Field Guide: Where to Find the Best Fried Chicken in Philadelphia
While Philly isn’t a traditional bastion of poultry excellence, its fried chicken game has gotten strong. Today’s restaurants have innovated, resurrected classic styles, and even won awards for dunking birds. So check out these joints (some new, some old) next time you feel like getting a little fried chicken in you. We give you: the best fried chicken in Philadelphia.
From the minute it opened, Southgate was already doing some of the city’s best gastropub-style Korean fried chicken — fat wings and drums with candy-crisp skin dripping soy-garlic sauce or spicy gochujang. Now they’ve also rolled out the KFC at brunch, offering Korean fried chicken and waffles with a citrus-chile syrup and honey butter to go with the green tea Belgian waffle and double-fried chicken wings.
The Fat Ham
Hot chicken wasn’t invented by Kevin Sbraga and his crew; flamethrower-hot, eye-stinging, delicious Nashville-style torture chicken has been a thing forever. But it took the Fat Ham to turn it into a bona fide sensation here in Philly, and it remains the signature dish at a restaurant packed with other plates almost as good.
Bud & Marilyn’s
Like the Fat Ham, Bud & Marilyn’s is in on the hot chicken game, offering a Nashville hot bun with pickles and ranch. And while it’s absolutely a great sandwich, what’s even better is the kitchen’s full-on fried chicken dinner — crisp and golden, perfectly juicy, served with warm biscuits, salted honey butter, pickled zucchini, and a house-made hot sauce that brings both the sweet and the heat to the bird.
If some of these newer spots represent upscale fried chicken, Speck’s (which has been around for more than 60 years) definitely falls on the casual side. This is throwback chicken — tender, juicy broasted birds (and bountiful sides) from a family operation founded back when Kentucky Fried Chicken was just a year old. It’s served fast-food-style across a counter, and there are families in the neighborhood who’ve been eating the buckets here for three generations.
Years back, owners Leigh Maida and Brendan Hartranft won awards for the world-beating fried chicken they did at Resurrection Ale House. And while Clarkville’s plate of perfectly golden, crisp-skinned fried chicken thighs (served with a side of pickled onion ranch sauce) isn’t exactly what the pair did back in the day, it’s a worthy successor.
Look, at a certain point, Americans got so good at frying chicken that we just had to branch out. Hence the chicken-fried steak, in all its salty, artery-clogging glory. But it takes a special kind of twisted genius to take that culinary one-off and turn it back on itself, thereby creating the chicken-fried chicken that graces the menu at Memphis Taproom. Served with braised collards, mac-and-cheese and a house-made hot mustard sauce, it’s a bold declaration of New Southern cuisine and the power of a Fryolator in the hands of a crew that isn’t afraid to use it.
Pennsport, Poplar, Center City and University City
No list great fried chicken in Philadelphia should ignore the genius and mastery of Federal Donuts. Yes, there was fried chicken in the city before Michael Solomonov and his partners opened their first combination fried chicken and donut shop, but FedNuts definitely raised the stakes with their awesome glazes and seasonings — and then went and raised it again when they added their buttermilk ranch fried chicken sandwich to the menu at every shop.
It’s not on the regular menu, but as a gift to their neighbors and their regulars, the kitchen at Kensington Quarters does a fried chicken special every Tuesday — a half-chicken, brined in buttermilk and fried in lard, served with biscuits and a couple sides. And the best part? The whole thing will run you only $20.
This is Korean fried chicken done in a simple takeout space in Fishtown, done with lots of skill and zero pretension. The original, sweet chile and honey garlic are gentle, but the hot and spicy has a little more bite. The couple of additional Korean dishes on the menu (bulgogi, kimchi fried rice) should always be skipped in favor of tacking on one more order of perfectly cooked chicken.
University City and Midtown Village
Most of the places on this list fry whole and half chickens. Some of them do wings. Wishbone, though, is the only one that deals exclusively in chicken fingers. That’s right, it’s a craft chicken-finger restaurant, and it is awesome. White or dark meat, scratch-made dipping sauces and a buttermilk-pretzel crust? Bring it on. Also, the hand pies and weird-ass sodas are a nice draw, too.
Washington Square West
Jones has had fried chicken and waffles on the menu for as long as we can remember. And it has been good for just as long. Granted, if you’re one of those that eats your chicken and waffles with syrup (no judgement), you’ll want to make sure you get the chicken gravy on the side, but beyond that one thing to look out for, you’re in good hands here.