In our new series “Food Fight,” we will pair one food item with a writer who is obsessed with it, sending them on a mission to find the absolute best Raleigh has to offer—and rank the rest. We begin with Laura White and the almighty fried chicken sandwich.
Southern-born and Southern-bred, I am a lover of all things fried. A good fried chicken sandwich is especially near and dear to my heart.
Quality Grocery used to make the best one in town (RIP, you weird, wonderful little spot), but I’ve been grieving for far too long. I decided to undertake the hunt to find my next favorite. After eating fried chicken sandwiches for most every meal for the past two weeks, the crash course is now complete.
These are the top twelve, ranked by flavor and, of course, my own personal idiosyncrasies. So, to dispatch with those, I like my chicken sandwiches simple, my atmosphere charming. And I’m not a fan of too many caveats or restrictions, so, even if your sandwich is badass, I’m sad if you only offer it once a week.
Want the best? Drive fifteen minutes from the heart of downtown (about how long it takes to get to Harris Teeter in Cameron Village, anyway) to Garner. The first time I took a bite of this baby, I knew I’d found my QG replacement. I might even like it better.
This sandwich is perfect—big and filling, with a real boneless chicken breast, battered and seasoned with black pepper, and deep fried to perfection. It’s hot and juicy with an exquisite crunch. The lettuce and tomatoes are always crisp and fresh, too. Add bacon.
The atmosphere here is warm and friendly, the place packed with people who seem happy to be there, whether working or eating. Also, you can get fried okra as a side. It’ll set you back about $9 for a sandwich the size of your head, a heaping side, and a soda. Really, this is the one I always crave.
As the name implies, this place is a community staple. The little deli sits unassumingly on a corner of Oberlin, just down from Cameron Village. While the quaint place and its fried chicken sandwich might not look like much, don’t be fooled. It’ll run you $4.99 most days, $4.69 on Fridays. The Cajun-fried filet is actually bright red. Smothered in mayonnaise, it’s topped with lettuce and tomato on a simple bun. It is perfectly crisp and moist.
Call in advance, as the wait can sometimes be long, especially during the lunch rush. Perch at one of the tables out front. This is another spot where you can get a side of fried okra. Be still, my barely beating clogged heart.
Yes, MoJoe’s is a Raleigh burger favorite, but since having this sandwich for the first time, I haven’t eaten a single burger there. With regular or buffalo-style, it’s two chicken tenders instead of a breast. That’s a risky move if not done right, but they do it right. It’s crispy throughout, but not so crispy that it cuts your mouth. For $6.29, it even holds up as takeout, though it pairs well with a shot of whiskey, a Coke, and cheese fries if you’re hanging around.
This sandwich is basic in the best way—a fried chicken breast patty that’s moist and not too chewy, with tons of mayo and lots of pickles on a hamburger bun. Why mess with something so simple, especially at $4.29? It’s like the local Chik-fil-A, politics notwithstanding…
It’s Bojangles’. We’ve all been there. A post of this place on Instagram is how I know friends who moved away are back for a visit. I suggest the Cajun filet club version with bacon and cheese—especially helpful for the morning after—at this staple of Southern chains. Plus, a meal with fries and a drink is only $5.70, including tax.
Again, we know Ashley Christensen’s actual fried chicken restaurant is next door, and that this is her burger spot. But if Beasley’s is crowded, dip into Chuck’s for this hidden gem. They do this about as well as they do the burgers, with buttermilk chicken and a spicy aioli on top. And at $7.50, it’s not too far above the rest of this sandwich cast. If you want to spice things up, Beasley’s offers Nashville hot chicken Tuesday through Thursday.
I don’t really do brunch, but I do this sandwich. Only available on Sundays, this variation on their fan-favorite buttermilk fried chicken plate puts the chicken on a bun and tops it with a chipotle honey glaze and a piece of butter lettuce. The sandwich is pricy at $10, but brunch comes with free biscuits and fried potatoes. That leaves room in the budget for a Bellini—always a bonus.
An OG fried chicken spot in downtown Raleigh, Mecca has long been a haven for those looking for a bite to eat and a whole lot of ambiance. And what’s better than one adorable little fried chicken sandwich? A second one. Their fried-chicken sliders are topped with BBQ sauce and will run you $6.50 for two. They aren’t fancy, but they’ll do the trick, especially on the late-night menu. Go deluxe, as the bacon and coleslaw really make it.
Only available at lunch, this chicken breast is delicious if you’re a fan of pickles, since it’s brined in the juice, then deep-fried and topped with honey mustard. It’s crispy on the outside and moist in the middle, but the honey mustard is a distraction for me. Maybe swap it for mayonnaise on the second trip? This one will set you back about $10, and it comes with a side.
Grab your napkins, because this bad boy is messy—a bit too messy and busy for my taste, honestly. It’s topped with mozzarella, jalapeno bacon, poblano pepper mayo, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and red onion. I like to keep my chicken sandwiches simple, with a little bit of all the flavors in one bite. It’s pretty difficult to do that with this extravagance. But overwhelming the eater seems to be a forte of Bad Daddy’s, so mission accomplished? It’ll run you around $11, and it also includes a side.
The next time you drive past this circus-tent-styled diner where Wake Forest Road turns into Atlantic Avenue, turn around. They’ve got milkshakes and shoestring fries, and they keep their chicken sandwich nice and basic—steamed bun, nugget-style patty fried crisp, shredded lettuce, and mayonnaise. While it wasn’t one of my favorites, this place has plenty else to offer. This is, for instance, the eleventh year they’ll serve free Thanksgiving dinner for those with nowhere to go.
Tucked on the corner of Wake Forest Road across from Snoopy’s, this place has been in business since 1969. It reminds me of the dives I grew up frequenting in my tiny little Eastern North Carolina hometown, so it gets big points for that and the burgers. It gets less points for the chicken sandwich, which throws a couple of heavily breaded tenders with lettuce and tomato on a hamburger bun. At least it’s the Wednesday special—$6.85 before tax, including fries and a drink.