Food trends tend to be annoying to anyone who eats out a lot. It gets boring to eat the same kale salad at every restaurant, to have every waiter think you need the concept of small plates explained to you, to find bacon in places bacon never should appear. But one trend I hear no one complaining about is the rise of the fried chicken sandwich.
A few years ago, only a handful of places served a fried chicken sandwich, and anyone who had a serious craving and wasn't close to one of those places had to make do with fast food. These days, the fried chicken sandwich is everywhere. There are food trucks dedicated to it, and some of our best restaurants serve versions that bring in components of the Italian or Thai or Japanese food they serve on the rest of the menu. There are spicy versions, Southern versions, upscale versions and street-food versions.
Here are the 10 you ought to go out of your way to find and devour while thanking the trend gods for delivering us such bounty.
10. Free Range
This food truck is the ethical man's answer to the fast-food fried chicken sandwich. It is — as the name suggests — made from free-range chicken, and it comes with Fresno chile coleslaw and whole-grain honey-mustard sauce. While there's a bit more crunch and flavor than your average fast-food joint's version, at its heart this is the child of the delicious smooshed-bun sandwich you got at the drive-thru as a kid. It's just a better, kinder version. Check freerangela.com for times and locations.
Every week, this newish sandwich shop in Silver Lake comes up with a different fried chicken sandwich, and some of them are very, very silly. There was the one with mac and cheese on it, the one with salsa and a huge dollop of sour cream, and the above monstrosity, the “animal-style” chicken sandwich made in honor of the In-N-Out burger of the same name (they've also done a double-decker homage to the Big Mac). But even when it comes sloppy and covered in pinkish “spread,” you can taste the love they put into these sandwiches. They ain't cheap — it's listed at $14 on the menu — but many days they have a lunch special where you can get the sandwich plus a drink for $12. 3206 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 522-6026, facebook.com/picnicsandwichla.
8. Barrel and Ashes
Advertising “the best damn chicken sandwich ya ever had” on the menu, Barrel and Ashes is kind of courting consternation. While we don't quite agree with the claim, we do like this sandwich a lot. It comes with coleslaw, jalapeños and pimento cheese, and the chicken is plump and tasty. We actually wish there was a little more pimento cheese on the thing — it's a thin smear on the top bun, more of a condiment than a real factor — but the intense pops of tang from the jalapeños provide a nice contrast to the oily chicken. 11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 623-8883, barrelandashes.com.
7. Hinoki and the Bird
In some ways, the lunch-only fried chicken sandwich at Hinoki and the Bird is straightforward. A soft oval bun holds fat orbs of incredibly well-cooked fried chicken, along with crisp green lettuce and a slather of aioli. But the aioli is flavored with shichimi togarashi, the Japanese spice mixture, and rather than tomato or onion, the sandwich gets its crunch and personality from sliced daikon radish. The plate also comes with a variety of pickled veggies, and the whole thing makes for an incredibly satisfying lunch. 10 Century Drive, Century City. 310.552.1200, hinokiandthebird.com.
6. Major Dave's Chicken
This sandwich, from the underappreciated fried chicken joint that opened last year in Pasadena, distinguishes itself in many ways. First, you can get it hot, as in Nashville hot chicken–style hot (you should). Second, it comes on a crusty, freshly baked bolillo roll. Third, the components that bring it all together are exceedingly fresh and tasty: sweet cherry tomatoes, coleslaw and a house-made buttermilk-chive dressing. It's a four-napkin sandwich that's obviously made with a ton of love and care, and that searingly spicy crust gives it a kick unlike any other on this list. 163 N. Hill Ave., Pasadena. (626) 460-8730, majordaveschicken.com.
5. Son of a Gun
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo's sandwich at Son of a Gun deserves props for being one of the first in town to harness the goodness of a Southern-style fried chicken sandwich. Its deserved legendary status is built on a classically fried chicken breast, a mound of spicy bread-and-butter pickle slaw and lightly spicy rooster aioli. The chicken itself is actually kind of diminutive compared with the insane amount of poultry found in other sandwiches around town, but the balance of flavors is right on. Grabbing this sandwich with a glass of wine at Son of a Gun's bar is one of our favorite solo-lunch treats in town. 8370 W. Third St., Beverly Grove. (323) 782-9033, sonofagunrestaurant.com.
4. Night + Market Song
The off-menu chicken sandwich quickly became the most popular item served at Night + Market Song when it opened. It's easy to see why. The brined-then-fried chicken thigh is ultra crispy, and there are about five different kinds of tang in the toppings: ranch dressing, tomato, cilantro, strips of raw jalapeño and shredded green papaya marinated in lime juice and fish sauce. It all comes on a basic white bun, which is soft and perfect. This might well be our favorite chicken sandwich in town if it weren't for the fact that on occasion the chicken has been too crispy and not moist enough as a result. Even then, it's a spicy, tangy masterpiece. 3322 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. 323-665-5899, nightmarketsong.com.
This spring, Alimento introduced a hulking beauty of a chicken milanese sandwich. Chef Zach Pollack says of the ingredients and composition: “The bun is a gloriously light brioche that subs olive oil for butter; the chicken, a whole, boned thigh, is breaded in the style of a milanese cutlet rather than the batter-fried versions that dominate the market; a nest of thinly sliced prosciutto cotto makes it richer; pickles and a pepperoncini slaw make it lighter; and a Calabrian chile mayo makes it devilishly spicy.” The result is a sandwich that absolutely belongs in the L.A. chicken sandwich hall of fame. At $14, it's also a way to stop by Alimento, sit at the bar and get what is basically a full meal for a decent price at what can otherwise be a pretty pricy restaurant. 1710 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake. 323-928-2888, alimentola.com.
2. Plan Check
At Plan Check, chef Ernesto Uchimura takes the classic Southern fried chicken sandwich and intensifies everything about it, for a sandwich that's both classic and amped up. Instead of cheese there's house-made spicy green pimento cheese. Instead of ham there's duck ham (yum). The pickles are extra tangy and the chicken itself — jidori chicken, to be exact — is extra crunchy, with a slight hint of smokiness. It's devilishly good. 1800 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle. 310-288-6500, plancheckbar.com.
1. Wild at Canelé
Canelé has always had a killer fried chicken sandwich, one that belongs high up on this list and is still available during brunch service. But the version served during lunch on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, as part of the Wild at Canelé lunch service run by Ria and Matt Wilson, is our favorite fried chicken sandwich in town. It gets all the elements right: a tower of crisp juicy chicken; a sweet, house-baked pan de sal bun; aioli; and atchara (lightly pickled green papaya). It's the tang of that pickle paired with the fat of the aioli and chicken that make the whole thing so beguiling, not to mention the crispy/crunchy/soft textures of the chicken, atchara and bread. It's so tall you'll have to do some serious strategizing to figure out how to get it in your mouth, but we think you'll figure it out. And you'll be glad that you did. 3219 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village. (323) 666-7133, wildla.wordpress.com.