We've declared August 11-22 Fried Chicken Fortnight. Watch this space for stories, recipes for prime crispiness, chef tips and more.
There's more than one way to fry a chicken. As long as it results in hot, juicy meat and a crisp golden shell, we heartily approve. From sweet tea-brines to red curry, traditional cast-iron pans to pressure fryers, NYC's fried chickens are as diverse and well-traveled as the folks eating them. We crunched our way through some classics and newbies all around the city to come up with this list, in no particular order, of our 12 favorites.
① The Commodore, Williamsburg
You don't even have to be drunk at this late-night dive bar to appreciate the alarmingly hot, steamy and well-seasoned meat on these extraordinary fried thighs. Or the impossibly greaseless skin. Or the super crunchy texture of the honey-colored crust that slopes and dips like the surface of some distant and delicious planet ($12). But you could be drunk, in which case make sure you soak it all up with the dense-but-tender miniature biscuits, softly whipped sweetened butter and vinegary hot sauces at the table.
② Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken, Harlem
Long before the young guns got nerdy about buttermilk-brining and pressure-frying, Charles Gabriel was making fried chicken the old-fashioned way in a massive cast-iron skillet uptown. You can still find Gabriel at his teeny, four-table restaurant, along with his well-seasoned, juicy, crisp-skinned birds ($15.99 for all you can eat). Pick up a six-pack from the bodega next door if you want to drink something harder than sweet tea.
③ Som Tum Der, East Village
The joy of Thai-style fried chicken is its complexity of flavors and lip-tingling heat, achieved with plenty of aromatics and fresh chiles. At Som Tum Der, the cooks work exclusively with thighs, butterflying around the bones so the meat fans out into one flat piece. They marinate the chicken in red curry paste, then fry it just the way it is—no dredge. The bronzed thigh comes to the table with a gorgeous crackling skin, wearing nothing but a sexy glitter of golden-fried garlic. Dipped in a punchy dressing of fish sauce, it's perfection ($8 each).
④ Blue Ribbon, SoHo
Skip the chicken-themed Blue Ribbon outpost in the East Village and pay homage to the classic late-night comfort food at the Sullivan Street original ($28.50). The birds are soaked in buttermilk and cooked with a delicately thin crunch, and the fixings are pleasingly old-school: smooth mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving-ready gravy, tangy collards and a little honey on side. Please don't ever change, Blue Ribbon.
⑤ The Redhead, East Village
What if fast food-style fried chicken wasn't soggy? What if each massively crunchy, darkly fried piece had all of the grease, but none of the sog? It's possible and it's at The Redhead. Sauce enthusiasts (and we have a few on staff) were skeptical of the unadorned plate, but turns out the meat is so extraordinarily tender and flavorful, the bird doesn't need a thing. Sides tend to change frequently—get there before the fantastic late summer watermelon topped with pickled red onions and smoked almonds is gone ($19).
⑥ Talde, Park Slope
Forget what you've heard: The best thing on the menu isn't the pork and chive dumplings, it's the Korean-style fried chicken ($25). The skin is crisp, the meat is super moist and juicy, and the whole thing arrives in a pool of spicy kimchi yogurt. Fresh cherries and a little chiffonade of mint don't sound like they make sense, but both add welcome notes of sweetness.
The delicious fried chicken at Wilma Jean in Carroll Gardens
⑦ Buttermilk Channel, Carroll Gardens
There are a lot of good things happening here beyond just really good, twice-fried bird ($25) that's spent a night in its namesake buttermilk: a thick round waffle with cheddar melted right into the batter, savoy cabbage slaw and a delicious maple syrup spiked with reduced balsamic vinegar.
⑧ Root & Bone, East Village
We appreciate an over-the-top, inch-thick crust as much as the next guy, but here is that rare, delicate fried chicken where crisp skin and steamy meat are in perfect harmony ($16 for a half; $32 for a whole). The birds here are brined in sweet tea (but that sweetness doesn't push through in the finish). And the flour dredge is dosed with cayenne, but not too much. A pucker-making dehydrated lemon salt cuts the grease, and a nontraditional addition of fresh chopped dill on top adds a little kiss of freshness.
⑨ Peaches HotHouse, Bed-Stuy
Nashville-style hot chicken, which draws you in with a touch of sugar then thrashes you with whips of chile, is severely underrepresented in NYC. Here the paprika base is spiked with one of the hottest peppers in the world: the ghost chile. The meat is well seasoned without being over-slick from a long brine, and the crust is killer. A half chicken ($13) comes with one side, and we suggest choosing something naturally sweet like corn on the cob to cool you down. You'll need it.
⑩ Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter, East Village
This bustling, no-nonsense counter brines chicken overnight in salty and syrupy sweet tea for exceptionally savory and gently sweetened meat. But the star is the crust, riveted with all kinds of crisp nooks and crannies that develop in the pressure fryer. The hearty fried chicken supper ($11.50), composed with hot biscuits and a side of salad, is the thing to get if you're hungry.
⑪ Wilma Jean, Carroll Gardens
Rob Newton never meant to get on anyone's "best fried chicken" list—he wanted to go beyond chicken and show off the complexity of Southern food. But once he introduced Brooklyn to his fried-chicken dinners ($14) there was no way to ignore the demand. His family's recipe is straight out of Arkansas and a signature delight of this new Southern spot: The chicken is soaked in a simple salt-water brine, then dipped in buttermilk before it hits the fryer. The result is a deeply seasoned bird and a wonderfully crisp, crackled crust. We'd usually never suggest getting fried chicken to go, but this one really does hold up.
⑫ Má Pêche, Midtown
This drapey, high-ceilinged space isn't the most aesthetically pleasing room in the Momo-verse. That's OK: Your mouth is experiencing happy sensory overload. Because you did the right thing and didn't get too distracted by all the dim-sum fun and saved some room for the fried chicken ($24 for a half bird, $48 for a whole). There is a country-fried version, but we prefer the incendiary habanero variation. How much habanero, you ask? They are deep in the meat (habaneros in the two-day kombu brine) and under the crust (a paste of dried and fresh habaneros) and in every golden, lingeringly hot bite (the chicken is dredged in potato starch, chickpea flour and dried habaneros before frying). A squeeze of lime doesn't so much cut the heat as accentuate its overwhelming chicken-fried-spicetasticness.
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