Who makes New York’s best fried chicken? Here, the definitive ranking of wings, thighs, drums, breasts, and a requisite dusting of very secret spices.
2. Má Pêche
15 W. 56th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-757-5878
Fuku, David Chang’s chicken shack, sells two stellar fried-chicken sandwiches. Fuku+, in midtown, takes a supergroup approach with menu additions of Sichuan pork flatbread in addition to sandwiches. Both venues are pint-size and popular (there are frequent lunchtime lines). But if Chang’s sandwich has groupies, then the lone five-piece bucket at his restaurant Má Pêche is a virtuoso without an audience. It is a fried chicken’s fried chicken, the Nick Drake of fried chickens. It sings its solitary habanero song in the basement of the Chambers Hotel, accompanied only by lime wedges. While Fuku’s thighs percolate in habanero purée and are dredged in a Sanders-esque “proprietary blend of spices,” the 48-hour brine at Má Pêche is a less racy kombu base. Its encounter with fiery habanero purée is more of a post-bath slather, with some more powdered habanero in the dredge. The double-heat effect is a delicious, neat trick: The initial snap of spice in the crisp breading follows up with a slower burn that lasts as long as there’s meat on the bone.
3. Her Name Is Han
17 E 31st St., nr. Madison Ave.; 212-779-9990
This Korean restaurant opened last fall and fills up each night, despite a dearth of media coverage. The chicken is served night-market-style, meaning diners get a big platter of bone-in, bite-size, well-seasoned pieces. Part of the draw is the butchery: Wings are cut into convenient flats and drumettes, and thighs are cleaved into hand-holdable nuggets, with the ends of bones poking through. Hunks of breast include some back meat (which too often restaurants keep off the plate and save for stock). The dark and white meat is uniformly salty; the batter is impossibly light, with a slight crunch. The dish is served unadorned, save for some sweet daikon cubes, plus a little fermented chile sauce and a cup of reddish seasoned salt that resembles old-school Lawry’s in the best possible way. When you count the complimentary banchan — tiny candied fish, pumpkin purée, mild Napa kimchee — this is also one of the best deals in town.
4. Charles’ Pan-Fried Chicken
2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd., nr. 151st St.; 212-281-1800
It sucks to fry chicken, 20 pieces at a clip, in very hot oil that shimmers around the inside of a jumbo cast-iron pan. It sucks, purists say, because while pan-frying bests deep-frying nine times out of ten, few are proficient with the lost art of cast iron: Temperatures plummet as soon as pieces are added; the skillet has cooler and hotter zones; white and dark meat don’t cook at the same speed. One must be nimble with the tongs to avoid schmaltz spatters and intuitive with rotation, so that the floury edges of the meat fritter away and repel oil. Charles Gabriel, of Charles’ Pan-Fried Chicken, eschews brine for a kind of spice rub, and buttermilk for egg wash, which makes his crust so famously thin. When people say he is a master, it is not a platitude. Even the rare piece that has languished in his countertop display case for ten minutes packs more juice than made-to-order birds everywhere beneath 150th Street.
5. Birds & Bubbles
100 B Forsyth St., nr. Grand St.; 646-368-9240
When she was helming City Grit, her acclaimed guest-chef venue and supper club, Sarah Simmons began to serve a hot fried-chicken plate based on her grandfather’s recipe. Her 48-hour dry brine included cayenne pepper and smoked paprika, and the North Carolinian–derived recipe became the centerpiece of Simmons’s first restaurant. Like Gabriel, she favors a shallow cast-iron skillet and eggy batter. The payoff is meat that is nearly greaseless when it hits the table, and steamy when bitten into. Its elemental (if not perfect) match is cold, pink Champagne, which happens to be available by the glass, bottle, and in spades.
6. Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter
94 Ave. C, nr. 6th St.; 212-228-2972
It took six years for the Bobwhite Counter to open a second location. Seating at the new West Village location is an improvement over the East Village original, if only because a lot of the seats are on the less-cramped sidewalk. The first location can now be understood as a prelude to expansion, news that benefits everyone who like flaky biscuits, no-frills slaw, and a three-piece meal that typically includes a wing, thigh, and a chestnut-brown drumstick. The sweet-tea brine tenderizes without adding anything cloying to the mix, and the higher-temperature pressure-fry creates a network of craggly ripples to the chicken skin. These are perfect for soaking up hot sauce.
285 Grand Ave., nr. Lafayette Ave., Clinton Hill; 718-638-9500
The “Extra Fancy” option served here is a way to announce the chicken has been brined in a dainty mix of lemon and honey. That itself, of course, is a way of distancing the dish from the infernal, cayenne-heavy Nashville-style specialty served at sister restaurant Peaches Hothouse. Marietta is very much a family restaurant, not a venue for self-flagellation, and its fried chicken is one of the most tender and well-seasoned in the city. Served with hot sauce and a tangle of greens that have begun to soften in vinaigrette, it’s also one of the most understatedly elegant, too.