Few foods are more comforting, more decadent, and more delicious than a plate of fried chicken, served fresh from the skillet alongside crisp waffles, fluffy biscuits, or creamy sides. Many poultry purists argue that the world’s best fried chicken is dished out down South—but with the sheer number of talented chefs across the nation, we’re calling fowl on this claim. Here are the best fried chicken joints in all 50 states, both near and far away from the Mason-Dixon line. And since everything's better when it’s coated in flour, battered, and browned in oil, consider using this list as a restaurant field guide the next time you’re taking a cross-country road trip.
1. ALABAMA // LITTLE DONKEY
Southern flavors mix with Mexican dishes at Little Donkey in the Homewood suburb of Birmingham. For their plate of Southern Fried Chicken (which you order by the quarter- or half-chicken), the meat has been soaked in a three-chili brine to pack an extra punch.
2. ALASKA // LUCKY WISHBONE
Of the 245 reviews that Lucky Wishbone has on Trip Advisor, 155 of them mention the fried chicken. The signature dish has been on the menu since the joint opened in 1955 and has been dipped in homemade buttermilk batter and pan-fried the same way for over 60 years.
3. ARIZONA // MRS. WHITE’S GOLDEN RULE CAFE
Bringing southern flavors to the Southwest since 1964, Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe has been described as an institution in Phoenix. Customers are expected to operate on the honor code when paying for their food because post-meal checks are not a thing here.
4. ARKANSAS // AQ CHICKEN HOUSE
The "AQ" in AQ Chicken House stands for Arkansas Quality, which is what the restaurant has been serving its customers since 1947. At least two former Presidents have eaten chicken here: Bill Clinton on his 47th birthday, and George H.W. Bush, who reportedly made his order from Air Force One.
5. CALIFORNIA // BROWN SUGAR KITCHEN
West Oakland, California
You can find the recipe for Chef Tanya Holland’s buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles on Oprah’s website or in the Brown Sugar Kitchen cookbook, or you can make the smarter choice and go to Oakland to try the real deal. The kitchen is open six days a week, and the chicken is available for breakfast, lunch, and on the weekends.
6. COLORADO // LOU’S FOOD BAR
Lou’s Food Bar serves up hot and spicy Nashville-style fried chicken in the Mile-High City. You can order it as a half, whole, tenders, with waffles, or as a Mother Clucker, which means on a brioche bun with a pickle, ranch, lettuce, and fries.
7. CONNECTICUT // DRUMSTIK BAR-B-Q
With a name like Drumstik Bar-B-Q and a legacy five decades strong, it’s safe to say that this place has fried chicken in the bag. Sandwiches, wings, dinners with sides, they got it all.
8. DELAWARE // WALT’S FLAVOR CRISP CHICKEN
The founder of Walt’s Flavor Crisp Chicken passed away in 2011 after decades of food service, but his wife has continued to give the people of Wilmington what they want—and most of them want fried chicken. "We have people who have been ordering for 10 years or more," owner Symanthia Lynch-Sheppard said last year. "They'll say, 'I'll have my usual.'"
9. FLORIDA // YARDBIRD SOUTHERN TABLE & BAR
Miami Beach, Florida
is trendy and popular, and for good reason. As legend has it, the restaurant went through over 100 fried chicken recipes before deciding to go with one that co-owner John Kunkel’s grandmother created, which involves brining the meat for 27 hours.
10. GEORGIA // BUSY BEE CAFE
An Atlanta institution since 1947, the Busy Bee Cafe makes fried chicken the old fashioned way, marinating its chicken for 12 hours before frying it. The simple, no-frills fried chicken is, as the menu declares, "moist, juicy and Beelicious!" It’s served plain or smothered in gravy.
11. HAWAII // ETHEL’S GRILL
serves up tasty fried chicken with a Hawaiian twist. Their Mochiko chicken is coated in rice flour and served with a ginger ponzu dipping sauce. The tiny restaurant, hidden away under an apartment building in Kalihi, offers a wide range of American and Japanese dishes at shockingly low prices. The eponymous Ethel sold the business to culinary wizards Ryoko and Yoichi Ishii back in 1978, and they’ve been running it with their children ever since.
12. IDAHO // FORK
This hip farm-to-table restaurant serves up upscale versions of American comfort foods, including the state’s best buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffles. Made with local cheese and honey, Fork’s beloved fried chicken is sold every Tuesday—until it runs out.
13. ILLINOIS // DELL RHEA’S CHICKEN BASKET
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket has been serving comfort food to travelers on Route 66 for more than six decades, and its building and iconic sign were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. But the Chicken Basket is more than a piece of Illinois history: To this day, it serves up 2000 pounds of its famous slow-cooked chicken each week.
14. INDIANA // HOLLYHOCK HILL
Hollyhock Hill cooks its “Hoosier pan-fried chicken” in a cast-iron skillet until it’s a perfect golden brown, then serves it up with heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, buttery corn, and other rich, comforting sides. Founded in 1928, Hollyhock Hill doesn’t just serve up classic Indiana fried chicken—it helped invent it.
15. IOWA // MT. HAMILL TAP
Iowa’s best fried chicken can be found at Mt. Hamill Tap, a squat nondescript pub located in the tiny town of Donnelson. As of 2010, Donnelson had a recorded population of 912 residents—which makes it all the more impressive that Mt. Hamill regularly brings in 200 customers to savor the thick, crispy fried chicken it serves up on weekly Chicken Night on Wednesdays.
16. KANSAS // BROOKVILLE HOTEL
The Brookville Hotel opened in the small Kansan town of Brookville way back in 1894. While it moved to Abilene in 2000, it’s still serving up the same family-style chicken dinner it first introduced in 1915. Nowadays, the skillet fried-chicken dinners (along with a handful of delectable sides) are the only thing on the menu. The James Beard Award-winning chicken is beautifully simple, prepared with canned milk, flour, salt, and pepper, and fried in lard.
17. KENTUCKY // HARVEST
There’s plenty of competition for best fried chicken in Kentucky—and the debate will never truly be settled—but Harvest in Louisville pulls ahead of the rest with its novel take on the fried chicken dinner. The farm-to-table restaurant serves its buttermilk fried chicken atop a hoecake or bread pudding, along with a homemade hot sauce made with beets and carrots for extra sweetness.
18. LOUISIANA // WILLIE MAE’S SCOTCH HOUSE
New Orleans, Louisiana
Willie Mae’s has been frying up juicy, tender fried chicken in New Orleans since at least the 1970s (the shop started as a combination bar, beauty salon, and barbershop in the 1950s before becoming a full-time bar and restaurant in the '70s). The restaurant’s eponymous chef, Ms. Willie Mae Seaton, received a James Beard Award for her classic comfort foods in 2005. Nowadays, the restaurant, which was dubbed "America’s Best Fried Chicken" by the Food Network and Travel Channel, is run by Ms. Willie Mae’s great granddaughter.
19. MAINE // FIGGY’S TAKEOUT & CATERING
There’s more than one way to fry a chicken. At Figgy’s Takeout & Catering, they’re cooking up their birds in a cast iron pan. The comfort food joint opened just last summer in June, and they’re already known for selling some of the best chicken the state has to offer. In addition to homestyle classics like skillet fried chicken and fluffy biscuits, the menu also includes Korean-style wings.
20. MARYLAND // HIPHOP FISH & CHICKEN
There’s no need to travel too far south of the Mason-Dixon line to find authentic fried chicken. Diners at HipHop Fish & Chicken have their choice of deep fried seafood, chicken, or a combination basket of the two. For adventurous fried chicken connoisseurs, chicken livers and gizzards fried in their flavorful batter are also available.
21. MASSACHUSETTS // TRINA’S STARLITE LOUNGE
The menu at Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville, Massachusetts is jam-packed with comfort food classics, but the dish they’re most famous for is their fried chicken. At dinner, it comes served with dirty gravy, mashed potatoes, a biscuit, and hot pepper syrup. At brunch, their chicken is accompanied by a buttermilk waffle.
22. MICHIGAN // ZINGERMAN’S ROADHOUSE
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Zingerman’s Delicatessen is an Ann Arbor institution, but their roadhouse located a few miles away is also worth a pit stop for the fried chicken alone. They deep fry their chicken with a black pepper buttermilk batter and serve it alongside mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, and yellow mustard coleslaw. If you prefer your fried chicken with an extra kick, the restaurant hosts Nashville hot chicken nights every Tuesday.
23. MINNESOTA // ROOSTER’S BBQ & DELI
St. Paul, Minnesota
Whether you’re craving ribs, pulled pork, or barbecue chicken, Rooster’s in St. Paul, Minnesota is home to all the classics, but their fried chicken is the real star of the show. Their signature pressure-cooker method of frying earned the dish the title of Best Fried Chicken in the Twin Cities by Mpls. St. Paul Magazine in 2011.
24. MISSISSIPPI // THE OLD COUNTRY STORE
in Lorman, Mississippi is an essential destination on any fried chicken road trip. Owner Arthur Davis, a.k.a. Mr. D, serves his Heavenly Fried Chicken which is as classic as it gets (it’s also reportedly the only fried chicken Alton Brown will eat other than what he makes at home). Here’s the best part: it’s available as part of an all-you-can-eat southern food buffet.
25. MISSOURI // PORTER’S FRIED CHICKEN
St. Louis, Missouri
Porter’s Fried Chicken has been following the same fried chicken recipe since the day they opened over 30 years ago. Their traditional chicken is double-coated in a flour-based breading to achieve an extra-crispy crust. If the original batter doesn’t pack enough punch for you, they can make any meal spicy upon request.
26. MONTANA // ROOST FRIED CHICKEN
Roost Fried Chicken offers diners a taste of the south in big sky country. At this restaurant diners can order their fried chicken in a basket, on a sandwich, on a waffle, or on a stick. Classic southern sides like biscuits, fried okra, cheese grits, and collard greens all appear on the menu.
27. NEBRASKA // BIG MAMA’S
Some of the best fried chicken in the midwest can be found in a surprising location: the old cafeteria of what was once the Nebraska School for the Deaf. Today the space is home to Big Mama’s, an Omaha establishment known for its oven-fried chicken, which is first soaked in spice-laden buttermilk for 24 hours. Cooking chicken to perfection isn’t the only skill in Patricia "Big Mama" Barron’s repertoire: The entrepreneur is also available for events as a motivational speaker.
28. NEVADA // HEARTHSTONE KITCHEN & CELLAR
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is famous as a gambling destination, but it’s really a culinary mecca. For your chicken fix, head to the Red Rock Casino, where Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar fries up big helpings of moist, spicy-sweet chicken drizzled in honey.
29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // THE PURITAN BACKROOM
Manchester, New Hampshire
The Puritan Backroom, a local staple since 1917, claims to be the inventor of chicken tenders. A USA Today examination of the matter declared that while others might have been frying up the same strips in 1974, the Puritan—which was founded by Greek immigrants and also serves kababs and spanakopita—probably popularized the name. Regardless of their origins, visitors seem to agree that they’re amazing, especially with the house sauce.
30. NEW JERSEY // CHICKEN GALORE
Kearny, New Jersey
The family-owned Chicken Galore has been frying up juicy, moist chicken along with ribs, shrimp, and fries since 1963. As one reviewer lauds, “You have not lived until you have had a bucket of fried chicken from here!” Did we mention they deliver?
31. NEW MEXICO // GOLDEN PRIDE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque’s four Golden Pride outposts serve the area’s best chicken, as the local culture mag has testified. And it’s one of the few great fried chicken shacks that can also cook up a mean breakfast burrito.
32. NEW YORK // THE COMMODORE
Brooklyn, New York
There’s stiff competition to be the best at any culinary category in New York, but Brooklyn dive bar The Commodore consistently shoots to the top of New York City lists of best chicken purveyors with its perfectly crispy fried goodness. Plus, they're open until 4 a.m.
33. NORTH CAROLINA // MAMA DIP’S
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
has been churning out piping-hot chicken for going on 40 years, and while you can try your hand at founder Mildred Council’s recipes with her cookbooks, but you should probably just leave it to the expert. It’s been heralded as the best in not just the state, but the whole South.
34. NORTH DAKOTA // THE SHACK ON BROADWAY
Fargo, North Dakota
This friendly diner on the north side of Fargo has been operating for more than two decades, serving delectable comfort foods from chicken fried steak to gooey cinnamon rolls. Their "down home cooking," as they describe it, is designed to taste just like grandma’s—or maybe better. Check out their two-piece fried chicken dinner the next time you’re in town.
35. OHIO // WHITE HOUSE CHICKEN
Barberton, a northeastern Ohio town near Akron, is famous for its lard-fried, Serbian-style chicken, served in just a handful of local "chicken houses." The best of these—according to years of local polls and an episode of Food Network’s Food Feud—is White House Chicken, which just opened up a second outpost in the Cleveland suburb of Medina.
36. OKLAHOMA // EISCHEN’S BAR
The legendary Eischen’s Bar, located in the 1200-person town of Okarche, traces its roots back to Prohibition. But its brews aren’t as notable as its birds, which are fried whole and delivered straight to your table.
37. OREGON // SCREEN DOOR
True to its Portland roots, Screen Door has found a way to hipster-fy fried chicken. The ridiculously popular restaurant—which can be spotted on the weekends by the line of would-be brunchers wrapping around the building—describes its menu as a "survey of the South," featuring locally sourced versions of everything from Cajun to barbecue, and, of course, fried chicken.
38. PENNSYLVANIA // PERCY STREET BARBECUE
This beloved barbecue joint took home Philadelphia Magazine’s 2015 "Best of Philly" award for Best Fried Chicken for a single menu item: its crispy, buttery chicken biscuit. The biscuit, which is only served during happy hour, is stacked with fried chicken, cheddar cheese, hot sauce, jalapeños, and buttermilk ranch.
39. RHODE ISLAND // NORTH
Providence, Rhode Island
Eschewing haute cuisine’s pea-sized portions for enormous, hearty meals, a little neighborhood restaurant called North has found a following among gourmets and gourmands alike. The eatery’s entire menu includes modern takes on salty, savory bar food and American standards from seafood to fried chicken.
40. SOUTH CAROLINA // MARTHA LOU’S KITCHEN
Charleston, South Carolina
You can’t miss Martha Lou’s Kitchen. Literally—it would be very hard to overlook the bubblegum-pink shack housing one of Charleston’s best restaurants. Lauded by Martha Stewart, the Travel Channel, and The New York Times, owner and chef Martha “Lou” Gadsen and her daughter have been serving up their famous fried chicken for more than 30 years.
41. SOUTH DAKOTA // PIZZA RANCH
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
If you want fancy, organic, or high-falutin’ food, go somewhere else. Pizza Ranch’s 180 locations are staples in 13 U.S. states for their big buffets, their standardized pizza, and their Crispy Ranch Chicken.
42. TENNESSEE // GUS’S WORLD FAMOUS HOT AND SPICY FRIED CHICKEN
The Gus’s empire is a testament to the power of community—and good fried chicken. From humble beginnings, with contributions from local chicken lovers, Napoleon "Na" Vanderbilt and his wife, Ms. Maggie, built one small but hugely popular restaurant in the little town of Mason. After their deaths in the early '80s, their son Gus started a new fried chicken spot using his dad’s recipe, which by then had become a local legend. Thirty years later, Gus’s has locations in nine states, all using that special and secret recipe. "This is a dead man’s recipe," Gus once said, "[and] I ain’t telling."
43. TEXAS // MAX’S WINE DIVE
Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas
"Fried Chicken and Champagne? …Why the Hell Not?!" That’s the tagline at Max’s Wine Dive, a self-proclaimed dive bar with locations all over Texas. But for all their claims of sleaze, the owners and chefs at Max’s are working awfully hard. Keep an eye out for seasonal favorites, but you can’t go wrong with Max’s famous Southern fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens.
44. UTAH // C&B MADDOX FAMOUS CHICKEN
For nearly 70 years, the proprietors of C&B Maddox have been serving up a (slightly) healthier alternative to fried chicken that doesn’t sacrifice a lick of taste. Their birds have the skin peeled off before a light coating is applied, shaving some calories and fat away in the process. It hasn’t hurt business one bit: C&B goes through up to 5000 pounds of chicken every week to meet the demand.
45. VERMONT // MISERY LOVES CO.
What started as a mobile business operating out of a Winnebago has become a permanent installation among foodies: Misery Loves Co. serves up fried chicken with a gourmet twist, using fresh buttermilk and emulsified honey-butter dipping sauces.
46. VIRGINIA // WAYSIDE FRIED CHICKEN
Southern Living declared Wayside’s some of the best chicken in the South, which is pretty heavy praise. Juicy and peppered to perfection, the only downside is that you can’t hang around for seconds: The restaurant only serves takeout and catering.
47. WASHINGTON // EZELL’S FAMOUS CHICKEN
Don’t let its franchise status raise an eyebrow: Ezell’s has been serving up Seattle-area chicken for over 30 years, even being summoned by Oprah Winfrey to cater her Chicago birthday party in 1990. The flaky, juicy pieces have even found their way to the United Arab Emirates, where Ezell’s opened a Sharjah location in 2015.
48. WEST VIRGINIA // DIRTY BIRD
Morgantown, West Virginia
Since opening in 2012, residents within driving distance of this unassuming diner have flocked to it for what’s reputed to be the best fried chicken in the state. College students line up out the door for their signature sandwiches, which pairs a breast with gravy, bacon, cheddar jack cheese, shaved ham, or blue cheese. The cage-free chicken ships fresh five days a week from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania.
49. WISCONSIN // TOMKEN’S
Since 1991, TomKen’s Friendly Fried Chicken has been racking up awards for their deep-fried birds. Grab a box and expect it to be stuffed with fries, coleslaw, and pieces thinly-battered to maximize the meat over the crunch.
50. WYOMING // CAFÉ GENEVIEVE
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Come early and sample Café Genevieve’s chicken and waffles; come back later for their generous portions of fried chicken during the revamped log cabin’s dinner hours. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places—not technically for the chicken, although it probably should be.
This story was updated in August 2016.
By Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Anna Green, Kate Horowitz, Andrew LaSane, and Jake Rossen.