Among iconic American foodstuffs, fried chicken has the ability to generate a particular patriotic zeal, and Southerners are by far the most vocal (rightfully so). The dish has a dark past: The beloved cooking technique was introduced to this country by people who found themselves cooking here through no choice of their own. Today the bird is a true art form, and the best examples of the genre are positively addictive, a singular organism of skin and meat fused by hot fat. It’s a food that deserves its global stage — excellent variations come by way of Asia and South America — though Southern styles are most prevalent in NYC. Here are the ten best, delicious on National Fried Chicken Day (July 6) or any other day.
10. Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, 28 East 1st Street
Since their days running the pioneering Blue Ribbon Brasserie in Soho, brothers Eric and Bruce Bromberg have built their reputation on acing simple, straightforward recipes. Their fried chicken — long a late-night mainstay for downtown night owls — gets the franchise treatment at this glossy East Village fast-casual spot. Coated in thick, spiced batter, the bird remains crispy while retaining ample moisture. Breasts get a boost from flavored honeys tinged with spices like wasabi and chipotle peppers. Best of all, Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken offers adventurous eaters two kinds of deep-fried avian offal: “beak to butt,” a mess of necks, backs, hearts, and gizzards, or a luxurious toss of fried chicken livers and sweet caramelized onions.
9. Peaches HotHouse, 415 Tompkins Avenue, Brooklyn
For all of the fried failures with no regional lineage, it’s refreshing to get a taste of the heavily spiced Nashville-style hot chicken served at this Bed-Stuy beacon for Southern food. For best results, extra-spicy is the way to go. The cage-free birds are spiced twice during the cooking process and come sporting a greaseless crust so crimson with cayenne that the pieces look downright angry when they arrive at the table. Break through that fiery blockade and you’ll find white and dark meat that’s as tender as an r&b ballad.
8. Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter, 94 Avenue C
Keedick Coulter’s pressure-fried chicken excels in all its knobby, crunchy splendor. Brined in sweet tea, the birds exude a hint of sugar underneath their spiced flour crust, which crackles with each bite. The tender meat comes on the bone paired with rich, flaky biscuits or boneless and sandwiched between grilled buns, where, as tradition dictates, it’s topped with bread-and-butter pickles and nothing else.
7. Sweet Chick, 164 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn
Occupying a former laundromat, Sweet Chick focuses its energy on pairing brawny, thick-crusted fried chicken with a variety of sweet and savory waffles. Brined until the flesh becomes as soft as the feathers plucked from its body, the birds pack enough flavor all by themselves, but to enjoy these barnyard beauties solo would be missing the point. The light, Belgian-style waffles come unadulterated or shot through with rosemary and mushrooms or bacon and cheddar for a choose-your-own-adventure that always ends in loosened belt buckles.
6. The Redhead, 349 East 13th Street
Chef Meg Grace uses a buttermilk brine for her well-groomed fried chicken, which is expertly seasoned, if a bit gentle on the spice. The meat is tender, the coating greaseless, and between breast, thigh, and leg, there’s enough to share (you won’t want to, though). Fried crisp, the batter cooks into a shell with noticeable heft that still lets the poultry shine through. Sides change often, from kale salads, baked beans, and jalapeño biscuits to golden-brown cornbread.
5. Amy Ruth’s, 113 West 116th Street
Charming in its down-home intentions, this Harlem fried-chicken hotspot in a neighborhood teeming with quality birds gets it right on many levels, including a closing time of 5:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Diners get a choice of dark or white meat as well as the option to smother their guilty consciences in oregano-rich brown gravy. Since this is Harlem, hedge your bets and ask for a waffle under that chicken. The brittle exterior of the starchy confection gives way to a malty sweetness that complements the more savory elements on the plate.
4. BonChon, 325 Fifth Avenue
One of the various Korean fried-chicken outlets that gained prevalence during the mid-2000s, BonChon has only gotten better with age. Although slow by chain-restaurant standards, the cooked-to-order fried poultry served here tastes decidedly homemade, with moist dark meat that smacks of deep avian flavor. Both the double-fried wings and sizable drumsticks exhibit shatter-crisp exteriors, bathed in a choice of sweet soy-garlic or spicy chile glaze.
3. The Commodore, 366 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
With an atmosphere that elsewhere might read kitschy in its willingness to play into Williamsburg stereotypes (scrappy dive bar, arcade games, ironic music selections), chef Stephen Tanner’s kitchen puts out food that forces you to focus on what’s under your nose. A vet of venerable Brooklyn comfort-food titans Egg and Pies ‘n’ Thighs, Tanner offers his crispy specimens — three mammoth thighs — with cups of sweet, peppery vinegar sauce. Better yet, save some of the honey butter from your order of biscuits and apply generously.
2. Root & Bone, 200 East 3rd Street
Chefs Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth fry up some truly flavorful chickens, brined in sweet tea for more than a day to lend the meat a succulent, sweet background note. Split into eight pieces, a whole bird easily feeds four, its greaseless crust dusted with dehydrated lemon powder, the perfect foil for all that crackled fat. Douse it in Tabasco honey or try it inside a waffle sandwich (pictured) to really gild that Southern lily. The small space fills up quickly, so here’s a pro-tip: You can order fried chicken and munch on it while you wait for a table.
1. Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken, 2839-2841 Frederick Douglass Boulevard
Charles Gabriel is fried-chicken royalty, and his North Carolina–inspired pan-fried chicken is undoubtedly the best of its kind. In addition to constantly tending to the meat as it cooks, Gabriel seasons his chicken three separate times before it gets to the warming tray at this renowned Harlem buffet. Without a sludgy batter to weigh it down, the chicken — coated in peppery dry rub, moistened with egg wash, and dredged in flour — achieves a thin crust devoid of grease and perfumed with spice. Each bite delivers moist fowl and crackled crust, making for a truly rare bird. If you’ve been scorned by lesser buffets serving heaping piles of depression in their warming trays, the Southern Style Kitchen (its commercial moniker) where Gabriel gets down and dirty will be a revelation.