While New York can lay claim to some legendary figures in fried-chicken lore — Joseph Wells, who popularized chicken and waffles at his Harlem supper club; man-with-a-cast-iron-pan Charles Gabriel; Williamsburg’s dive-bar doyen Stephen Tanner — it has not been known for that iconic national dish. In his 2004 deep-fry dive, Fried Chicken: An American Story, food scholar John T. Edge makes convincing cases for Nashville, Kansas City, and Buffalo’s inclusion in the “pantheon of fried-chicken capitals”; New York, on the other hand, is represented in the restaurant directory by a mere three destinations — one Tuscan, one Dominican, and one barbecue joint. Much has changed since then, including the arrival and spread of Korean fried chicken (from Flushing to Momofuku Noodle Bar), Japanese fried chicken (karaage), and Taiwanese “popcorn” chicken, as well as Chick-fil-A, the Georgia juggernaut that presumably inspired Dave Chang’s Fuku and Danny Meyer’s Chick’n Shack sandwich. But the biggest news in battered birds today is the continuing glorification of populist foods by fine-dining chefs, some of whom have found in the humble thigh, wing, or drumstick potential for a signature bar snack, or reinterpretation of another culture’s riff on an American classic. If there’s anything that defines the local style, it’s the international flavor and the double-dipped, triple-fried quest for the crunchiest crust and the juiciest meat. Here, seven finger-licking new versions to try.
Bar-Only Fried Chicken
The Beatrice Inn
285 W. 12th St., nr. W. 4th St.; 212-675-2808
Like a lot of the best things you find on menus these days, the fried chicken at the Beatrice Inn began as a “family” meal, one of those rustic, supposedly not-ready-for-prime-time snacks the line cooks hog for themselves. Someone up top, however, recently deemed the stuff fit for public consumption, and that’s great news for fried-chicken aficionados. These birds are salt-cured, double-dipped in seasoned flour, and by some advanced frying technique cooked until the crust is as crunchy as a Greenpeace sidewalk solicitor. The chicken comes glazed with spicy honey in a silver bowl, and it’s so fiendishly good it’s limited to the bar — for fear, no doubt, that otherwise the kitchen would be up to its eyebrows in fried-chicken tickets; $15.
Cold Fried Chicken
Momofuku Ko Bar
8 Extra Pl., nr. 1st St.; 212-203-8095
Channeling his inner Harold McGee, executive chef Sean Gray, a confessed “cold-pizza person,” notes that piping-hot or even moderately hot food inhibits flavor, though food scientists have yet to figure out exactly why. That thinking inspired this superb one-piece small plate (it’s either a thigh or a drumstick; $7), which is listed on the handwritten menu as “Fried Chicken But Cold.” There’s beer and vodka in the batter; green Tabasco, mirin, and yuzu juice in the glaze; and, when you take a bite, the telltale sign of a good triple-frying technique in the resounding crunch.
Fancy-Casual Fried Chicken
8 W. 28th St., nr. Broadway; no phone
This spring, having detected a decidedly pro-chicken sentiment in the air, Daniel Humm and chef Danny DiStefano overhauled the menu at their experimental counter-service spot, making it about two-thirds chicken. Now they’ve added fried boneless chicken thighs by the four-piece carton ($9) or 12-piece box ($22) to the roster, and although these bits and pieces are oddly and variously shaped, ranging from tiny nuggets to giant amoebas, they’re awfully tasty. Double breading followed by double frying in hot then hotter oil accounts for the appealingly thick and craggy crust, and a healthy dose of nutritional yeast in the seasoned flour must be the secret to their addictive flavor.
Fried Chicken for a Picnic
103 E. 19th St., nr. Park Ave. S.; 212-243-4020
When Danny Meyer’s hospitality gurus realized that many of their well-heeled clients leave town on the weekends during the summer and that just like regular people, these folk gotta eat, preferably something off a picnic blanket laid out on some Hamptons beach, the kitchen came up with a solution: fried chicken by the $14.50 half or $20.50 whole. Said chicken proved so popular it made its way onto the nightly dinner menu. The chickens come from good homes on small Amish farms, and the buttermilk-brined, twice-fried technique results in a bird that is delicately crisp and juicy, practically greaseless, and with a light crust that adheres faithfully to the meat. Get it through Labor Day, after which it goes on hiatus until next summer.
Karaage and Waffles
Momo Chicken Shack
247 Starr St., at Wyckoff Ave., Bushwick; no phone
Karaage is a Japanese word that describes both a cooking technique and its resulting fried chicken — typically boneless thighs marinated in soy sauce, dipped in either cornstarch or wheat flour or both, and deep-fried to a golden brown. This new fried-chicken-centric Bushwick spot pairs its karaage with sweet and tender waffles made with rice and coconut flours that might distract you from noticing how delicious the chicken itself is. A plate comes with a wedge of lemon, plus maple syrup, miso butter, and housemade hot sauce for dipping and drizzling. Deep-fried fusion cuisine at its finest.
Rationed Fried Chicken
104 E. 30th St., nr. Park Ave. S.; no phone
If you’re a fried-chicken fiend, you probably know Junghyun Park’s fantastic version at Atoboy — fat fingers of thigh meat encased in an almost tempuralike shell. That dish has become so popular that Park recently retired it from the prix fixe menu, and offers it now only as a large-format option. In similar fashion, he’s restricted the chicken wings at his new ten-course tasting-menu spot, Atomix, to the bar and limits them to five orders per night. These wings are partially deboned, lightly battered, stuffed with fried rice, seasoned with a slew of incendiary spices, then deep-fried to a crème-brûlée-like crispness. They come two to a $15 plate; one bite in, you wish they were served by the bucket.
Fried Chicken with a View
28 Liberty St., at William St.; 212-230-5788
Sixty floors up, the Fried Chicken Bites at Danny Meyer’s new sky-high FiDi restaurant is a $12 bar snack of five juicy dark-meat nuggets that achieves two goals (besides tasting delicious): utilizing thigh meat from the Four Story Hill Farm chickens served on the dinner menu, and casualizing a fine-dining environment by encouraging guests to eat with their hands. A snack at London’s The Clove Club provided the original inspiration for chef Jason Pfeifer, who brines the thighs in buttermilk seasoned with rosemary, lemon, and chile flakes; double-dredges them in cornmeal; and serves them with a cup of agrodolce dipping sauce.
*A version of this article appears in the August 20, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!