Take a minute to really let this sink in: Right now—this very moment—is the single best time in the Earth’s four-billion-year history (give or take a few hundred million years) to eat a fried chicken sandwich. That’s bananas, right? Never before have so many great chefs with ridiculous pedigrees devoted their time and skill to frying chicken and putting it in a bun, and you—yes, you—are currently alive. The mathematical odds of your existence coinciding with the Golden Age of fried chicken sandwiches is almost nonexistent, and yet it happened. Take advantage of it.
This is the single best chicken sandwich in L.A. We’ve said it before, we’re saying it now, and we’ll say it until the day we die, or until it gets permanently eighty-sixed from the menu. Whichever comes first. The breadcrumb-dusted chicken thigh always comes out steaming hot, there’s prosciutto cotto on there because additional pork is always a good decision, pepperoncini slaw adds that acidic crunch, Calabrian chili mayo is all creamy heat, and olive oil brioche is the perfect on-Alimento-brand bun to hold it all together.
Birdies uses chicken breast, officially making it an underdog compared to obviously superior thigh-based sandwiches, but the meat is always juicy, the flour coating is always shockingly crunchy, and the buttermilk ranch mayo reminds you of the most satisfying iceberg salads you grew up eating as a kid. Half a point deduction for adding cheese to their sandwich by default (cheese does not belong on a chicken sandwich. I can’t explain why, it just doesn’t) but half a point bonus for being open 24 hours on weekends and also having killer doughnuts.
Half a point deduction (there’s no actual scoring system) for having a perennially long line. It may seem unfair to issue Howlin’ Ray’s a fake penalty for being too good at what they do, but that’s the nature of criticism. The sandwich is near perfect though. No matter how spicy you choose your Nashville-style hot chicken breast (X-Hot or bust), the comeback sauce (the South’s tangier answer to Thousand Island), slaw, and pickles cushion the pain just enough to keep you moving forward. It’s a miraculous, albeit masochistic, balancing act.
For all those who agree with the “Eat Mor Chikin” marketing campaign but don’t want to support Chick-fil-a. Top Round might specialize in roast beef, but, in the broader sense, they specialize in thoughtful, tasty fast food. This is a thoughtful, tasty rendition of the fast-food chicken sandwich. Show a little home-state pride by getting the Cali, which is topped with avocado and appropriately drenched in ranch.
In 2014, Restaurant Hospitality named it the Best Chicken Sandwich in America and you will respect that title, dammit. Boneless chicken thighs, green chili pimento cheese, duck breast ham (they made ham out of a duck!), and pickles all steam together inside a tempura crunch bun. Every ingredient is elevated and they all work together—this is the gastro-pub-y chicken sandwich done right.
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s version will forever be known as the preeminent upscale chicken sandwich trailblazer. It had the audacity to cost $17, and it had the audacity to blow peoples’ minds. Though the rest of the world has caught up to it—and the idea of a housemade Red Rooster hot sauce is no longer a novelty—this is and always will be the Platonic chicken sandwich ideal.
Not every great fried chicken sandwich comes on brioche. At Torta Co., Loteria Grill’s sister restaurant, it comes on a house-made telera roll, and it is spectacular. There’s a schmear of black bean puree, pounded out chicken breast that’s been coated in bread crumbs and fried milanesa style, avocado, cilantro dressing, chipotle mayo, and tomato. Half a point bonus for having an interactive fried chicken torta infographic on their website.
West Coast nationalism sometimes gets in the way of me saying nice things about New York stuff. This is not one of those times. Shake Shack’s poultry option is deceptively juicy for a breast-based sandwich, and there’s something Bauhausian about the way the lettuce, pickles, and herb mayo interact with that cake-like Martin’s potato roll. Pure form and function.
First it was a family meal favorite. Then it became a secret menu item. Then it became a beloved staple. Thus is the timeline of a modern cult-classic dish. The Chieng Rai-style chicken can only be described as pleasantly al dente, the home-made ranch is a solid touch, and the generic white bun makes you question your allegiance to artisanal everything. But what really separates this sandwich from the flock (BOOM CHICKEN PUN) is the ruin-your-day-spicy papaya salad on top.
Half a point deduction for the sandwich’s official name pre-supposing my enjoyment of it. Half a point bonus for pimento cheese. All chicken sandwiches get a half point bonus for spreadable cheese and a half point deduction for solid cheese. That’s just how the game is played. Jalapeno, slaw, crispy chicken, soft bun—there are checkmarks in all the right boxes here.
This is another OG chicken sandwich in L.A., and, even though it isn’t quite as epicurean and doesn’t have the same kind of name value, it predates Son of a Gun’s sandwich by more than a year. With a thinly pounded chicken breast, dressed kale, tomato, and baby Swiss (half a point cheese deduction), this is now an absolute classic nouveau chicken sandwich.
The first truck to be fully devoted to crispy chicken in a bun is still putting out one of the city’s best renditions. The chicken is fried in a wet batter, which means there’s no additional flour coating, which means I’ll always be a little uncomfortable with it, but it works in context of the sandwich. The Original is served with Fresno chili slaw on a toasted Portuguese bun and comes slathered with honey mustard—a much neglected condiment in the chicken sandwich scene.
Pizza dough chicken sandwich? Pizza dough chicken sandwich. This is a good and tasty and on-brand innovation. Before Pizza Romana was Pizza Romana, it was Cube, and Cube had absolutely legendary fried chicken. Though the name and menu changed, the fried chicken stayed, and now you can get it tucked between pizza dough with slaw and a side of ranch for dipping.
I will never fully believe that bacon deserves to be on a fried chicken sandwich. Give me a good prosciutto cotto or duck ham, sure, but the smoke and chew of bacon distracts from the purity and crunch of the fried chicken. At its best, bacon is a distraction; at its worst, it’s a smokescreen (BOOM SMOKED PORK PUN) for a sandwich’s flaws to hide behind. However! Beer Belly’s bacon and American cheese-laden chicken sandwich is an objectively delicious and necessary reprieve from the slaw and pickle-centric sandwiches elsewhere, and no deductions or bonuses will be handed out for the use of American cheese, as it is somewhere between spreadable and solid. The carrot and jalapeño relish is the most crucial ingredient in the sandwich—it gives you the bright pop you need to offset the chemically stabilized deliciousness of those creamy yellow squares.
Not the first thing you thought of when you saw “fried chicken sandwich,” was it? Well maybe it should have been. The Godmother has become the rallying cry for cold-cut hoagie (sub? grinder?) enthusiasts in L.A., but don’t sleep on the hot sandwiches either. That absurdly crackling, crusty bread soaks up the right amount of tomato sauce, and the peppers and onions break up the chicken and cheese monotony.
The fact that there’s no chicken in it doesn’t make it any less of a chicken sandwich. Well, only in the technical and literal sense—but not in the practical sense. The mixture of soy, wheat, and peas, mashed into some sort of alchemistic patty and deep-fried is a dead ringer for the best pressed-and-formed fast food chicken patty you’ve ever had. Drown it in buffalo sauce and slap it into a bun and you would have no idea you just did the planet a favor and ate veganly.
This is the only chicken sandwich on the list whose name contains another restaurant’s name. And that’s worth something. The scallion buns—a Taiwanese scallion pancake and English muffin hybrid—are also worth something. They’re worth a lot. The sweet mayo and pickled mustard greens give you the requisite creamy, fresh, and funky profiles, and the fried chicken breast is always crunchier than you’d expect.