One of my very first experiences with fried chicken was when my father took us to KFC. After placing his order, he asked for a Coca-Cola. After being told there was only Pepsi, my father snarled “Pepsi sucks!” and he made us leave immediately — our hot, crispy fried chicken still sitting on the counter.
While this experience may have traumatized me, it did not quell my love of fried fowl. Growing up in Washington state, I had few opportunities to enjoy decent examples of this ubiquitous American dish beyond KFC and Hungry Man dinners, so now I immensely enjoy living in a city that is rife with chicken choices.
Now, any time a food writer composes one of these top five lists, readers will inevitably complain that some place was left out. In this case, it’s going to be Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. I’ve been to every location, and I just don’t love the food. Don’t make me feel bad for leaving it out, folks, because, trust me, there’s better out there.
Before we start, I’m going to give an honorable mention to one of my more memorable fried chicken experiences at the restaurant Tart, near the Grove. What sets this chicken apart is the honey glaze atop the crispy breading. It’s both unique and awesome. Honey belongs with chicken and I wouldn’t dream of keeping the two apart.
Pann’s has been slinging chicken since 1958 — a very basic but very delicious bird (and killer biscuits). It’s not as juicy as the top four on my list, but not as dry as Dinah’s. Both establishments are old school diners with funky, retro interiors, and both are famous for fried chicken, but Dinah’s needs to step up its game because Pann’s (also located near LAX) has it beat. Plus, Pann’s has honey waiting for you at the table, a place after my own deep-fried heart.
Honey’s Kettle started out in Compton and moved to Culver City several years ago. The chicken has a perfectly seasoned coating (not terribly crispy, but not soggy either) and juicy meat. Honey’s is also known for its biscuits and blueberry hotcakes, a unique take on the chicken and waffles craze. The hotcakes are fantastic, by the way.
You’re going to have to head to South Central to enjoy this juicy fried chicken with a spicy, magical coating. Golden Bird, in LA since 1953, really focuses its talent on the batter and seasoning but still manages to turn an often dry chicken breast into a succulent experience. Golden Bird’s motto is “It’s all about the flava,” and you’ll certainly see why after your first bite. Check out the enormous selection of bottled sodas that occupy an entire wall.
I haven’t tried Farmshop‘s fried chicken, but as far as upscale takes on this delicacy go, Plan Check does a bang-up job. The Smokey Fried Chicken is not just a meal, but an umami experience. No expense is spared: the Jidori chicken is first hickory smoked, then placed in a buttermilk brine, then fried in beef fat! There is no shortage of flavor here (I swear I taste a little bacon with each bite) and they only use chicken thighs, so you’ll never get a dry bird. The emphasis here is on the crust, and while it can overpower the chicken just a bit, you just won’t care as you dip each piece into the shallow pool of smoky gravy, smear a little sweetened yam purée on top, and then snag a bite of the pickled okra provided. You’ll be hooked.
Jim Dandy serves the quintessential fried chicken. Nothing fancy, nothing gimmicky, just basic fried chicken: juicy, flavorful, and very crispy. Similar to Golden Bird’s chicken, but twice as crispy and more sensibly seasoned. I was shocked at how juicy my chicken breast was. You’ll also be driving to South Central, ordering through bulletproof windows (unnerving at first) and then eating in your car as there is no dining room, so don’t be alarmed. It’s damn good fried chicken! I can’t think of when I’ve had better. Plus, Jim Dandy’s makes an excellent banana pudding dessert, and the corn fritters dusted with powdered sugar are a unique must-try.
Bun Boy has been obsessed with the LA restaurant scene since he moved here 12 years ago. He visits about 4 restaurants a week, mostly never repeating any. Even in these wavering economic times, he absolutely refuses to give up one of his favorite pastimes.