Are you sick of healthy food trends like kale salad and poké? If so, 2016 might be the year for you, a time when Los Angeles is rediscovering its torrid love affair with the wonderful magic that occurs when poultry meets hot oil. That’s not to say this city isn't already home to great fried chicken — shoutout to old-guard spots like Jim Dandy, Mom’s BBQ and Honey Kettle (and R.I.P. to Flossie’s) — but the recent explosion of really good chicken within the last year or two has been enough to make even the casual bird enthusiast take notice. Peak Chicken might not yet be upon us, but we are much closer to the summit than before.
A quick ground rule: this list is for purebreds, i.e., no restaurants serving fried chicken as a nightly or weekend special, no matter how delicious (Terrine, Ledlow, the Bellwether, Poppy & Rose, etc.). And yes, we probably missed your favorite spot, but you can always yell it at us virtually in the comments section below. Everyone knows their mother’s fried chicken is No. 1 anyway.
10. Krispy Krunchy Fried Chicken
If you haven’t heard of this Louisiana-based fast food outfit with more than 2,000 locations nationwide, don’t be surprised. The core of Krispy Krunchy’s business model involves partnering with gas stations and convenience stores, which fry and sell their proprietary “Cajun recipe” chicken on-site. In Los Angeles, the two free-standing locations are located inside South L.A. shopping malls — one in the Slauson Supermall, the other in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. But don't be fooled, this stuff is more than food-court fodder. Krispy Krunchy’s chicken easily bests fast-food giants like Popeye’s, Church’s, et al. The skin is as crackly as the name suggests, and the meat is quite moist thanks to a patented “Cajun flavor injection” technique, which is surely as terrible for you as it sounds. But hey, there’s also blueberry biscuits, and those are basically fruit, right? Various locations, including 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Baldwin Hills; (323) 293-3332, krispykrunchy.com.
9. Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill
There are valid reasons to be skeptical about Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, a popular Asian brasserie with outlets in New York, Vegas and, now, L.A.: 1) it’s located deep within the Michael Bublé–soundtracked tourist trap that is the Grove, and 2) the sushi itself is pretty middling. But both those concerns are dwarfed by one thing — the stupendously good (and deservedly famous) fried chicken, which arrives crusted in matzoh meal and dusted with a paprika-heavy seasoning mix. A side of addictive wasabi-honey sauce further gilds the proverbial lily. The price for a half fried chicken might seem steep at $28, but those looking for a smaller portion can opt for the weekday happy hour deal: four wings for $7. 189 The Grove Drive, Beverly Grove; (323) 352-9300, blueribbonrestaurants.com.
8. Pizza Romana
Pizza and fried chicken? The dream is real at Pizza Romana, a counter-service pizzeria on La Brea, which offers wood-fired pies, crowd-pleasing side dishes and a reasonably priced Italian wine list. When owner Alex Palermo flipped the former concept, Cube Café & Marketplace, into a pizza restaurant, he was wise enough to continue serving Cube’s beloved fried chicken, and for that we are grateful. Listed on the menu as “The Best Fried Chicken Ever!!,” the schnitzel-esque boneless breast nearly lives up to its own self-assured title, especially when dunked in the accompanying tarragon ranch dressing. Fried chicken aficionados might find the lack of dark meat dubious, but a lengthy brine keeps the white meat supple and flavorful. And if you’re more the chicken tender type, they have those too. 615 N. La Brea Ave., Fairfax; (323) 939-1148 ext. 10, pizzaromana.com.
7. 77 Kentucky
Since the fried chicken fad swept through Koreatown a few years ago, the pinnacle of the genre has probably been Kyochon, a fast-casual spot with wings by the box, or O.B. Bear, a throwback tavern where Hite beer towers harmonize with sticky glazed chicken parts. The new standard bearer, however, might be 77 Kentucky (or, Chil Chil Kenteoki in Korean), the first international outlet of a 1970s-era chain based in Busan, which specializes in American-inspired fried chicken and french fries served in oversized steel bowls. The whole situation is kind of meta, like when a Panda Express opens in China, but fortunately the chicken is spectacular enough to transcend any cultural confusion. The flavor options are numerous and delicious: garlic-glazed chicken, sweet and spicy chicken, “Real Hot Pepper” chicken, “Chinese” chicken, or the “Original Style,” the latter arriving as a quarter bird plunged in hot oil until its skin turns to glass and seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper that you sprinkle on yourself. The sole tragedy here is the lack of beer — this food practically screams for it — but until the alcohol license arrives, you’ll have to console yourself with a cold Fanta. 698 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown; (213) 263-2686.
6. Mama Joan's Soul Food
There are few soul food gems in L.A. that can keep pace with Mama Joan’s, a family-run establishment in a Ladera Heights strip mall (motto: “putting the soul back in soul food”) where the fried chicken is fried to order rather than plucked from a steam tray. That small detail alone makes a big difference, as the chicken skin comes out crackling and golden, worlds away from the stodgy, heavy-breading variety that has become too commonplace. You can get the chicken smothered in brown gravy if you like, but that just means more distraction from the extra-crispy crust. If you have room, the made-from-scratch sides are equally comforting — succotash, red beans and rice, gooey mac and cheese — which, along with a sweet tea and cornbread muffin, can easily turn your quick lunch into a long afternoon nap. 5496 W. Centinela Ave., Ladera Heights, (310) 670-5900.
5. Tokyo Fried Chicken
The family-style dinner sets at Monterey Park’s Tokyo Fried Chicken are kind of genius — like Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner if Morimoto was brought on for a menu revamp. A standard meal at TFC might include chicken rice, crunchy pickled cabbage and fusion-y sides like curried cream corn, sweet soy yams or collard greens braised in dashi broth. But the star is undoubtedly the fried chicken, delicate and brittle-skinned, laid out on a paper-lined tray somehow devoid of grease stains. Chef Kouji Yamanashi marinates his birds in ginger, soy and garlic for several hours, then flash-fries them in bran oil for an audible crunch. The result is karaage on steroids. Does anything go better with a drumstick than a Japanese craft beer? Probably not. 122 S Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 282-9829.
4. Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken
The excitement was palpable when this Memphis export suddenly opened shop on the corner of Crenshaw and Pico. Spicy chicken! Fried green tomatoes! Pecan pie! B.B. King! And sure enough, Gus’s did little to disappoint. The sole type of fried chicken here is the spicy kind, distinguished by a deep rusty hue but much milder than what you’ll find at, say, Nashville hot chicken spots. The crust is liberally seasoned, encasing the tender meat beneath like a shaggy coat of armor, and as with the best fried chicken, the salty crunchy skin has a certain addictive quality that keeps you going back for more. 1262 Crenshaw Blvd., Mid-City; (323) 402-0232, gusfriedchicken.com.
3. Pok Pok L.A.
At Andy Ricker’s transportive Thai restaurant in Chinatown, the newest addition to the menu is the “Midnight Special.” It's a convincing tribute to Chiang Mai’s most popular fried chicken vendor, Kai Thawt Thien Kheun, a late-night destination for Northern Thailand’s partiers and bar-crawlers. The thin crust on Pok Pok’s fried chicken stays extra-crisp thanks to the addition of rice flour in the batter, and a splash of Thai seasoning sauce adds a salty edge to the lusciously tender meat. As with many Thai dishes, the accompaniments are just as crucial as the main event: a boiled egg, steamed cabbage, pickled mustard greens and naam phrik nun, a mortar-pounded chili condiment that works well against the richness of the chicken. 978 N. Broadway, Chinatown, (213) 613-1831, pokpokla.com.
It’s unclear by what dark magic Crawford’s in Westlake is able to channel the cozy grunge of a dive bar without, you know, actually being a dive bar. Is it the frosty $3 mugs of Bud on draft? Is it the Christmas lights strung up behind the bar? Is it the Big Buck Hunter arcade game? The best answer might be the unfussy $10 fried chicken, which comes on a paper tray along with a cup of coleslaw or sweet baked beans. In lesser hands, this bar snack would be nothing but stomach spackle for barflies, but former Little Easy chef and Mississippi native Brian Garrigues is cooking serious buttermilk-brined chicken out of the small kitchen behind the bar. The standard version is killer, but you can also ask for the hot fried, which gets doused in chili oil before serving. 2616 Beverly Blvd., Westlake; (213) 568-3133, instagram.com/crawfordsbarla.
1. Howlin' Ray's
Can you stand the heat? That is the most pertinent question at Howlin’ Ray’s, the Chinatown restaurant known for both its sweat-inducing Nashville hot chicken and for its very long lines, both of which can test the mettle of even the most dedicated chicken fan. Ordering any heat level above medium at Ray’s can induce serious capsicum-induced pain, but underneath all that peppery spice is some seriously great fried chicken. Order the “country chicken” (aka the spice-free version) and the succulent quality of the free-range, air-chilled Mary’s chicken shines through, as do the meticulous portioning, brining, seasoning and batter-dipping that goes into each juicy section (chef Johnny Ray Zone, who has worked under Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa, takes chicken as seriously as Daniel Boulud does pot au feu). But who are we kidding, it’s too tempting not too dabble in a little bit of masochism. Ultimately you’ll be tempted to order one or two heat levels higher than you’re comfortable with — “Howlin’,” spiked with Carolina Reaper peppers, is the hottest option — and the weight of your questionable decision becomes obvious as a throbbing wave of pain radiates outward from your mouth hole, like the animated figurine in a Ben-Gay commercial. The chicken sits atop a flimsy slice of white bread stained a devilish red, and there’s a heap of crunchy pickles on the side, but relying on those for relief is like fighting a forest fire with a garden hose. Instead you will bear down, wipe the sweat from your forehead, take a sip of lemonade and lean in for another bite. 727 N. Broadway, #128, Chinatown; (213) 935-8399, howlinrays.com.