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10 Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches in America, According to Chefs

Practically every restaurant now serves its own crispy bird on a bun, but some do it better than others.

Many restaurants boast of having the best fried chicken sandwich around, but truth be told, crafting the perfect bird on a bun is an art that not every operator can master. There are so many details to consider: Is it topped with the right coleslaw? Does it have a healthy drizzle of hot honey? Is the chicken brined before it's fried? All of these factors contribute to the outcome of the sandwich and some places simply do it better than others.

To learn just how heated the battle for the title of best fried chicken sandwich really is, one only has to look to the recent chicken sandwich wars—a widely used term that even has its own Wikipedia page.

To quickly recap, Popeyes launched a hugely popular fried chicken sandwich in 2019, prompting Chick-fil-A to retaliate, claiming that it had a similar sandwich on the menu for longer. The two chains bickered via social media, triggering not only a giant increase in chicken sandwich sales across all restaurants but also a widely watched parody skit on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." In subsequent years, over 20 fast-food chains followed suit by adding fried chicken sandwiches to their menus.

From fast-food chains to local mom-and-pop restaurant, there are many spots with tantalizing fried chicken sandwiches on their menus waiting to be discovered. So, Eat This, Not That! turned to the experts to find out where to go for a truly mouthwatering fried chicken sandwich. We spoke to several chefs to get their take on where to go to grab an unparalleled FCS. Here's what they had to say.


popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Spicy Chicken Sandwich (Per Order)
Calories: 700
Fat: 42 g (Saturated Fat: 14 g, Trans Fat: 2 g)
Sodium: 1,470 mg
Carbs: 50 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 8 g)
Protein: 28 g

Popeyes is a beloved fast-food chain for a reason. Its crispy chicken is juicy and tender and people get heated when others claim it's not the top dog in the chicken sandwich game. The restaurant's spicy chicken sandwich comes with its signature chicken breast fillet marinated in Popeyes seasonings, then hand-battered, breaded, and sandwiched between toasted brioche buns and topped with spicy mayo and barrel-cured pickles. Add-ons like cheese and bacon can also be accommodated. Chef Patrick McLaughlin of Grand Army Bar in Brooklyn, N.Y., counts himself among the fans. "It's five dollars, super crisp, spicy, and tangy. There's a reason people got so passionate about it."

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Hattie B's Hot Chicken

Hot chicken sandwich with slaw at Hattie B's
Photo: Hattie B's/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable

What began as a solitary hot chicken concept in Nashville is now a dozen restaurants deep, with locations in five different states. Pavy Keomaniboth, area executive chef at Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis and Caption by Hyatt Beale Street Memphis, is a big fan of the chain's Music City location. "Their Fried Chicken Sandwich features a thick, spicy, crispy, and juicy boneless thigh–yes, thigh!–that is fried to golden perfection with their Secret Sauce and creamy mayo-based coleslaw, all wrapped between a golden Brioche bun and tangy crispy pickle," he exclaims.

Federal Donuts & Chicken

A fried chicken sandwich with cheese, pickles, and Rooster sauce from Philadelphia's Federal Donuts & Chicken
Photo: Federal Donuts & Chicken/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable

Sometimes it's best to keep things simple, and that's what Federal Donuts & Chicken does with its fried chicken sandwich. The Philadelphia-based chain exploded onto the scene in 2011 and specializes in doing comforting classics well. The restaurant's iteration of the beloved sandwich starts with a fried chicken breast dusted with buttermilk ranch seasoning and adds American cheese, dill pickles, and spicy Rooster sauce on a potato roll. Stephen Parker, corporate executive chef at New York City's Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, praises this $10 sandwich, stating that it "definitely feels less processed than most chains that use pre-breaded breasts. This chain keeps it real and breads fresh chicken per order."

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Half Bird Chicken & Beer

The classic fried chicken sandwich from Half Bird Chicken & Beer
Photo: Half Bird Chicken & Beer/Facebook

This Las Vegas hotspot offers three variations on a classic fried chicken sandwich: the Spring Mountain Hot Chicken, the Classic Fried Chicken, and the No Bird, a vegetarian twist. The classic version, which sets you back $9, comes with pickled cucumber, American cheese, shredded lettuce, and Kewpie mayo on a potato roll. It's a favorite of Daniel Ontiveros, corporate executive chef of Carver Road Hospitality. The sandwich has the "best balance of juiciness and crispiness with its thin breaded layer," he says, adding that it "packs huge flavor and spice and the soft warm potato bun complements it perfectly." 

Fry the Coop

The Nashville Fried Chicken Sandwich at Fry the Coop in Chicago
Photo: Fry the Coop

Nutrition information unavailable

If spice is in your DNA, then check out Fry the Coop, with eight locations in the Chicago area. The Coop's Nashville Fried Chicken Sandwich, which you can customize based on your desired heat level, should be on your must-eat list. The 'wich is made with fried chicken, coleslaw, pickles, and the house's own Coop sauce, all served on a potato bun. You also get your choice of six different spice rubs to turn up the heat. Kyle Cottle, chef de cuisine at Sepia in Chicago, goes for the gusto, ordering up his sandwich with the chain's "insanity rub," the hottest level available. "Their chicken is always fried to perfection in beef fat (which adds to the flavor so much!) and is hands down the best hot chicken in chicken," he says. "I love the punch of heat mixed with that cool crunch of coleslaw and pickles in every bite." 

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Howlin' Ray's

The Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich, aka The Sando, from Howlin' Ray's in Los Angeles
Photo: Howlin' Ray's/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable

The California-based restaurant Howlin' Ray's is known for its Nashville-inspired hot chicken, and with locations in both Los Angeles and nearby Pasadena, there's plenty to go around. Chef Michael Simhai of LA's Della Terra and Haute Mess can't get enough of the restaurant's Sando, which comes with boneless chicken breast, slaw, pickles, and comeback sauce, all artfully placed together on a butter bun for $14 a pop. "I like The Sando because it doesn't fall apart and it's very well seasoned," Simhai says. "It's incredibly juicy from the marinade…all around a superstar fried chicken sandwich."

Nashville Hot Chicken

A quartet of fried chicken sandwiches from Nashville Hot Chicken restaurant
Photo: Nashville Hot Chicken/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable

With 16 locations across the country, California-based Nashville Hot Chicken serves up spicy sandwiches and combos aimed to encompass Nashville's "fiery spirit." The chain's Chicken Sando is highly customizable, allowing consumers to select their preferred level of heat (options range from Plain Jane to Hail Mary) with the option of ditching the pickles or coleslaw (or enjoy them on the side) should they choose.

Nick Bahan, the chef for Lauren Allen Culinary Events in Scottsdale, Ariz., praises the sandwich, which he prefers with the extra hot Hail Mary sauce. "The buns were perfectly toasted and pillowy, the chicken was incredibly crispy, juicy and tender, a nice spice level for all and wasn't a mess to eat like a lot of hot chicken sandwiches are," Bahan says, adding, "The coleslaw and pickles add a nice crispness to it and the sauce needs to be bottled and sold." Bahan is a particular fan of the chain's new Tempe, Ariz., location.

He's not the only chef who's a fan, either. "Nashville Hot Chicken is Tempe's answer to a one-of-a-kind chain, which offers a zesty and new look at a fried chicken sandwich, and growing for the right reasons," says Andrew Holbrook, sous chef at California's Regent Santa Monica Beach. "I will return for more!!"

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Pretty Bird Hot Chicken

The Fried Chicken Sando at Pretty Bird Hot Chicken in Utah
Photo: Pretty Bird Hot Chicken/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable

This Utah-based chain has four locations and is helmed by chef Viet Pham, who has prevailed not once, but twice on the Food Network's competitive cooking series "Beat Bobby Flay." Chef Greg Mueller counts himself a fan of Pham and his impressive signature sandwich. "Pretty Bird Hot Chicken in Utah is a must-visit," says Mueller, director of culinary innovation at Recteq. "A minimalist menu centers on the spicy chicken sandwich featuring a delicious pickled red cabbage slaw, juicy and flavorful boneless chicken thighs, pickles, and a rich brioche bun."

Patrons have the option of different sauces to accompany their sandos and Mueller doesn't shy away from spice. "Although the pickled slaw offers a balance of acidity, the 'hot behind sauce' is not for the faint of heart," Mueller explains of the hottest sauce on offer. "The flavor and balance is impressive, but you might need to hunt down a little soft serve ice cream afterwards to tame the heat!" he suggests.

The Crack Shack

The Coop Deville chicken sandwich at California's Crack Shack restaurant
Photo: The Crack Shack/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable

With a name like the Crack Shack, you can imagine the dishes at this West Coast mini chain will be habit-forming. While there are quite a few fried chicken sandwiches on the menu, one stands out among the rest, according to Nick Reynolds, chef at Bird's Kitchen in Washington, D.C. The Coop Deville sando comes with fried Jidori-brand chicken breast, pickled Fresno chilies, pickles, Napa cabbage, and lime mayo on a brioche bun. "The ideal fried chicken sandwich needs three things: high-quality ingredients, great sauce, and crispy chicken," says Reynolds. "This is exactly what I get from the Coop Deville. The chicken always has a nice crisp and is seasoned perfectly. It also isn't covered in grease, so you can taste all the ingredients individually. The Fresno chili gives it a little spice that's balanced out by the lime mayo slaw; I love pairing it with their pineapple mustard of sriracha 1000 Island sauce, depending on the day."

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Café Melba

The fried chicken sandwich at Cafe Melba in Milford, Conn.
Photo: Thomas N./Yelp
Nutrition information unavailable

Chef Dan Kardos makes a mean fried chicken sandwich at his restaurant Café Melba in Milford, Conn. Kardos' take comes topped with American cheese, ranch dressing, bacon, pickles, and pickled jalapeño for some added heat. "He's a true farm to table grassroots kind of chef," says Nick Martschenko, owner and executive chef at South End Restaurant Group in nearby New Canaan. Martschenko credits Kardos' own tangy ranch dressing for elevating the classic sandwich beyond its contemporaries. "That brings something special to the sandwich, which is made on Texas toast," Martschenko says.

Amanda Mactas
Amanda Mactas is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City, covering food, travel, and lifestyle content. Read more about Amanda