Great Fried Chicken Road Trip: Where to Stop for the Best in America

Biting into a crispy, juicy and well-seasoned piece of fried chicken is one of the greatest pleasures enjoyed by food lovers around the world. The popularity of the dish in the U.S. is celebrated every July 6 on National Fried Chicken Day. The ultimate vacation for foodies of all ages might be a Great Fried Chicken Road Trip that takes them to places where they can order the best of the best.

Chicken coated in flour or batter and cooked in hot oil is typically thought of as southern fare. Today, chefs of Korean, Japanese and even Italian heritage are dazzling diners with their fried bird specialties. However, the history of fried chicken in America is likely to be forever linked to southern cooks, especially the descendants of African slaves who passed on traditions of frying chicken acquired on plantations.

According to the National Day Calendar, Scottish immigrants brought the practice of deep-frying chicken to the southern states. Black cooks manning the stoves in homes and restaurants perfected the technique of seasoning and frying chicken in hot oil long before Colonel Harland David Sanders made millions with his Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Ora Porter, a self-taught cook who could not read or write, taught her granddaughter what she considered the best way to fry chicken. “The fried chicken at Miss Ora’s Kitchen is pan-fried in cast iron skillets, much like your mom or grandmother did it,” says Stephanie Tyson, chef and co-owner. “We fry with a bit of fatback in the pan with the chicken. It adds another layer of flavor.”

She and her partner Vivian Joiner opened Miss Ora’s Kitchen in July 2017 to honor Tyson’s grandmother and serve Porter’s fried chicken. They also own the restaurant right next door to Miss Ora’s in Winston-Salem, N.C. The fried chicken at Sweet Potatoes is made from a different recipe. “We use just salt and pepper to season the chicken at Miss Ora’s Kitchen. The fried chicken at Sweet Potatoes is soaked in seasoned buttermilk with our own seasoning blend of about five or six herbs and spices,” says Tyson. The recipe for Miss Ora’s fried chicken is featured in Bon Appétit Magazine’s online publication.

Photo: J. R. Reeves

The owner of Lil’ Dizzy’s Café in New Orleans is equally passionate about the techniques his family perfected over 70 years of frying chicken in their restaurants. “We have a special recipe, a special blend that we use on our chicken and a special way of frying it,” says Wayne Baquet. That special way of frying involves getting the chicken ice cold before it goes in the deep fryer. “I’m going to say it this way. It shocks the flavor through the chicken and because it’s so cold, it makes it less greasy,” says Baquet. “This is the reason why our chicken is rated as one of the best chickens you can buy anywhere.”

The fried chicken at Mel’s Soul Food Café in Charlottesville, Va., gets lots of rave reviews on Web posts. “We cook our chicken hot and fresh to order,” says Mel Walker, owner and self-taught chef. “We put effort and love in our chicken.” He also sticks with the tried-and-true approach learned from his grandmother. According to Charlottesvilles29.com, “Mel takes no shortcuts, and won’t even think about cooking fried chicken until someone orders it. That care and love ensure that Mel’s food never fails to satisfy.”

The variations on fried chicken recipes are as numerous as the chefs and cooks who boast about their secret ingredients or perfected methods. Lists such as the Thrillist’s “The 31 Best Fried Chicken Restaurants in America” and Southern Living Magazine’s “The Best Fried Chicken in Every State,” include several black-owned restaurants among the places getting the top votes. Travel Noire’s “50 Restaurants, 50 States: The Best Black-Owned Restaurants in America” and other Internet searches turned up more places known for serving good fried chicken you might want to try during your travels.

ARIZONA

Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
Phoenix, AZ | loloschickenandwaffles.com
602.340.1304

Founder Larry “Lo-Lo” White’s first job was bussing tables at his grandmother’s soul food restaurant. Today, the family business of perfecting fried chicken and waffles is an expanding empire. White’s authentic soul food attracts fans to five locations in Arizona. The slogan “This ain’t your mama’s chicken” has taken Lo-Lo’s to Nevada, Texas and other states where new franchises are on the way.

CALIFORNIA

Honey’s Kettle Restaurant & Bakery
Culver City, CA | honeyskettle.com
310.202.5453

Photo: Honey’s Kettle Restaurant and Bakery

More than four decades of frying chicken has landed chef/owner Vincent Williams on the Food Network and in People magazine. Honey’s Kettle chicken is hand-dipped in a special batter and fried in peanut oil. Los Angeles Magazine and the Huffington Post named it the best fried chicken in LA

Miss Ollie’s
Oakland, CA | realmissolliesoakland.com
510.285.6188

Since becoming a staple in Old Oakland more than five years ago, both locals and visitors alike know where to go when they want Caribbean soul food.  The restaurant is an homage to Kirnon’s Barbadian grandmother whose recipe is also used for the fried chicken.  Kirnon says she hasn’t changed one thing in how it is prepared and given the rave reviews, that is a good move.

COLORADO

Welton Street Café
Denver, CO | 303.296.6602

The Five Points neighborhood thrived as a focal point for African-American culture and entertainment for many decades. Many of the jazz and supper clubs and storefront restaurants are gone. But the Dickerson family’s southern cuisine gave this café longevity. The fried chicken and other soul food specialties attract new fans and loyal patrons.

CONNECTICUT

Sandra’s Next Generation
New Haven, CT | sandrasnextgeneration.com
203.787.4123

Owner Sandra Pittman spent years mastering the love and attention her mother put into infusing meat and vegetables with flavor. The restaurateur prides herself on serving fried chicken that wins hearts. It’s one of her favorite things to cook. She gets loads of compliments on her chicken by marinating it, adding her own blend of spices and serving it crispy and hot.

GEORGIA

Busy Bee Café
Atlanta, GA | thebusybeecafe.com
404.525.9212

Self-taught cook Lucy Jackson opened Busy Bee Café in 1947. Owner Tracy Gates carries on the tradition of soul-inspired cooking, including her own grandmother’s fried chicken recipe. The restaurant boasts of being tops in Atlanta for its award-winning chicken, homemade sides and desserts.

GG’s Southern Kitchen
Valdosta, GA | Facebook
229.548.7995

Ray and Gail Mobley combined the recipes from their southern farm roots and turned their passion for cooking into a family-owned restaurant. Gail learned to cook by watching her mother who never measured anything. The couple strives to treat everyone like family when they come into the restaurant given five stars on Yelp. Matthew W. from Florida raved about the fried chicken and other dishes in his review saying, “OMG, it’s soooooooooooooo good!”

Milk & Honey Cafe
Atlanta, GA – Bowie, MD – College Park, GAmilknhoneycafe.com
240.260.3141

Photo: Milk & Honey Cafe

With three restaurants dedicated to exceeding expectations, they stand behind their motto, “We didn’t create brunch… we perfected it!” Chef Sammy Davis took his tried-and-true favorites and added a few new twists to create what he calls “global cuisine.” Diners can have their fried chicken breasts smothered over a jumbo biscuit or deep fried whole wings that are perfectly seasoned.

HAWAII

Hughley’s Southern Cuisine
Aiea, HI | hawaiimiltarycatering.com
808.380.4200

A military veteran opened his restaurant and catering business to bring back memories of the South for men and women currently serving in the armed forces. Other residents of Hawaii also get to enjoy the fried chicken and southern fare that Thrillist says “does not disappoint.” The Cooking Channel featured the restaurant on an episode of “Road Trip with G. Gavin.”

INDIANA

Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place
Indianapolis, IN | kountrykitchenindy.com
317.926.4476

The beloved recipes that have delighted diners since 1988 are still served by Issac and Cynthia Wilson. They are carrying on the tradition that earned the restaurant a national reputation when Ms. Jessie and her daughter Nell were doing the cooking. President Barack Obama, Taraji P. Henson and Jimmy Fallon are among the celebrities who have dined there. The fried chicken and other southern dishes provide a dining experience that is “good for the soul.”

IOWA

Vivian’s Soul Food
Cedar Rapids, IA | vivianssoulfoodcr.com
319.396.2229

Jerome Smallwood named his restaurant after his mother. The soul food he serves pays tribute to a rich, family heritage that delivers home on every plate. His fried chicken with sides and other menu items are rooted in the southern traditions he learned in his mother’s kitchen. People rave about Smallwood’s cooking and his passion for pleasing patrons.

KENTUCKY

Shirley Mae’s Café & Bar
Louisville, KY | shirleymaescafe.com
502.589.5295

Shirley Mae Beard prides herself on making cooked-to-order jumbo fried chicken wings that are well-seasoned, moist and crispy. Her restaurant is known for its cozy atmosphere and the “little slice of heaven” southern classics she started serving 30 years ago. Be sure to order the hot water cornbread and one of her scrumptious desserts.

LOUISIANA

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
New Orleans, LA | dookychaserestaurant.com
504.821.0600

The chef recognized as the Queen of Creole Cuisine and a James Beard Awards Life Time Achievement winner transformed the barroom/sandwich shop that her husband’s family opened in 1941. Leah Chase married Dooky Chase, Jr. in 1946 and turned the restaurant into a fine-dining establishment where celebrities from Duke Ellington to President Barack Obama dined. Chase’s fried chicken frequently lands on lists of the best in the U.S. A judge in NOLA.com’s 2014 Quest for the Best Fried Chicken in New Orleans called hers “Damn near perfect.”

Lil’ Dizzy’s
New Orleans, LA | lildizzyscafe.net
504.569.8997

Photo: Gerod Stevens/GS1 Productions

Wayne Baquet takes pride in serving the Creole soul food his restaurateur father Eddie became legendary for in New Orleans. The fried chicken is one of the dishes the Baquets built their reputation on after opening their first restaurant in 1947. Lil’ Dizzy’s is the newest of the Tremé neighborhood fixtures that include Willie Mae’s Scotch House and Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.

Neyow’s Creole Café
New Orleans, LA | neyows.com
504.827.5474

Tanya Dubuclet cooks what her grandmother cooked to attract people from across the globe to Neyow’s Creole Café. People pack into the lively neighborhood restaurant for “New Orleans food that tastes like home.” Get your order of fried chicken with any two sides.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House
New Orleans, LA | williemaesnola.com
504.822.9503

Kerry Seaton Stewart runs the legendary restaurant her great-grandmother opened in the historic Tremé neighborhood in 1957. She still puts “love” into the spicy, juicy treat that the Food Network and Travel Channel recognized as “America’s Best Fried Chicken.” The James Beard Awards also recognized Willie Mae Seaton’s culinary talents with “America’s Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region” in 2005.

MARYLAND

Ida B’s Table
Baltimore, MD | idabstable.com
410.844.0444

The lessons partner and chef David Thomas learned from his grandmother in her North Carolinian kitchen inspire the food that keeps her memory alive. The Old Bay fried chicken and other southern staples are generating loyal patrons and rave reviews. Baltimore Magazine listed the restaurant named after civil rights activist and journalist Ida B. Wells as one of the 50 best in the city.

MASSACHUSETTS

The Coast Café
Cambridge, MA | coastsoulcafe.com
617.354.7644

Tony Brooks and his family serve “healthy, savory soul food made with 100% pure love!” The restaurant is dedicated to the memory of his father, Major E. Brooks, a community volunteer in the Cambridge neighborhood where Tony grew up. Eater Boston included the café on its list of top 27 restaurants for fried chicken in the Boston area.

MICHIGAN

Motor City Soul Food
Detroit, MI | officialmotorcitysoulfood.com
313.863.7685 or 248.968.4444

George and Martha Clay serve down-home, traditional soul food at two locations in Detroit. The recipes traveled to Motor City from Mississippi. People frequently line up around the block to get a taste of the fried chicken that is crispy perfection and other soul food favorites.

MINNESOTA

Breaking Bread Café & Catering
Minneapolis, MN | breakingbreadfoods.com
612.529.9346

Executive chef and co-owner Lachelle Cunningham cooked for her family, catered food and attended culinary school before taking on a restaurant with a social mission and vision. She serves fresh and flavorful comfort foods with global influences. The café provides employment opportunities and job training for locals while serving homemade battered and fried chicken with southern sides

MISSISSIPPI

The Old Country Store Restaurant
Lorman, MS | Facebook
601.437.3661

Arthur Davis used his grandmother’s recipe when he started serving his fried chicken in Lorman. Mr. D’s skill in making this southern staple earned him a reputation as the “fried chicken king.” People drive hours to get some of his heavenly fried chicken that earned a spot on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

NEBRASKA

Quick Bites Soul Food
Bellevue, NE | quickbitessoulfoodne.com
402.715.4419

Photo: Facebook/ Quick Bites Soul Food

Justin Epting opened this family-owned restaurant in 2016. He wanted to fill the craving for soul food in Bellevue, and provide healthy, made-from-scratch dishes to veterans a long way from home. Chef Brandon Davis mans the kitchen. You can order the chicken fried, smoked or smothered along with tasty sides and desserts.

NEVADA

Ella Em’s Soul Food
Las Vegas, NV | ellaems.com
702.823.4444

The soulful grace of Ella Rea Gray’s down-home cooking inspired her granddaughter-in-law to learn the secret recipes that the family matriarch brought to Nevada from Mississippi. Aem Upachak and Gray’s grandson Pierre now serve that memorable soul food at their Las Vegas restaurant. Of course, fried chicken prepared with “Granny’s Special Seasoning” is one of the most popular dishes on the menu.

NEW JERSEY

Jameson’s Southern Cooking
Neptune City, NJ | jamesonssoutherncooking.com
732.775.4699

The love and passion that owner Robert Jameson puts into the fried chicken and other dishes on the menu have won him corporate clients and celebrity fans, including Patti LaBelle. What started as a chicken and rib takeout joint is now a casual sit-down restaurant considered among the best serving southern food on the Jersey Shore.

Kelsey’s and Kelsey & Kim’s Southern Café
Atlantic City, NJ | kelseysac.com
609-344-2200 or 609-350-6800

Kelsey and Kimberly Jackson want their guests to feel right at home when they visit the café for a casual meal or plan an evening of soul food and music at the restaurant in Atlantic City. Fried chicken is one of the staples on both menus. Southern-raised Kelsey worked his way up through the ranks of local restaurants. Check out the four and a half stars and scrumptious photos on Yelp to get a glimpse of what is cooking in the kitchen.

NEW YORK

Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken
Harlem, NY | 212.281.1800

Owner Charles Gabriel fries dry-rubbed, well-seasoned chicken in a big, cast iron skillet he brought from North Carolina, where he was born. He’s been frying chicken the way his mother taught him for more than six decades. A New Yorker Magazine article called Gabriel “The Fried-Chicken King of Harlem.”

SoCo
Brooklyn, NY | socobk.com
718.783.1936

Photo: SoCo

Kenya Moore of Real Housewives of Atlanta fame mentioned this southern fusion restaurant and cocktail bar on Instagram. She might have dropped the name because her husband Marc Daly owns SoCo, or because the southern comfort favorites on the menu are delighting diners. The organic buttermilk fried chicken comes with a red velvet waffle at lunch, brunch and dinner.

The Pink Tea Cup
Brooklyn, NY | lpthechef.com
347.227.7472

When Lawrence Page took over the 55-year-old establishment after it closed in 2009, he had no idea how hard operating a successful kitchen would be. He survived the ups and downs of going into the restaurant business and built a new following for the fried chicken, collard greens and other soul food favorites on the menu. The ambitious chef is now a familiar face on reality TV. His Pink Tea Cup Villa in Miami was the setting for the second season of  “Hustle & Soul” on WE TV earlier this year.

NORTH CAROLINA

Mama Dip’s Kitchen
Chapel Hill, NC | mamadips.com
919.942.5837

Mildred “Mama Dip” Council, the granddaughter of a slave, started serving her lightly peppered chicken fried in shortening 42 years ago. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 89, but her daughter Spring Council, along with her other children and grandchildren are keeping one of Chapel Hill’s most beloved food destinations in business.

Miss Ora’s Kitchen
Winston-Salem, NC | missoraskitchen.com
336.725.6257

Chef Stephanie Tyson concentrates on getting the fried chicken and a few more items just right at the small six-counter-seat eatery. The pan-fried chicken can be ordered with a couple of biscuits or sides such as potato salad, greens and coleslaw.

PENNYSLVANIA

Keven Parker’s Soul Food Café
Philadelphia, PA | www.kevenparker.net/wp
215.731.9045

The cooking instructions KeVen Parker received when his mom called from one of her jobs provide the foundation for his success as a restaurateur. Chef Robert Irvine picked the Philadelphia native’s fried chicken as his favorite on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” The recipe came from his grandmother who passed it on to his mom. Parker also owns Miss Tootsie’s Soul Food, which is named after his mother and also serves her fried chicken.

South
Philadelphia, PA | southjazzkitchen.com
215.600.0220

Brothers Robert and Benjamin Bynum built a reputation for fine restaurants before opening South. The combination jazz room, bar and lounge serve southern cuisine with “heirloom ingredients, purity and originality.” The buttermilk fried chicken comes with a hot drizzle of honey and vegetable sides. South made the list of Philly’s top 50 restaurants.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Martha Lou’s Kitchen
Charleston, SC | marthalouskitchen.com
843.577.9583

Martha Lou Gadsen’s culinary talents have kept South Carolinians coming to her soul food sanctuary for more than three decades. The fried chicken is always on the menu. It is double-dredged, fried in peanut oil and comes out craggy and golden. Gadsen’s daughters and granddaughters are now part of the food traditions that attracted the Travel Channel and Martha Stewart Living Magazine to the Charleston restaurant.

SOUTH DAKOTA

O’ So Good
Garretson, SD | osogoodgarretson.com
605.594.3600

Co-owner and executive chef Omar Thornton believes dishes with soul can only be created “through the love and respect of food.” He combined his experiences with great dishes served in working-class homes with street-style ethnic foods popular on food trucks. The fried chicken and other dishes on his menu receive excellent reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor.

TENNESSEE

Prince’s Hot Chicken
Nashville, TN | princeshotchicken.com
615.226.9442 or 615.810.9388

Photo: James Collier/James Beard Foundation

Almost 100 years after Thornton Prince became the father of Nashville’s hot chicken, his great niece, Andre Prince Jeffries, serves his recipe at two locations in the city, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Prince’s Hot Chicken South. People all around the country are jumping into the hot chicken trend, but this Nashville favorite sets the standard for lip-stinging goodness.

VIRGINIA

Mel’s Café
Charlottesville, VA | 434.971.8819

Proprietor Mel Walker serves the food he watched his grandma prepare. His made-to-order fried chicken smacks of the best in comfort cooking. Get the chicken platter that comes with two pieces and two sides.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Oohh’s Aahh’s
Washington, D.C. | oohhsnaahhs.com
202.667.7142 or 202.882.2902

Award-winning chef Oji Abbott opened his first Oohhs & Aahhs restaurant in 2003. He now has two locations serving soul food in Washington, D.C. Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” showed Abbott’s fried chicken on TV. Oohh’s & Aahh’s special southern fried chicken wingettes are prepared with Chef “O”s special blend of seasonings; garnered from generations of family recipes. His popular “chicken extraordinaire” is cooked daily to perfection.

WEST VIRGINIA

Sumthin’ Good Soul Food
South Charleston, WV | 304.768.0968

Owner Denise Jones knows if her food starts the right way, it will still be good no matter what time you stop by the restaurant. Her “Mama Neisy’s Fried Chicken” is deep-fried daily, keeping the meat juicy and the crust crispy. One food blogger wrote, “This place is serving up some seriously good comfort food. I can’t wait to go back.”

WISCONSIN

The Cozzy Corner Southern Food
Appleton, WI | thecozzycorner1.com
920.364.9563

Natasha Banks missed her mom’s cooking and the social gatherings she enjoyed growing up. She opened a restaurant to showcase her mother’s recipes and her family’s love of music. Patrons enjoy her flavor-packed food and the blues music playing. Plenty of four and five-star reviews testify about the fried chicken or other soul food meat plates with sides.

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The joy of cooking became a part of her life when Phyllis was a child learning her way around the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. Her retirement from a demanding career in broadcast news has given her time to write about African-American chefs and restaurant owners as well as other black professionals succeeding in the travel and wine industries. Phyllis still loves to cook and try out new recipes.