The image of Southern comfort lies on a table where mounds of crispy, golden fried chicken are found along with collard greens, mashed potatoes and mac n' cheese with the scent of baked, buttery made-from-scratch goodness swirling above the biscuits. Picking up a bucket or box of chicken from KFC, Church's or Popeye's may be a thing of the past; nowadays, good 'ole Southern fried chicken family dinners are plentiful and available at all types of restaurants from fast casual and counter service joints to fine dining restaurants and local bars.
Through fortuitous events (and careful pre-trip food planning), I found myself sitting at a red and white checkered table at a neighborhood joint on Crenshaw Avenue in Los Angeles, just a few miles west of Koreatown called Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. Oh yes, they're not kidding about the "world famous" part. The chicken was crispy, juicy, spicy and flavorful all the way through. The fried okra, baked beans and greens made for perfect side dishes. Two words: Life Changing. Come spring of this year, a Gus's Fried Chicken should be setting up shop at 1815 Washington Avenue across the street from B&B Butchers.
Until those doors open, Houston will keep doing its own fried chicken thing. Homegrown joints like Frenchy's, Jone's and the Barbecue Inn have had folks lickin' fingers for years. Back in 2012, Katharine Shilcutt (then of the Houston Press) published a top 10 list of fried chicken places in town. Let's see if many of those still make our favorites list this time around.
I scoured the city for fried yardbird and along the way, chatted with a fried chicken guru and gathered a few picks from local chefs and food lovers.
Jay Francis is known in the blogging community as one of the leading fried chicken experts in Houston. He started publishing about his experiences on The Fried Chicken Blog in March of 2013. Francis says the Barbecue Inn is historically significant and has delivered consistently good chicken for years. "It is very mid-century and I love going to places that make me feel like I have traveled back in time," he says.
Barbecue Inn co-owner David Skrehot told the Press that the third-generation restaurant is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. "It's the little things we do that make us special," he said. "Each order takes 25- to 30 minutes to prepare and we still use grandfather's recipe from 40 years ago." A three piece mixed meal with hand-cut French fries and a tomato and lettuce salad is $14.55 plus tax.
The Barbecue Inn is located at 116 West Crosstimbers in Garden Oaks. Along with fried chicken, the restaurant also offers barbecue, seafood and steaks.
As the owner and executive chef of Laurenzo's Restaurant, as well as the new Laurenzo's Bar & Grill in Midtown, Domenic Laurenzo keeps pretty busy, but for family dinners, he enjoys the Southern fried chicken at Mia's Table at 3131 Argonne near River Oaks. "It’s a perfect place to take my five children and they have grown to love it as they look forward to the free soft serve ice cream."
Laurenzo noted that the mashed potatoes and jalapeno gravy is a perfect side for the fried chicken and the milkshake is not to be missed. The chicken plate at Mia's is $14 and comes with a choice of two sides or French fries.
Local food lover John Karas says that Lucille's is one of his favorite places to have fried chicken. "I like Chris Williams' collards and corn bread," he says. The Holmes Farm yardbird is brined for 24 hours, then slow-fried and presented with collards, mashed potatoes and honey-thyme jus for $23. Find Lucille's at 5512 La Branch in the Museum District.
Karas also mentioned that Max's Wine Dive serves a mean chicken plate with greens and mashed potatoes. How can anyone resist a glass of champagne with fried chicken?
Max's fried chicken is something special. The $18 shareable plate comes with three pieces of jalapeño-buttermilk marinated chicken (deep-fried slow and low), mashed potatoes, collard greens, Texas toast and chipotle honey. The meal is also available gluten-free at no additional charge. Max's Wine Dive is located at 4720 Washington and also at 214 Fairview.
Fusion Taco's chef and owner David Grossman says that he and his partner, Julia Sharaby, love the fried chicken at Grace's on Kirby. "It's always crispy, moist, and perfectly seasoned. I'm a big fan of the black eyed peas that come on the side," he says.
On the menu as Randi's Fried Chicken, the plate is served with creamy mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas for $20. Grace's on Kirby is located at 3111 Kirby in the Greenway/Upper Kirby area between River Oaks and Montrose.
Leslie Nguyen, co-owner of Bosscat Kitchen, is new to Houston and admits that she has not had fried chicken in the city. "The closest I've had to fried chicken [in Houston] is the sandwich at Krisp Bird & Batter. Chef Ben McPherson has created some really tasty combinations at his new digs at 5922 Richmond.
"My favorite is the Krisp classic; it's a blend of sweet tangy and spicy. The bun is super soft so when you bite into the chicken, you get this great crunch texture with the tangy slaw and pickles," says Nguyen. Krisp offers a variety of chicken sandwiches on the menu, including a spicy Korean style on waffles.
New Orleans native Percy “Frenchy” Creuzot Jr. brought another fried chicken tradition to Houston. Frenchy's opened as a po-boy stand in 1969 at 3919 Scott near the University of Houston and has been a long-time fan favorite for Houstonians who enjoy a bold, in-your-face Creole spice in their fried chicken.
A Frenchy's employee confirmed that the original Frenchy's will be closing its doors at 3919 Scott at the end of this year and moving into a larger space down the road on the corner of Alabama and Scott. There are over two dozen locations in Houston alone so there will be no shortage of Frenchy's deliciousness. A three piece combination "Campus" meal comes with a biscuit or roll, dirty rice or fries and a jalapeno pepper for $7.99.
The Breakfast Klub at 3711 Travis in Midtown also makes the list of faves. The whole fried chicken wings and waffle platter is a quintessential brunch item in Houston. Now visitors and travelers can find an outpost in Terminal A at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
An alternative to the traditional Southern fried preparation is the Korean double-fried style of chicken. Places like Toreore, Bonchon and Dak & Bop offer a new type of "KFC" or Korean Fried Chicken and everyone seems to love it. Chicken is fried twice for extra crispiness and tossed in spicy or a combination of sweet and hot sauces.
Toreore has been around the longest and is located inside the H-Mart Asian market at 1302 Blalock. There are several locations of Bonchon in suburban areas of Houston like Sugar Land (coming soon), Pearland and Katy, while Dak & Bop can only be found in the Medical Center at 1801 Binz.
In 2013, the Filipino answer to fried chicken arrived in Houston with obnoxiously long lines for weeks in the Medical Center at 8001 Main. Jollibee, the famous fast food chain from the Philippines is known for its "chicken joy" and spaghetti with sliced hot dogs. Don't shake your head until you've tried it.
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A New York-based halal joint at 6633 Fondren in the Sharpstown area serves up some of the best fried chicken in town. Jone's Fried Chicken stays open until 4 a.m. for those late night fried chicken cravings.
Other standouts in the city include the Angry Bird at Ritual (602 Studewood), the fried chicken plate at State Fare (947 Gessner) and Lee's Fried Chicken & Donuts (601 Heights).
If you ask Mr. Jay Francis, the fried chicken guy, about the absolute best fried chicken, he'll tell you to wait until a Sunday in springtime to find it at the local church picnic.
Tell us what we missed. Leave us your favorite fried chicken joint in the comments.