the side.” — Elliott Moss (Buxton Hall Barbecue, Asheville)

Arnold’s Country Kitchen
Nashville |

“This meat-and-three is one of my favorite dining experiences in the country—for fried chicken, and anything else that falls on its specials board for the day. I can’t resist the turnips, or green beans, depending on the day, laced with potlikker as concentrated as truck-stop coffee, nor the rare roast beef in drippings. Monday might be the best day to visit, though, simply because of the fried chicken. The batter is crispy and craggy, studded with pops of fine black and white pepper and spices. A hot sauce wash and two trips through the spiced flour dredge make this fried chicken the champion of all crispy birds in my humble opinion.” —Ashley Christensen (AC Restaurants, Raleigh)


Biscuit Love
Nashville |

“Instead of using our hands to deliver this crunchy fried chicken to our mouths, we can use delicious biscuits. Hallelujah!” —David Bancroft (Acre, Auburn)


Blackberry Farm
Walland |

The crust is thick with cornmeal and the chicken jus is perfumed with sweet tea. Eaten cold as you drive away, it salves the sadness of departure.” —John T. Edge (Southern Foodways Alliance)


Chauhan Ale & Masala House
Nashville |

“I have to mention Maneet Chauhan’s hot chicken pakoras, because they perfectly represent the ongoing Creolization of Southern cuisine by the South’s increasingly global population. Marrying Nashville hot chicken flavors with the Indian pakora technique, you get a fried chicken dish that is succulent, savory, and obscenely addictive. By the time you finish a plate you’ll be grateful for the ‘ale’ part of the restaurant’s name!” —Paul Fehribach (Big Jones, Chicago)


Ellen’s Soul Food
Memphis | 901-463-4373

“It takes a good fifteen, twenty minutes to arrive at the table and it’s worth it. This is skillet-fried chicken—as opposed to fryer chicken—with a tight, flavorful crust and that made-by-grandma’s-hands touch.” —Cheetie Kumar (Garland, Raleigh)


The Farmer’s Daughter
Chuckey |

“When Dan and Rachel Tyson opened The Farmer’s Daughter in Chuckey, Tennessee, in 2004 to serve the food of the farmhouse, they were frying bone-in chicken in black-iron skillets. With a huge volume of customers, they now “fry” their butter-dipped, flour-coated chicken in a convection oven—and they do it so well that hardly a customer has noticed the difference.” —Fred Sauceman (author, The Place Setting)


Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
Memphis |

“My number-one fried chicken joint, hands down, is Gus’s in downtown Memphis. I never go to that city without eating there. There’s no place like it in my book.” —Bill Smith (Crook’s Corner, Chapel Hill)


Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
Nashville |

“I was expecting a cayenne pepper-face melting hot chicken bite, but what I got was much deeper pepper flavor. The thighs were crisp, juicy, multi-dimensionally spicy, and balanced with a crisp and acidic pickled ramp. You know it’s something special when you cannot stop eating it—or thinking about it later.” —Dean Neff (PinPoint, Wilmington)


Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
Nashville |

“This is a predictable pick for Nashville hot chicken, and for damn good reason. Prince’s is a legendary experience, worth the trip and worth the—very entertaining—wait in line. The crust is a tad thick to provide enough real estate for all of that chili-spiced hotness to permeate. Hot is napalm hot, so I advise you have them throw a couple of pieces of medium hot in the bag. Also, grab an ice-cold beer-flavored-beer from the convenience store next door. If you went with hot, make it a tall boy.” —Ashley Christensen (AC Restaurants, Raleigh)


Silver Sands Café
Nashville |

“Fried whole wings. Light breading. Simple and delicious.” —Tandy Wilson (City House, Nashville)


SuperLo Foods
Memphis |

“Every family event we’ve had, their fried chicken is there. We love the black pepper in the crust, and it’s easily our favorite chicken to eat cold the next day.” —Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman (Enjoy A|M Restaurant Group, Memphis)


Nashville |

“Love, love the pineapple sweet and sour.” —Tandy Wilson (City House, Nashville)

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
Roanoke |

“There aren’t many things that will get me to Dallas, but Babe’s is one of them. Visit the original location in Roanoke—they’ve expanded, but the original is the best. It’s a really special experience. The restaurant has been open for more than 20 years, but there’s still a wait on weekends. There are only two options—chicken and chicken fried steak. Both are good, but the chicken is the winner. It’s served with endless bowls of salad, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and biscuits with sorghum. And the wait staff will even dance the hokey pokey for you when it comes on the juke box.” —Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, Houston)


Barbecue Inn
Houston |

“It’s a Houston classic. But don’t go for the barbecue. Go for the fried chicken. It’s simple and old-school. Salt and black pepper only. There’s always a twenty-five-minute wait because it’s fried to order. This gives you just enough time to enjoy a shrimp cocktail and an iceberg salad. I’m pretty sure the restaurant hasn’t changed since the ’50s.” —Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, Houston)


Chicken Scratch
Dallas |

“Some seriously traditional fried chicken. It’s cooked in a skillet, which is not easy to do in volume. Plus, you can eat in a great outdoor venue.” —John Tesar (Knife, Dallas)


Austin |

“Paul Qui’s chicken karaage is topped with shaved cured duck egg. It’s rich and salty, with just a little extra bit of umami thanks to the cured egg. Delicious.” —Erik Bruner-Yang (Maketto, Washington, D.C.)


Pecan Lodge
Dallas |

“This is a wonderful barbecue place. You go for ribs, brisket, and sausage. So the fried chicken is kind of a secret. But [co-owner] Diane makes it from her grandmother’s recipe.” —John Tesar (Knife, Dallas)


Pickett House Restaurant
Woodville |

“Near our friend’s ranch, this place serves traditional all-you-can-eat fried chicken and biscuits. Delicious, and a good way to start a weekend of drinking and hanging out with friends.” —Seth Siegel-Gardner (The Pass & Provisions, Houston)


The Rice Box
Houston |

“The popcorn chicken is dangerous. I order it to take home to my son, but always end up eating the whole thing in the car. Once you pop you can’t stop.” —Seth Siegel-Gardner (The Pass & Provisions, Houston)


Toreore Chicken and Joy
Houston | 847-965-0311

“This is my go-to spot for Korean fried chicken. There are multiple flavor options. Hot and spicy and garlic are my favorites. I love having it inside H Mart because I can order it right when I arrive, get my shopping done, and then pick it up in the food court and take it back to the restaurant with me for family meal. It’s served with pickled daikon to cut the heat. Plus, they serve it in pizza boxes, which makes it very mobile.” —Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, Houston)

Beverley Street Convenience
Staunton | 540-885-2777

“It’s salty, greasy and crispy as hell! Everything you need and want in fried chicken.” —Ian Boden (The Shack, Staunton, Virginia)


Mama J’s
Richmond |

“Classic soul food chicken. Crispy, with great flavor.” —Jason Alley (Comfort and Pasture, Richmond)


Peking Gourmet Inn
Falls Church |

“Cubed fried chicken sautéed with green and red chiles, five-spice powder, and a lot of garlic and ginger.” —Erik Bruner-Yang (Maketto, Washington, D.C.)


Saison Market
Richmond |

“Their Fancy Chicken Biscuit is Nashville–style hot chicken with gravy and a sunny-side-up egg. Such a messy joy.” —Jason Alley (Comfort and Pasture, Richmond)


Tanglewood Ordinary
Goochland |

“This is a family-style, all-you-can-eat place. Every table gets bowls of sides, a choice of meats, and the famous fried chicken. Thin, crispy breading, juicy meat. Real good.” —Jason Alley (Comfort and Pasture, Richmond)


Wade’s Foods
Dublin |

“This is the chicken I grew up on. It is peppery, hand breaded, and tastes exactly the same as it did forty years ago. They also bread the potato wedges in the same mix. They are the best.” —Jason Alley (Comfort and Pasture, Richmond)


Charlottesville |

“Worth the trip if you’re anywhere in the area. It’s old-school flour-dredged, so not as crispy, with fewer nooks and crannies. Sides are great as well.” —Ian Boden (The Shack, Staunton, Virginia)

Florida Avenue Grill

“This restaurant started as a small takeout counter. The story goes, they’d buy two chickens each morning from the market, butcher them, and fry them. After they sold those two, they’d take the money they made and buy two more. They did that all day long. I think about that story every time I eat there. Today, the fried chicken comes unadorned on a thick oval plate, with flaky, crispy crust and a properly salted and juicy center of tender meat.” —Edward Lee (610 Magnolia, Louisville)



“One of my favorite fried chicken dishes in the city is at Maketto. It’s awesome. Period.” —Aaron Silverman (Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple & Pearls, Washington, DC)

Bluegrass Kitchen
Charleston |

“The extra-crispy pickle-brined fried chicken is a staple on the menu, served with braised kale and mashed cauliflower and drizzled with honey.” —Emily Hilliard, State Folklorist (West Virginia Humanities Council)


Smith’s Foodfair
Elkview | 304-965-7068

“This is a typical grocery store hot food counter, but better. The salty, softly breaded fried chicken is best paired with the crispy potato wedges—if you can get your hands on any.” —Emily Hilliard, (State Folklorist, West Virginia Humanities Council)


Topspot Country Cookin’
Sissonville |

“It’s a real-deal old-school plate lunch place with good fried chicken—deep-fried and crunchy.” —Ronni Lundy (author, Victuals)

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