Colonel Sanders may be the face of fried chicken in the U.S. But that doesn't mean KFC is the only place with a secret recipe.
Many of the country's most memorable fried birds are made in small batches at local restaurants. They don't have drive thrus, but they're no strangers to long lines and sold out specials. In honor of National Fried Chicken Day, which is July 6, here are some of the best places in the country to find fried chicken that is so hot, so crispy, so juicy and so finger lickin' good it's worth traveling for.
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack — Nashville, Tennessee
If you're a fan of Nashville hot chicken, you have Thorton Prince to thank. Almost 100 years ago, Prince perfected his recipe for a fried chicken that somehow made swallowing fire seem pleasant. Today, his great niece, Andre Prince Jeffries, is in charge. Fans of Prince's include everyone from Jerry Seinfeld — who said it was the "most adventurous thing" he'd eaten lately — and the scores of locals who come so often that they know to bring along a gallon of milk with them. Other honorable mentions for Nashville hot chicken go to Hattie B's and Party Fowl.
Love & Honey Fried Chicken — Philadelphia
Todd and Laura Lyons really do make every piece of their fried chicken with love. It's brined for 8 hours before being fried in small batches. They also buy their chicken from farms that don't use steroids or antibiotics. Customers are willing to wait upwards of 40 minutes for this chicken which is "dredged" in buttermilk, seasoned and then fried in canola and corn oil blend. It's finished with a touch of honey, hence the name.
Den Den Korean Fried Chicken — Providence, Rhode Island
Den Den doesn't just fry its chicken wings and drums, it double fries them. That's the secret to the crispiness of this Korean fried chicken that has been keeping Rhode Islanders consistently happy (Den Den has a 4.9-star rating on Facebook) since March, 2017. Its signature dish comes in two flavors: soy garlic and spicy. If you don't do bones, the menu also features boneless fried chicken with shredded scallions and a deep fried chicken cutlet curry katsu.
Parson's Chicken & Fish — Chicago
When it comes to food, Chicago may be most famous for its deep dish pizza, but that doesn't mean you can't find quality fried chicken in the Windy City. A great place to start is Parson's Chicken & Fish, which is home to one of the best patios in the entire state. (In the winter, the restaurant even sets up a mini ice skating rink!) Parson's chicken is Amish style and features a homemade hot sauce starring buttermilk. Don't forget your ID either because it pairs nicely with a Negroni slushie.
Blue Oak BBQ — New Orleans
Don't be surprised if you see a Saints player or any other celebrity chef at Blue Oak BBQ. This beloved Big Easy locale often has lines stretching down the block, especially on Tuesdays when its lunch special is the award-winning spicy fried chicken sandwich. At 2018's New Orlean's Fried Chicken Festival, Blue Oak BBQ took home the award for "Best Use of Fried Chicken in a Dish." Of course, it would be remiss to talk about fried chicken in Louisiana without mentioning the two fried chicken chains it birthed: Popeyes and Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers.
Street's Fine Chicken — Dallas
If you've never had "french-fried" fried chicken, you have to go to Street's Fine Chicken. Its best-selling fried chicken is brined for 24 hours and then fried in an array of herbs coming all the way from, where else, France. Reviewers praise it for its juiciness and overall well-rounded flavor. Choose from dark or light meat, and save room for Street's famous biscuits that will have your gluten-free friends green with envy.
The Usual — New York City
The Usual's fried chicken is anything but usual. It's made with a colorful mix of cajun herbs and spices that make it stand out in a city saturated with fried chicken places from all across the country, and the world. Furthermore, it comes with a house made ranch that's so good you'll end up licking your plate. Even on a menu with dozens of ensembles designed by chef Alvin Cailan, it's the restaurant's top-rated dish on Yelp (where The Usual has an impressive 4.5-star rating).
Note: If you find yourself craving fried chicken in upstate New York, check out Hattie's Restaurant in Saratoga Springs. Whereas The Usual opened last year, Hattie's has been serving award-winning fried chicken since 1938. (Its chicken was even once deemed the "best fried chicken in the U.S." by Food & Wine Magazine.)
Southern Rail — Phoenix, Arizona
Ask 10 Phoenix residents where they go for the city's best fried chicken, and be prepared to hear either Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles or Southern Rail. While Lo-Lo's is the go-to place for chicken and waffles, if you want an elevated version of good old-fashioned fried chicken with Southern sides like mashed potatoes and collard greens, the answer is Southern Rail. Its signature dish is fried chicken that diners describe as "to die for." If you order the fried chicken on National Fried Chicken Day, you'll even get a free glass of wine as part of its "Birds and Bubbles" promotion.
Soby's New South Cuisine — Greenville, South Carolina
When the New York Times features your fried chicken in its podcast, "The Special," you know it's probably pretty special. That's exactly what happened to Soby's New South Cuisine, the restaurant credited with birthing Greenville's culinary renaissance. Since 1997, Soby's has been serving up its famous crispy fried North Carolina-style chicken. Yes, you read that right: North. In fact, the recipe is probably the most read page in the restaurant's cookbook. Recently, in honor of Soby's 21st anniversary, chef Shaun Garcia added fried pickle-brined chicken sliders to the menu. But only 21 orders are available daily, so you have to get there early if you want one.
The Regional Kitchen & Public House
West Palm Beach, Florida
What Yardbird is to Miami, The Regional Kitchen & Public House is to West Palm Beach. The sweet tea-brined buttermilk fried chicken thighs at The Regional Kitchen & Public House are the creation of James Beard semifinalist and "Top Chef" alum Lindsay Autry. Somehow, the North Carolina native manages to deliver a crispy comfort food that isn't greasy and doesn't leave diners with any regrets. The dish is served to share family style and comes with bread-and-butter pickles that are made in house.
Han Oak — Portland, Oregon
Han Oak's Korean fried chicken played a big role in it being named Portland's Restaurant of the Year in 2016. It's so sought after that reservations are released a month in advance and only eight to 10 walk-ins are accepted each night. What makes this Korean chicken so worthwhile? It's chef Peter Cho's irresistible "essence of instant ramen" dry rub. Even though Cho lives on site with his family and is always around, don't ask for the recipe. It's one of the culinary world's best kept secrets.
Bodega — Teton Village, Wyoming
Bodega may be based in a speciality grocery store located in a small mountain town, but its seasonal fried chicken shack in the back has a big, nationally-recognized reputation. It's been featured everywhere from Bon Appetit's Instagram to The Cooking Channel's "Cheap Eats." Restaurant Hospitality Magazine named its Banh Mi Fried Chicken Sandwich as one of the best sandwiches in the country. The menu features at least a handful of different fried chicken sandwiches, all of which are $10 or less.
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles — Long Beach, California
In 1975, Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles raised a lot of eyebrows when it introduced this strange salty and sweet combination to Southern California. Its founder, Herb Hudson, brought the concept with him when he moved from Harlem to Long Beach, bringing with him plenty of soulfood specialties. Today, there are a handful of locations and they're often the first place locals and celebrities alike head to for their fried chicken fix. Magic Johnson, David Beckham, Larry King and President Barack Obama — who even has a fried chicken dish named for him on the menu — are all fans.
Mary Mac's Tea Room — Atlanta
Not only is the fried chicken served at this iconic eatery in Georgia very tasty, but it's also served with the kind of southern hospitality that can only be offered by employees who have been with the restaurant for decades. (Two of the waitresses at Mary Mac's Tea Room have been been working there for more than 40 years!) Mary Mac's Tea Room opened in 1945, and it's as famous for its chicken fried chicken (served with white pepper gravy), as it is for its sweet tea. While you wait for your entree, order the fried chicken liver appetizer and be prepared to never look at liver the same again.
Hot Chicken Takeover — Columbus, Ohio
When the founders of Hot Chicken Takeover first experienced hot chicken while on their babymoon trip to Nashville in 2013, they knew they wanted to bring it back to Ohio. That's how this growing fast-casual chain, which started as a pop-up window experiment, was born. Its hot chicken, described by one reviewer as being coated in "24 karat magic" comes in four flavors. There's cold (which is still pretty peppery), warm, hot and holy (insert expletive!). The house ranch is always free, so don't be afraid to slather it all over everything.
Hop Alley — Denver, Colorado
What kind of fried chicken warrants making a dinner reservation weeks and weeks in advance? The kind at Hop Alley's. Even though it's only about four years old, this restaurant, located in a former soy sauce factory on the outskirts of Denver's historic Chinatown, is blowing diners away with its La Zi Ji fried chicken dish. It's basically popcorn chicken that's been delightfully brought to life with dried red chilies and a flavorful mix of Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, garlic, scallions and sesame seeds. When the heat gets to be too much, simply tuck into the steamed jasmine rice served on the side.