When in doubt, fry it, and that's certainly true for chicken. Much of the appeal of this rustic, picnic-loving dish lies not so much in its flavor as it does the contrast between textures: between the noisy, crackling outside and the greasy, glistening chicken inside.
Fried chicken is a populist dish too: equally at ease hobnobbing with champagne or hanging out with beer; on the table at fine-dining restaurants or scarfed from the drive-through of a corner shack. Every year, as we observe the Fourth of July, our thoughts race ahead to that other notable event on July 6: National Fried Chicken Day, of course.
Babe's Chicken Dinner House
The first Babe's opened in Roanoke in 1993, a younger sibling to Bubba's in Snider Plaza. There are now nine spread across the suburbs, each with its own quirk. But the fried chicken is always the same and always good. Its crust is extra-crisp and light golden color; it clings tightly to the bird's juicy flesh. Seasoning is simple and satisfyingly salty. A big part of Babe's appeal are the family-style sides, include buttery mashed potatoes, soft green beans, creamed corn and biscuits.
Smoke chef Tim Byres teamed up with Bolsa owners Christopher Jeffers and Jeff Zilke to create this urban, kid-friendly oasis worthy of hipster Oak Cliff. Chicken is served two ways: rotisserie, where whole birds coated with seasoning rotate over an open flame, and in biscuit sandwiches, with crunchy fried chicken done up in familiar profiles like the Buffalo with fried chicken, spicy red sauce, pickled celery and crumbled blue cheese.
You might not expect to find fried chicken at a Ritz-Carlton restaurant. But that's part of chef Dean Fearing's charm. Like many dishes on the menu, Granny Fearing's "Paper Bag Shook" Fried Chicken, served only at Sunday brunch, has a family connection and a unique approach. It's brined in apple cider, then shaken inside a paper bag of seasoned flour until dredged. It's pan-fried on an iron skillet, achieving a subtle crust that is light and refined, while the meat stays juicy. It's frequently highlighted in national food magazines, with the latest accolade from Southern Living.
Max's Wine Dive
Austin-based chainlet is a no-rules kind of place where you're encouraged to pair fried chicken with champagne. Their chicken is marinated in jalapeno-infused buttermilk, then battered and fried. The result is a shaggy, crunchy crust with chicken inside that's a bit chewy. The biggest impression is one of sweetness, thanks to the chipotle-honey sauce they drizzle, creating a not-unpleasant combination of sweet and hot.
Brisket gets all the attention at this mom-and-pop spot, be it Diners, Drive-ins and Dives or Texas Monthly, which ranked it No.4 on its list of top barbecue spots in Texas. The brisket deserves the praise, but somehow it doesn't seem fair to the equally worthy fried chicken. You get your choice of two pieces and one side; go for the comforting green chile-spiked mac and cheese. The chicken is a family recipe, from co-owner Diane Fourton's grandmother, with a thick, crunchy, peppery crust and meat that stays juicy within.
Sudden media darling won't be long at its current Lancaster Avenue location, where the drive-through makes it easy to pick up on a Friday or Saturday night. For $3.75, you get two pieces to an order, with white bread and jalapeños on the side. Fried in lard, the chicken comes out dark brown, crispy and deliciously greasy, with a heavy dose of seasoned salt.
Sissy's Southern Kitchen & Bar
Fried chicken is the signature at this fine Southern restaurant from Lisa "Sissy" Garza. It's a complicated process: The bird is brined for 24 hours, dipped in buttermilk, dredged in flour and cooked quickly in a pressure fryer. The crust is crisp and a deep golden brown. Inside, the meat is so tender, it's almost like jelly; you can thank the brining for that. You can get it as a two-piece dinner, with mashed potatoes or slaw, or in a 10-piece bucket for $25.