By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
Fried chicken may be a Southern staple, but here in Houston we put our own unique twist on even the most basic of foods. That's why our Top 10 list includes everything from Korean drumsticks to Middle Eastern wings — and, of course, a few classics to round it all out. 10. Zelko Bistro
Zelko Bistro is the only place in town where I'll order a fried chicken breast, and that's because the chicken breast at Zelko is plump and juicy beyond compare. Pair that impossibly moist flesh with a crispy, barely sweet crust made with — what else? — Captain Crunch cereal, and you have a winning textural combination. The darkly sweet and tangy shallot jam on top keeps what could be a kitschy dish elegant, as do the tender pea shoots. I love the chicken here so much, in fact, that it's the rare restaurant where I don't fill up on the buttery mashed potatoes first.
9. Max's Wine Dive
When the very first Max's Wine Dive opened in Houston in 2007, it led a wave of upscale-downmarket dining — or the more commonly seen moniker: "upscale comfort food" — with its famous offer of fried chicken paired with champagne. (Which is a great idea, if you ask me; a nice, dry bottle of bubbly is almost ideal with a greasy bucket of chicken.) The chicken gets its signature kick from a jalapeño-buttermilk marinade and is still fried to order at Max's Wine Dives across the state.
How can anyone not love a chicken joint whose motto is "Chicken & Joy"? Toreore — located inside the Super H-Mart food court — offers both in spades. The famously fiery fried chicken isn't for the faint of tongue, however. The sweet-and-spicy chicken delivers a delicately crispy exterior that gives way to a dark rumble of spiciness, which doesn't fully hit you until around a minute after you've taken a bite. In keeping with the general wackiness found around every corner at Super H-Mart, the take-out containers of Toreore chicken appear to be giant pizza boxes.
I am far from the first person to rave about the surprisingly terrific fried chicken from Randalls. Our own Jason Kerr — professional chef and former EOW columnist — is a fan of the stuff, and we even gave it the Best of Houston® award for Best Fried Chicken in 2010 despite a city full of serious contenders. Of the deep-fried drumsticks and wings, we wrote: "You might expect the fried chicken at Randalls to be mediocre, but someone there has a love for crispy, golden-brown, juicy country-fried bliss that cannot be denied."
6. the breakfast klub
It's almost blasphemy to eat the fried chicken at the breakfast klub on its own, so twinned is it in the Houston collective subconscious with either waffles or grits. But the wings are what makes the breakfast klub one of the city's favorite breakfast spots, and deserve highlighting on their own individual merits. The batter is supremely crunchy, the chicken brined and juicy, the seasoning lip-smackingly salty and good.
5. The Rice Box Truck
The Golden Doomba is named for owner John Peterson, whose Twitter handle is — you guessed it — @goldendoomba. It was his idea to add fried chicken to an otherwise American-Chinese menu on board the popular food truck. "When I first opened," Peterson says, "there were quite a few people that were always asking for no pork in anything. So I decided to make it easy." At first, the drumsticks were battered and fried using potato starch — it lent them a distinctly crunchy texture — but these days, Peterson says, plain old cornstarch is employed instead. Regardless, the drumsticks still taste as good as ever: wonderfully, arm-drippingly juicy inside and crispy, crackly crunchy on the outside.
Chef Randy Evans's buttermilk-fried chicken is quickly becoming the stuff of Houston legend, and with good reason. It's crispy and savory without being too greasy — this ain't a ten-piece bucket from KFC. (The herb-roasted version is no sad second: It's just as moist and flavorful, albeit with a little less guilt.) And because this is Haven we're talking about, the chicken is both free-range and organic, which means that all the calories are rendered moot. (Right? Isn't that how this works?)
3. Al Aseel
There's more than just the famed "Palestinian chicken" to be found at Al Aseel. Asked former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh on his blog after a recent meal there: "Did you know that the best fried chicken in Houston is served at a mom-and-pop Middle Eastern restaurant on Richmond called Al Aseel Grill & Cafe, 'The Taste of Bethlehem?'" We had a pretty good idea after tasting the standard grilled chicken here; the fried chicken with a za'atar-enhanced batter is — amazingly — a step up even from mouthwatering Palestinian chicken.
"Don't complain about the long lines — the fact that there are always people standing in line at Frenchy's guarantees that every piece of chicken you get has just come out of the fryer," wrote Walsh when he listed Frenchy's chicken as his No. 12 favorite dish in Houston. "Since 1969, Frenchy Creuzot has been consistently supplying the best Creole fried chicken in Houston. He has also been turning out the tastiest greens, the most satisfying andouille-studded red beans and rice and some of the best dirty rice and jambalaya the city has ever known — all sold in Styrofoam "to go" containers for a veritable pittance." The original Frenchy's location on Scott Street is still the best — and it's still open until 3 a.m. on the weekends.