Fried Chicken Sandwich at Big Jones ($12)
I don't really want the responsibility of declaring the absolute best fried chicken in Chicago, but there's no doubt that Big Jones's incredible offering would be somewhere near the top. This is truly astonishing fried chicken, with juicy, full-flavored meat encased in an extra-crunchy crust. So when you're starting out with such a good specimen, it makes sense that the sandwich would keep things simple. The housemade bun is smeared with mayonnaise and chow-chow, which, I should point out, does not refer to the dog breed, but a pickled relish. The only other addition is a single leaf of baby lettuce. This is one confident sandwich.
Big Jones, 5347 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 (map); 773-275-5725
Fried Chicken Sandwich at Analogue ($11)
In most respects, Analogue's fried chicken sandwich follows the same formula as most on this list: make sure the chicken is crispy and accentuate with extra crunchy toppings like pickles and slaw. But it stands apart with its decision to replace the typical soft roll for a toast. This sounds like a small adjustment, but it really works, providing all the support you need, while also lending even more crunch. Just make sure to remove the knife before you dig in.
Analogue, 2523 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (map)
Fun & Crispy Chicken Sandwich at Little Goat ($12)
Whether or not you think this Little Goat sandwich qualifies as fun is up to you, but there is no doubt that it nails the crispy part. The chicken is extra crunchy, a fact that is accentuated by loads of pickles. But it's not all texture; the sandwich is also stuffed with cool and acidic green rapini relish, along with tart pickled red onions. This sounds like a lot going on, but all the ingredients manage to blend into a cohesive whole. Of course, it helps that everything is held together by a wonderfully soft potato bun, which, as you can tell by the cross-section, is surprisingly thin.
Little Goat, 820 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 312-888-3455
Chicken Sandwich at Parson's Chicken & Fish ($10)
If the fried chicken sandwich offering at Parson's looks like a mess, that's because it is. After all, this is a creation loaded with slaw, American cheese, hot sauce, aioli, and pickles. Any one of those elements could shipwreck this dish, leaving it a soggy, bland mess, so why does it all work so spectacularly well? It helps that the chicken is extra crispy, standing up to the onslaught with glee, while the slaw and pickles further lend crunch. I also loved the acidic balance of the pickles and the hot sauce. Turns out it all adds up to one well composed bite, albeit one that should be eaten quickly. Fortunately, that's not a problem.
Parson's Chicken & Fish, 2952 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-384-3333
Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich at Leghorn Chicken ($6)
Leghorn Chicken's concept is simple—it sells fried chicken sandwiches—but there is nothing straightforward about ordering one. Pickle brined or Nashville hot? Breast or thigh? Housemade bun or biscuit? And how many of the 13 toppings options are truly necessary? Obviously, I haven't tried every single variation, but after a couple of visits I do have opinions. In general, I've found the Nashville hot to be crispier and more flavorful, the thigh to be juicer, and the bun to be much, much better than the crumbly, disappointing biscuit. I have to admit that I still get overwhelmed by all the topping choices, but on my last visit I was able to simplify the process by asking for "the works," which adds tomato, lettuce, and Wisconsin cheddar cheese. I wish Leghorn would scale back the choices a bit, and just focus on serving one incredible sandwich, especially since you can eventually build a satisfying sandwich at a genuinely fair price.
Leghorn Chicken, 959 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-394-4444
Fried Chicken Sandwich at Endgrain ($12)
"The fried chicken sandwich is striated with smoked mashed potatoes, pork gravy, and greens on a hulking split biscuit. It sounds like something KFC would shove down naive customers' throats, but in this case it tastes so right in the most gluttonous of ways. If it makes it easier to look at yourself in the mirror afterwards, just think of it as reconfigured biscuits and gravy... with perfectly fried strips of chicken." Read more here >>
Endgrain, 1851 W Addison, Chicago, IL 60613 (map); 773-687-8191
Fried Chicken Sammy at Honey Butter Fried Chicken ($8.00)
"As good as the chicken is by its lonesome, I can't stop thinking about this sandwich. The juicy thigh meat is enhanced with a jalapeño mayo and bright purple slaw. If the kitchen is taking suggestions, I humbly submit that a few dill pickle slices would put this sucker over the top." Read more here >>
Honey Butter Fried Chicken, 3361 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (map); 773-478-4000
The Pine at Reno ($9)
"The thick boneless thigh gets a crispy coating, making it sturdy enough to withstand the flavorful topping assault. Tossed on a grilled trinity bun, it's blanketed with white cheddar, topped with dill pickles, and drizzled with hot honey sauce. What's fascinating is that this creamy-acidic-spicy-sweet mix still never gets in the way of the juicy crunch of the well seasoned chicken. Instead, the toppings function like an intricate Beach Boys harmony: unquestionably awesome, but nowhere near as powerful without the the melody. So, in this example, the fried chicken thigh equals Brian Wilson." Read more here >>
Reno, 2607 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-697-4234
Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich at The Rocking Horse ($9)
"I've already extolled the graces of the Buffalo Chicken Wrap, but I'll be damned if lightning hasn't struck twice in the form of the Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich. The chicken is hard fried and heavily peppered—think chicken fried steak—and the bun is oversized and pillowy. The included lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles are all great, but grab a side of mayo and those pickles, and you're well on your way to a respectable local option to the fallen crowd favorite.” map); 773-486-0011
Not So Common Crisp at Crisp ($6.95)
"There aren't any surprises with this sandwich: it's the awesome Crisp fried chicken in a different outfit... Slathered in the tangy sauce of your choice (I chose the sweeter sauce packed with ginger and soy), the huge fried chicken breast fillet is topped with lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and mayonnaise, and served on a split-top roll. I'd recommend not even trying to pick it up, and instead go for the fork and knife instead." Read more here >>
Crisp, 2940 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-697-7610
Hate Beak from Kuma's Corner ($12)
"Though best known for their burgers, Kuma's Corner has a proven deftness with the deep fryer. But while fried chicken tenders appear in both the menu's appetizer section and as one of the patty options for the many inventive burger offerings, they're put to best use in the Hate Beak, the restaurant's take on the buffalo chicken sandwich." Read more here >>
Kuma's Corner, 2900 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (map); 773-604-8769
Milanesa Torta at Tortas Frontera ($9.50)
"The Milanesa features a "crispy-crunchy chicken breast," pickled jalapeños, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro crema, and avocado, all pressed between a wide, flat bolillo roll. It's an engaging balance of flavors and textures: the crunch of the moist, panko-crusted chicken contrasts with the smooth, citrusy crema, while the rich avocado coats your tongue before the spicier-than-expected jalapeños get a few jabs in at the end. It's not listed in the menu description, but I swear there's a schmear of unctuous, fatty black beans tying the whole thing together, too." Read more here >>
Tortas Frontera, 10 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60603 (map)
The Country Bird at Pecking Order ($9)
"...Ripe with thoughtful flavors and loved up with Filipino spices, the Country Bird starts with "our birds don't do drugs" boneless, flour-dusted crunchy fried chicken, which is cut into thin, crispy pieces. It is then adorned with smoky, shaved Gouda and fresh Roma tomatoes. A few sprigs of cilantro add what lettuce never really does, another layer of flavor." Read more here >>
Pecking Order, 4416 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 (map); 773-907-9900