Hands down the best fried chicken places in America

We are living in a golden age of fried chicken.

Though Americans have been devouring crispy drumsticks, breasts, and wings for more than 150 years, never before have so many different varieties of lip-smacking fried chicken been so readily available. The blessed diners of today can grab a paper bag of hot, fresh, fried-with-love poultry from our corner stores or dig into chicken and waffles at Michelin-starred restaurants. We can order Korean-style, twice-fried spicy chicken from Uber Eats, or if we're so inclined, we can chase down food trucks to score Taiwanese-inspired salt n' pepper popcorn chicken. These days, fried chicken is served crusted in ramen, marinated in hot sauce, folded into tacos, skewered as a garnish for bloody marys, and even with a side of hot and fresh donuts.

Though intrinsically connected with Southern cuisine, you can nowadays find phenomenal fried chicken at restaurants in any state. From the many exceptional fried chicken eateries around the country, we've plucked out the very best of the best. Good luck deciding which one you're going to try first. 

Federal Donuts: Philadelphia, PA

The philly cheesesteak has long reigned as Philadelphia's archetypal culinary artifact. But thanks to one up-and-coming chain of Philadelphia restaurants, fried chicken — and perhaps even donuts — may be about to give the beloved cheesesteak a run for its money as far as the best good you can get in Philly.

Eater Chef of the Year Michael Solomonov, his business partner Steve Cook, and local coffee shop owners Tom Henneman and Bobby Logue, have been working to establish Philly as a fried chicken mecca since opening Federal Donuts in 2011. The restaurant specializes in three things — fried chicken, coffee, and donuts — and that's all they serve. "It's three comforts under one roof," puts Henneman.

The donuts, styled after the cake donuts served on Jersey shore boardwalks, are rich, creamy and served in a dazzling array of creative flavors. But we are here to talk about the fried chicken.

Inspired by Korean fried chicken, the birds at Federal Donuts are twice fried to for a "teeth-shattering" crispiness. The chicken is coated in a choice of dry seasoning (za'atar, coconut curry, or buttermilk ranch), wet glaze (chili garlic, sweet soy garlic, honey ginger) or naked. Whether glazed, seasoned, or naked, the fried chicken is always served with a moist honey donut.

Mama Dip's Kitchen: Chapel Hill, NC

As a slave's granddaughter growing up in rural poverty, Mildred Council — or "Mama Dip" as she is more commonly known — likely never imagined she'd one day serve her fried chicken to fans like Michael Jordan and President Barack Obama. But that's exactly what she did, thanks to some of the most delicious fried chicken you'll ever taste.

Mama Dip learned to cook by watching her friends and family, working alongside her mother-in-law in a tiny takeout kitchen that quickly earned a reputation for serving the best homemade country dishes in town.  

Since opening her own restaurant in 1976, Mama Dip has become a culinary icon. Before farm-to-table cooking was in vogue, Mama Dip sourced all her ingredients from local purveyors. Mama Dip's menu hasn't changed much over the years, focusing on Southern comfort staples like chitlins, smothered pork chops and — of course — fried chicken. The crispy, southern-style birds are paired with classic sides like collard greens or fried green tomatoes.

Mama Dip passed away in the spring of 2018, but her culinary legacy lives on through her fried chicken, which continues to be served at Mama Dip's Kitchen under the supervision of her children and grandchildren.

Fuku: New York, NY

If you have ever doubted the ability of a yankee to rustle up finger-licking-worthy fried chicken, you haven't tasted the fiery chicken thighs from celebrated chef David Chang. Fuku, from Chang's restaurant group Momofuku, began as a barebones chicken sandwich eatery in the East Village that attracted lines around the block. Fuku has since moved into locations in the Financial District, Battery Park City, Boston Seaport, and beyond.

Menus vary slightly based on location, but fried chicken remains the heart of them all. At Fuku restaurants, you can chow down on Fuku fingers, bites, and wings in a five-spice dry rub or a sweet and spicy wet glaze. You can also opt to pair chicken with dipping sauces like fuku mayo, ranch, honey mustard, or the iconic Ssam sauce — a tangy, spicy Korean-inspired chili dip. You can even have your tasty fried chicken on a sandwich — thigh meat, soaked in habanaro and buttermilk, then fried and served on a steamed potato bun with fermented chickpea butter, and of course, a pickle. Wash it all down with a frozen slush or a Miller High Life pony.

Busy Bee Cafe: Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta has no shortage of places to feast upon exquisite fried chicken, but Busy Bee Cafe has been showing them how it's done since 1947. The secret to the success of the Busy Bee bird is not really a secret: the menu proudly advertises the fact the chicken is brined for 12 hours, hand-breaded in seasoned flour, and sizzled in peanut oil. The result is a golden brown bird with a tender, succulent interior.

You can order Busy Bee's fried chicken by the half, two-piece, or six-wing dinner. Or, take it up a notch by ordering chicken smothered in pan gravy and served over rice. You can complement your yardbird with classic sides like candied yams, baked macaroni and cheese, or fresh turnip greens seasoned with smoke turkey.

Since Busy Bee opened more than a half century ago, it's become a favorite among greats like Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders. The restaurant has also since expanded from its original location on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to a second spot on Trinity Ave.

Howlin' Ray's: Los Angeles, CA

For a testament to the quality of fried chicken dished out by Howlin' Ray's in downtown Los Angeles, one need only take a glance at the long lines queuing outside its door. So irresistible is the fried chicken at this L.A. spot, diners wait for hours to taste it at times it's not even considered socially acceptable to eat fried chicken — like Wednesday mornings.

What's all the fuss about? Howlin' Ray's serves up exquisite and authentic Nashville-style hot chicken.Chef and owner Johnny Ray Zone ventured all the way to Tennessee to gain an understanding of the unique style of fried bird and Nashville culture in order to bring it all back to L.A.

Thanks to Zone's journey, you can now feast upon Nashville-style breasts, wings, legs, thighs, and tenders in L.A.'s Chinatown. The Howlin Ray's kitchen sizzles up chicken in a choice of six spice levels: country, mild, medium, hot, x-hot, and howlin'. For a blend of sweet and savory, go for the chicken & waffles, which comes with butter and maple syrup, and a choice of dark, white wings, or tenders.

Eischen's Bar: Okarche, OK

Some towns are famous for their casinos. Others are known for having the most shark attacks. Still others are celebrated for their crazy high sock output.

But Okarche, Oklahoma? Their claim to fame is fried chicken. Particularly the fried chicken served at Eischen's Bar, the self-proclaimed oldest bar in Oklahoma.

The saloon was established way back in 1896 by a man named Peter Eischen before Oklahoma was even a state, and reopened after prohibition by his son and grandson. After being ravaged by a fire in 1993, the bar was returned to its former glory by Ed Eischen, a fourth generation Eischen, within a year.

But enough about history. The true reason hoards of diners truck into Okarche from all over Oklahoma and beyond is Eischen's fried chicken. The bird in question has been served the same way since the '60s: whole, hot from the kitchen on butcher paper with white bread, sweet pickles, dill pickles and onions. Battering the bird is a closely guarded combination of cornmeal, wheat flour, paprika, sugar, and other spices. Eischen's goes through about 24,000 pieces a week.

Next time you're in Okarche, try the notorious bird with a bucket of fried okra and a frosty beer. And make sure you bring cash — cards are not accepted.

Yardbird Southern Table & Bar: Miami, FL

"Run chicken, run," is the slogan at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, which is funny if you are a hungry diner and terrifying if you are a chicken. Helmed by founder and chef John Kunkel, the restaurateur pairs fried chicken and comfort food with inspired bourbon cocktails.

At Yardbird, free-range, hormone-free birds are brined for 27 hours and coated in a blend of spices and flour. Instead of a deep-fryer, chicken is friend lovingly in a cast-iron skillet. Their signature dish, Lewellyn's Fine Fried Chicken, includes a half chicken served in sweet-spicy honey hot sauce.

Yardbird is also famous for their brunches, when you can heal from a hard night out with chicken and waffles with chilled spiced watermelon and bourbon maple syrup. Sop up the syrup with a honey-butter biscuit layered with housemade jam.

If you don't live in Miami, here's some good news: due to popular demand, Yardbird's fried chicken has spread to locations in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Singapore.

Little Donkey: Birmingham, AL

If a Mexican restaurant seems like an unlikely place to find some of the country's finest fried chicken, get yourself to Birmingham, Alabama. There, you'll find Little Donkey, the restaurant that will change everything you knew — or thought you knew — about pollo frito.

Sure, the menu primarily focuses on creative Mexican cuisine — in fact, there's really only one fried chicken dish on the menu (well, two if you count the fried chicken tacos). But Little Donkey's fried chicken dinner has earned it a spot among the best fried chicken joints in America time and time again.

The succulent star of the Little Donkey menu is brined overnight with a blend of three chilies. Before it's deep fried, the chicken is splashed with house-made vinegar infused with morita and habanero for an extra fiery kick.

You can order Little Donkey's famous fried chicken by the quarter or half along with a choice of two sides like elote or chipotle slaw. Wash it back with a classic margarita or their signature Donkey's Daddy cocktail with whiskey, tequila, and housemade hibiscus syrup.

Martha Lou's Kitchen: Charleston, SC

The ramshackle, pepto-pink exterior catches your eye. The aroma of smoking pork neck calls you in. But it's the fried chicken that brings you back to Martha Lou's Kitchen again and again.

Martha Lou Gadsden opened her restaurant in in the hull of an abandoned service station by the railroad tracks in 1983. The unassuming spot garnered national attention thanks to a New York Times article back in 2011, and has since pulled in poultry pilgrims from far and wide.

At Martha Lou's Kitchen, southern comfort food is dished out on Styrofoam divided plates in a tiny dining room. Depending on the day, the kitchen will dish out rotating specials and sides like turkey wings, chitterlings, and barbecue ribs. But fried chicken is always on the menu — as it should be. Gadsden's legendary chicken is fried to order with the help of Martha, her daughters, and grandchildren, and served with traditional sides like lowcountry cabbage, okra soup, and bread pudding, along with some of the best sweet tea in Charleston.

Quick Pack Food Mart: Seattle, WA

In a city abounding with world-class restaurants — many of them boasting exceptional birds inspired by global cuisines — why did we choose the Quick Pack Food Mart as Seattle's reigning fried chicken spot?

The Quick Pack Mart has no Michelin stars or celebrity chefs. It also has no "chairs" or "tables" and isn't actually what most people call a "restaurant." But the little purple convenience store happens to serve — alongside cigarettes and lotto tickets — the "best fried chicken in town," as the sign boldly declares.

Behind glass cases on the countertops, heat lamps spotlight sizzling slabs of chicken in aluminum tubs. Freshly fried and seasoned drumsticks and wings sit beside jojo russet potatoes and crisp Ethiopian sambusas stuffed with spiced rice and meat.

Quick Pack Food Mart has been dishing out mind-explodingly delicious fried chicken for more than 30 years, but it's only recently started to catch the eye of local foodies. Our advice is to check out this hidden gem before word gets out it loses some of its mystique thanks to jerk food writers like us.  

Arnold's Country Kitchen: Nashville, TN

Nashville, Tennessee is the nation's capital for hot chicken— that fiery bird slathered in a sauce spiced with a generous helping of cayenne pepper. Since the world-famous Nashville-style of chicken was introduced more than 70 years ago, dozens of restaurants have started dishing out their own spin on the spicy specialty.

Of the many fantastic eateries, Arnold's Chicken Kitchen sets itself apart with its hot sauce-brined, double-battered bird. The cafeteria-style eatery only serves fried chicken on Monday, when lines wrap around the building as hungry hopefuls await their chance for a spicy drumstick or breast. Fried chicken comes with a choice of sides, such as creamed corn, fried apples, or turnip greens.

The fried chicken — along with other traditional entrees like sugar-cured ham, battered grouper, and chicken and dumplings — earned the restaurant the America's Classic Award from the James Beard Foundation.

Willie Mae's Scotch House: New Orleans, LA

Willie Mae's Scotch House is a New Orleans institution that even Hurricane Katrina couldn't knock down. The restaurant was ravaged by the hurricane shortly after being named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation. Following Katrina, Willie Mae Seaton, well into her '80s, returned to New Orleans after being evacuated to Houston and rebuilt the restaurant with the swift, enthusiastic help of volunteers.

Seaton herself may have passed away in 2015, but her fried chicken recipe is safeguarded by her great great granddaughter, Kerry Seaton Stewart, who currently runs the restaurant.  

Today, Willie Mae's Scotch House is an New Orleans institution and the fried chicken remains as moist, crispy, and fresh as it was when Seaton first served it in 1957. As one regular described the chicken on NPR's Morning Edition, "…it was that crust. It was that fusion of skin and crust, the moment which they became one. And when you bit into it, there was a burst of juice, there was a subtle heat. It was beautiful."

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken: Multiple Locations

The story of Gus's fried chicken began over 60 years ago. In a town called Mason, Tennessee, Napoleon "Na" Vanderbilt and his wife Maggie began selling their fried chicken out of the back door of a local tavern. The poultry proved so popular, locals rallied together and provided the couple with materials to build their own restaurant — "Maggie's Short Orders".

The restaurant was inherited by their son, Vernon "Gus" Bonner, who kept the family recipe but changed the eatery's name to "Gus's World Famous Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken".

Thanks to glowing reviews from outlets like GQ and Saveur, Gus's grew in popularity and soon spread to locations beyond Tennessee. Today, there are 27 Gus's Fried Chicken restaurants speckled across the U.S., from way down in Austin, Texas, to up in Detroit, Michigan. While sides may vary by location, the fried chicken is the same: hot and spicy, hormone-free chicken fried in peanut oil according to the Bonner's closely guarded recipe. The chicken packs a bit of a kick without being overwhelming; it's a gentle heat described by the restaurant as "the touch of an old friend."