There’s nothing quite like a plate of heaping fried chicken. It’s the ultimate comfort food indulgence. In the South, fried chicken is religion and everyone has their favorite place or their favorite Aunt that they swear makes the best you’ve ever had. But fried chicken isn’t actually southern. It’s Scottish.
The Scots have been frying chicken for centuries and Scottish immigrants first brought the dish to the United States, where it’s continued to evolve. Whether you want fried chicken and waffles, hot chicken, or traditional, you’ll find a plate or two to fall in love with in one of these nine states.
If you can’t stand the heat, fried chicken in Music City might not be for you. Nashville is known for its iconic hot chicken, basically your traditional buttermilk-fried chicken doused in hot sauce. According to legend, Nashville hot chicken started in the 1930s, when the girlfriend of a man named Thornton Prince III got so frustrated with his philandering ways she taught him a lesson by adding cayenne pepper to his fried chicken. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack was born where you can still get hot chicken today.
San Francisco, California
Best known for sourdough bread, San Francisco has been having a bit of a love affair with classic Southern food in the past few years. A number of chefs have been opening up eateries featuring good ole’ fashioned comfort food, especially fried chicken. Here you’ll find everything from swanky supper clubs serving up chicken served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and -wait for it- a house-made chive biscuit, to laid back family joints serving chicken and waffles and more.
Atlanta takes its soul food seriously and there’s no shortage of restaurants in the city serving up fried chicken. Some have been around for nearly a century; others only a few weeks. But it’s almost impossible to have a bad dish of fried chicken in the city. Granted, as there’s only so much fried chicken you can eat during a stay you’ll want to head to the cafe that’s been dishing it up for more than 70 years, or, if you’re in town on a Wednesday night, the restaurant that only serves fried chicken on that night and often sells out. Get there early.
Banish the words KFC from your mind. Yes, Kentucky may have introduced much of the world to fried chicken by way of KFC, but that’s not where Louisville locals go when they’re craving some comfort food. For fried chicken the way your grandmother made it (if she was the fried chicken-making type) you want Shirley Mae’s Cafe, whereas locavores will favor Harvest, where all the ingredients are sourced from within 100 miles. Both go well with a weekend of bourbon tasting or a trip to the Churchill Downs.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The Crescent City may be best known for chargrilled oysters, beignets, and gumbo but its chefs know how to whip up mean fried chicken too. The city even has an annual fried chicken festival in September. But no matter when you visit New Orleans you’ll find places serving up crispy, spicy battered, Cajun fried chicken and more. Perfect for a day after dancing, drinking and listening to music in the French Quarter.
New York, New York
The Big Apple may be a world away from the south but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to do fried chicken right. This is in large part thanks to both southern and international chefs who now call the city home and are leaving their own mark on soul food while creating new twists on the classic. Take, for instance, Virginia native Keedick Coulter who brines his free range birds overnight at the Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Club. One bite of the crispy, flaky, fried chicken and you’ll forget you’re in the middle of a bustling city.
From beer to coffee and everything in between, foodies know that Portland, Oregon is its own type of eater paradise. That reputation extends to fried chicken as well, even if the city is thousands of miles away from the South. Here you’ll find indulgent fried chicken being served up with waffles and on sandwiches piled high with other fried goodies like green tomatoes and more. Fuel up before you spend an afternoon wandering around the city taking in the street art.
Multiple Cities, Virginia
Rumor has it the first printed U.S. recipe of fried chicken came from Virginia. Today, you’ll find delicious fried chicken options in every part of the state. You’ve heard of chicken and waffles but what about doughnuts and chicken? That’s what you’ll find in the metro Washington, D.C., area, whereas over in Charlottesville you’ll find a traditional fried chicken from a recipe dating back generations. And in Newport News, it’ll be melt off the bones, Korean fried chicken.
The city on Lake Michigan may seem like an odd place to find fried chicken but, trust us, this up and coming travel destination deserves a spot on every foodie travel list. Surrounded by farms, Milwaukee is a locavore’s dream. Chefs have been moving to the city in droves in the past few years, re-shaping the Milwaukee’s food scene and adding some great options for fried chicken. Here you’ll find traditional fried chicken, wings galore, and even Korean BBQ style.