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A great fried-chicken sandwich needs no diatribe. As long as the exterior’s crunchy, the meat juicy, and the condiments and bread balanced, the ingredients speak for themselves. And yet the recent launches of chicken sandwiches from two food world luminaries — David Chang and his standing-room-only chicken sandwich restaurant Fuku, and Danny Meyer’s introduction of the ChickenShack sandwich at Shake Shack — has momentarily turned us into poultry philosophers. No longer satisfied with pondering road crossings, we’ll debate the merits of buns, batters, and breadcrumbs and white versus dark meat. But in the end, as with so many things, what matters most is how it makes you feel inside, and thankfully there’s room for all styles, from buttermilk to spicy, honeyed, and even served cold. So spread those wings and fry, chicken sandwich lovers. Here’s where to find the best:
10. Wilma Jean (345 Smith Street, Brooklyn; 718-422-0444)
At Robert Newton and Kerry Diamond’s casual Southern restaurant hugging the edges of Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, the fried-chicken sandwich benefits from an ultra-simple composition and expert technique. Yes, that’s a standard potato bun, a single leaf of lettuce, and a slick of mayonnaise. But the stripped-down accoutrements allow Newton’s deeply browned chicken thighs — thickly coated in craggy crust — to make an impact. Great on its own, the kitchen kindly provides hot sauce and spicy vinegar for those who want a D.I.Y. hot-chicken experience.
9. Boomwich (311 Atlantic Avenue, 718-643-9229)
Pete Entner knows his way around quirky ingredient pairings. It’s how he made a name for himself at PeteZaaz, his semi-eponymous (and now defunct) Brooklyn pizzeria beloved for its mushroom-and-pickled-blueberry pie. At his newest project, a Boerum Hill sandwich shop, many of his experimental flavors prevail, including a wonderfully leftover-ish number featuring cold fried chicken. Entner packs chunks of breast meat into a pillowy pretzel roll layered with curried squash, fontina cheese, collard greens, and pickled chiles. It may not contain the steaming, shatteringly crisp bird we’ve come to know and love, but it’s a noteworthy chicken sandwich nonetheless and a great introduction to this chef’s fun approach to cooking.
8. Genuine Superette (191 Grand Street, 646-726-4633)
Design firm AvroKO’s follow-up to its Genuine Roadside restaurant inside glossy food(ie) hall Gotham West Market makes a mean battered birdwich, from its lengthy brining to the thick coating of buttermilk batter. Served on a toasted potato bun, the patty enjoys a tangle of tart apple-celeriac slaw and creamy sambal mayonnaise that adds a background of spice to each bite.
7. Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken (28 First Avenue, 212-228-0404)
Late-night dining kingpins Bruce and Eric Bromberg already fry up some of our favorite fried chicken in the city, so it should be no surprise that the lengthy lineup of chicken sandwiches makes the cut here, too. Their success lies in crisp, juicy breast meat with a diverse array of sauces and toppings, from melted cheese to caramelized pineapple. The namesake sandwich arrives on a toasted wheat bun with shredded lettuce, tomato slices, and mayonnaise-based special sauce; there’s even a compelling play on Subway’s depressing chicken-bacon-ranch melt.
6. Harlem Shake (100 West 124th Street, 212-222-8300)
At this retro, locally owned Harlem diner, the bird’s the word (yes, even more than the wonderful burgers). The kitchen takes buttermilk-brined chicken breasts and fries them an enviable shade of golden brown. Wedged into squishy potato buns, the crisp cutlets are squirted with ruddy, fiery jerk mayonnaise that drips down into a bed of spicy coleslaw and pickles. With a pervasive heat, the sandwich effortlessly combines Caribbean and soul food flavors. Order a side of spiced jerk fries (pictured) for maximum jerk.
5. Red Star Sandwich Shop (176 Smith Street, Brooklyn; 718-935-1999)
The brothers Ho (Gibson and Johnson, respectively) operate this Boerum Hill sandwich shop rooted in Asian-American flavors, where they serve a duo of knockout fried-chicken sandwiches. Both start with faultless buttermilk-brined thighs dusted in flour and fried twice, but differ in their sauces and toppings. One gets tossed in nutty sesame sauce and topped with pickled peppers, while the other gets a gochujang bath and pickled daikon. Served on soft rolls from nearby gem Caputo Bakery, it’s hard to choose between the two.
4. Fritzl’s Lunch Box (173 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn; 929-210-9531)
Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler coaxes incredible nuance out of familiar flavors at his bright and airy Bushwick restaurant with a New American focus. Already serving a lauded burger, Ross-Leutwyler’s no less precise in his chicken sandwich design: plush sesame seed bun, lettuce, mayonnaise, and a pristine fried puck of breaded organic chicken — basically a giant nugget, coarsely chopped to mimic the processed fast food that it apes (and surpasses). Like so much of the food at Fritzl’s, the final product’s seeming simplicity is deceptive.
3. Cheeky Sandwiches (35 Orchard Street, 646-504-8132)
At this minuscule paean to po’boys and other Southern-style sandwiches, owner Din Yates makes a formidable fried-chicken biscuit sandwich. Born and raised in New Orleans, the restaurateur and Ford model bakes a seriously dense quick bread that’s lusciously caky enough to hold together while eating. Yates stacks his griddled biscuits with a layer of tangy coleslaw, which serves as the bed for crunchy chicken and creamy sawmill gravy. It’s a champion of the form.
2. Fuku (163 First Avenue, no phone)
David Chang’s latest fast-casual concept sings the sweet gospel of spicy fried birds. But despite a setup that at times feels like a social experiment — with lengthy waits, no seats, and a no-cash policy — the signature sandwich is a peppery pot of gold at the end of a deep-fried rainbow. Tucked into buttered potato rolls and spicy from habanero brine, Fuku’s beastly chicken thighs eclipse their buns. Topped with pickles, they’re best enjoyed with the bar’s micheladas, spiked with gochujang-style Ssäm sauce (also available to squirt onto your sandwich).
1. Meat Hook Sandwich Shop (495 Lorimer Street, 718-302-4665)
Sibling to mega-popular Brooklyn butchers the Meat Hook, this tiny Williamsburg sandwich shop attracts a steady stream of customers with its unrestrained combinations. The hot chicken sandwich pays tribute to Nashville’s tongue-searing delicacy of the same name, with bird meat that practically squawks back at you thanks to its chile-sauce-brined thigh meat and a slather of peppery schmaltz. Coleslaw and pickled vegetables cut through all the richness and heat, topping a cutlet that dwarfs its soft wheat roll.
Go on your own fried chicken tour: