Howlin Ray's Is Making Chinatown Sweat With Nashville-Style Hot Chicken

Hot chicken combo at Howlin' Ray's
Hot chicken combo at Howlin' Ray's
Garrett Snyder

In its first five days of business, Howlin Ray's has sold more than 1,500 pounds of hot chicken, chef/owner Johnny Ray Zone reports. By the end of the weekend, he estimates they'll have fried well over a metric ton. "We knew our hot chicken had to stand out," Zone says. "Even KFC is serving it now."

Howlin Ray's is the newest restaurant to debut in Chinatown's Far East Plaza. The brick-and-mortar location of the popular Nashville-inspired fried chicken food truck  is currently open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (or until they run out of chicken). Zone hopes to expand hours in the coming weeks, although that hasn't stopped crowds from queuing up outside the tiny space before the doors open.

Inside the cramped space are a few counters, a handful of high-top tables, a mural that reads "I got my hot chicken in L.A." and an open kitchen where you can watch the staff batter and fry each piece to order, then douse it in as much lip-searing cayenne pepper as your mouth can handle.

A menu board lists various chicken options — breast, wings, thighs, legs and a boneless breast called the "Skinny Jimmy" — with heat levels ranging from country (no heat) to the hottest level, "howlin'" (spiked with Carolina Reaper peppers). In traditional style, each piece of chicken is accompanied by a few thick-cut pickles and a slice of white bread to soak up the spicy juices. You can add a basket of "hot fries" — crinkle-cut fries tossed in spices — or a rotating market side, which on our visit was a tangy cucumber and dill salad. The shop also serves its own version of hot chicken and waffles on the weekends, and plans to add sides including braised greens, mac 'n' cheese and crispy okra. 

Even compared to the hot-chicken stalwarts of Nashville, Howlin Ray's is turning out some serious yardbird: The devilishly spicy skin — we recommend the "hot" spice level — is crunchy and well-seasoned, while the meat inside remains exceptionally moist. Even better might be the two-fisted fried chicken sandwich, constructed with coleslaw, pickles and tangy "comeback sauce" on a toasted bun.

This fiery addition to Far East Plaza joins forces with an Avengers-level team of enticing options, including Chego, Pok Pok Phat Thai, Ramen Champ and Amboy. That makes the plaza one of the best places to get lunch in L.A.

Howlin Ray's, 727 N. Broadway Ave., #128, Chinatown; howlinrays.com.


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