The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Fried Chicken

A mouthwatering Middle Eastern take on fried chicken at our No. 3 pick.
A mouthwatering Middle Eastern take on fried chicken at our No. 3 pick.
Photo by Gary R. Wise

"What's your favorite fried chicken in Houston?" I asked my mother a few days ago over the phone, curious to see if I'd overlooked any old favorites on the top 10 list I was compiling. A sixth generation Texan, my mother has lived here for more than three decades and cooks for a living. Needless to say, she's very often my point person for Texan and Southern staples such as fried chicken.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. I could imagine her face in my mind, looking at me as if I'd asked for directions to Jupiter. And then, finally: "You know I only make fried chicken at home. I don't eat that stuff out."

Fair point. And true. Her fried chicken is the stuff of legend, cooked in my great-grandmother's cast-iron skillet, the batter crunchy for only the first bite and then melting on your tongue like a pat of butter. If you're lucky, she'll make white gravy out of the drippings that are left in the skillet, although she's been too health-conscious the last 10 years or so to entertain such fatty indulgences.

"I'm too crazy about hormones and antibiotics in the meat anyway," she demurred, her 70's-era hippie side battling it out -- as ever -- with her deeply Texan roots. "You can't trust some of that stuff."

In the end, though, she conceded one single restaurant: "I like Haven. Their fried chicken is good. And you can trust Randy Evans."

"Well, they're already on the list," I grumbled. She knew I was smiling over the phone when I told her, jokingly, "You're no help."

But it was heartening to hear that my mother -- protector, guardian, supplier and connoisseur of fried chicken -- was as big a fan of Haven's fried chicken as I am. And along with chef Evans' spin on the Southern staple, here are the nine other joints that offer the best fried chicken in Houston.

The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Fried Chicken
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

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 first 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.

The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Fried Chicken
Photo by Michael Shum

8. Toreore

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.

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