Excellence in fried chicken demands (1) a hot and crisp exterior, (2) juicy meat, and (3) enough, but not too much, salt. Flourishes aside, let’s say this applies equally to Nashville-hot, Japanese karaage, and Taiwanese night-market chicken, all of which are now thrillingly abundant in the city. Here, the absolute best fried chicken in New York.
43 E. 28th St., nr. Park Ave. S.; 646-476-7217
The plump and puffy goujonettes of thigh meat billed alongside “spicy peanut butter and garlic” might arouse suspicion because it looks like a monochrome mess — all beige and brown and tan on the plate. But the deboned, brined, and all around weirdly deceptive masterpiece picks up depth from time in an enzymatic-heavy marinade of pineapple and fermented jalapeño, and chef Junghyun Park exacts tartness and heat in the form of peanut butter thinned out with rice vinegar, plus more of that fermented chile. Fried garlic slivers are candied, caramelized, and nutty, like the coating of a garlic bagel.
3. Fuku Wall Street
110 Wall St., entrance on Front St.; no phone
The chimek is a whole chicken, cut up and fried — one half doused with tangy chile sauce, another done up with buttermilk and habanero suffused into the crust. It’s also the cheapest and least cheffy large-format dish in the expanded Momofuku-verse, served dine-in, after 5 p.m., and only at this location. The word chimek itself portmanteaus chicken and the Korean word for beer, which explains the $16 menu supplement for six Miller High Life ponies, but it doesn’t account for the meal’s wonderfully polyglot influences, including fried pickles, onion petals, fries, kimchee, daikon, and some Moroccan flatbread for good measure. Many nights, the crowd thins out in parallel with the neighborhood’s finance types, lending an appealing, alt-universe T.G.I. Friday’s feel to the experience.
4. Pies ’n’ Thighs
166 S. 4th St., at Driggs Ave., Williamsburg; 347-529-6090
Pies ’n’ Thighs dates to 2006, when its talented cooks famously joined forces in the back of a scrappy bar and intuitively split the difference between hipster diner food and matter-of-fact Southern bona fides. At the more conventional space to which it relocated several years ago, the overall aesthetic is practically grandfathered in among the neighborhood’s glass-towered hypergentrification, and has elevated the fried-chicken box — spiced with little more than cayenne, paprika, and salt — into something of a new classic. The ratio of well-seasoned, steamy meat to craggy crust has remained the same, along with the generous portions.
5. The Commodore
366 Metropolitan Ave., nr. Havemeyer St., Williamsburg; 718-218-7632
The general late-night vibe is vaguely waterlogged and “people yelling at each other” in a bar space not much larger than a storage container filled with 1960s cocktail kitsch, but who cares — that chicken is very good. The standard order, as always, is a plate of golden, shaggy, and enigmatically juicy thighs the approximate size and shape of pre-ice-sheet-melt Greenland. The chicken almost always arrives too hot to eat, but that stops exactly no one from digging in.
5 Bleecker St., nr. Bowery; 212-228-8502
Owner Maiko Kyogoku and chef Emily Yuen take a traditional approach to karaage (Japanese fried chicken). Soy-brined thighs are tumbled in a mix of wheat flour and potato starch, which, along with a double-dip in high-temp oil, fortifies the chicken with extra crunch. The hot bird gets an ample sprinkling of warming spices — including kochugaru (Korean chile powder), cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon — and on the side, there’s a dish of soothing tzatziki, with shredded shiso mixed in with the dill, mint, garlic, and cucumber.
239 Lenox Ave., nr. 122th St.; 212-678-6200
Between Sylvia’s, Amy Ruth’s, and Red Rooster, there’s no shortage of solid drumsticks in the immediate Harlem area. The three-piece chicken dinner here is diligently pan-fried to order, producing a uniform, thickly textured crust. Bonus points for collards cooked down with bits of smoked turkey and served as a side.
Captain’s Fried Chicken
39 Madison St., at James St.; 212-587-0281
This particular stretch of the Two Bridges area is dense with bodegas and government buildings, so residents from the nearby Alfred E. Smith Houses rely on this halal takeout shop, as do harried civil servants and the occasional nomad with a beat-up guitar strapped to their back. Served with tear-open packets of guar-gum-thickened hot sauce, this is budget chicken that also happens to be crisp on the outside, steaming within, and tasty.
Charles’ Country Pan-Fried Chicken
2461 Eighth Ave., nr. 132nd St.; 212-281-1800
Workers painstakingly fry two dozen pieces of chicken at a time in Charles Gabriel’s famed chosen medium, cast-iron pans the size of trash-can lids. Spice-rubbed chicken is dipped in egg wash, and one side of each cut-up thigh or wing vents in the open air, as opposed to a fully submerged deep-fry. These steps set Gabriel’s chicken apart from the competition, and even pieces languishing under the heat lamp are terrific.
The night-market-inspired genre generally known as Taiwanese chicken has made inroads from Chinatowns in Brooklyn and Queens, into the lager-friendliest pockets of Manhattan. Beyond its trademark, Jules Verne–ish chicken-fried squid, Cheers Cut slings something the kids these days call the “Exploding Chicken Cutlet.” But the mini-chain’s most photogenic (and, coincidentally, delicious) option is the vast swath of dark meat called Ninja Crispy Chicken XL, which lends itself to Lady and the Tramp style photo ops, in which the cutlet replaces the communal noodle.
193 Atlantic Ave., nr. Court St., Boerum Hill; 718-618-9575
Anyone who’s ever pre-fried an enormous pile of schnitzel or deli cutlets for sandwiches knows that fried chicken gets better when it sits. Each morning, the staff at this boutique butcher shop sets out a dish of Southern-fried, cracker-crumbed chicken cuts to cool at room temp. It emulates home-fried chicken in the best possible way, and it sells out fast.
131 Sullivan St., at Prince St.; 212-677-6200
The hot fried chicken is one of those rare dishes that delivers in real life as much as it does in Instagram glam shots, and while the dusting of dry chile ends up more Soho brunch genteel than low-key Nashville thermonuclear, fewer biscuits in Manhattan are flakier than those served on the side. Draped with honey butter, none are sheenier.
415 Tompkins Ave., nr. Hancock St., Bedford-Stuyvesant; 718-483-9111
“Why does this hurt so much, and why do I keep eating it?” Stick around the lively and cramped dining room at Peaches and you’ll no doubt hear one or more dazed customers ask some variation of this theme. The long-rumored double-team of full-strength cayenne and ghost pepper may not quite reach the corporal-punishment register of Nashville hot chicken, but it comes close.
37-11 30th Ave., Astoria; 718-606-1900
A party is always starting up or winding down at this Cajun neighborhood restaurant, which specializes in well-seasoned chicken that’s spent an extra few minutes in a bubbling vat, until the breading picks up a whiff of spiced brown butter, and the skin curls up and darkens to a shade just shy of crackling territory.
Millie Peartree Fish Fry & Soul Food
2558 Grand Concourse, nr. E. 192nd St., Fordham Manor; 718-562-5104
Cornmeal-coated whiting fried until the fillets curl at the tail and served with white bread is this Bronx counter-service spot’s main attraction, and though the sole poultry showing here are chicken wings (or “wingettes”), they’re particularly hefty, cooked to order, and perfect with little more than a splash of hot sauce.
Turntable Chicken Jazz
20 W. 33rd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-714-9700
The newest outpost in the oddly malleable franchise is something like a tree house built from salvaged wood and crates of Goodwill vinyl. Cups of sweet pickled daikon accompany drumettes and flats, and sauces (soy or hot) coating the flattened cutlets add sticky layers of flavor and encourage another round of pints. It gets predictably loud at night, as if someone with access to a dial labeled “fratty” turned it all the way up.