You don’t need to camp overnight to get these tasty cluckers.
Chick-fil-A opened its doors in Bellevue at 6 a.m. April 9, 2015, to a huge line, including many who’d camped out in the parking lot overnight to greet the first Washington franchise of the fast-food spot. Chick-fil-A’s popularity is undeniable — it’s the Krispy Kreme of the chicken sandwich, especially beloved by some who grew up with it in the South — but that’s not the only reason every Chick-fil-A opens to camped-out crowds. The company gives a year’s worth of free food to the first 100 people at every launch, guaranteeing anticipatory hordes.
It’s great P.R., and as Chick-fil-A expands — two more are imminent, in Tacoma and Lynnwood — it needs all the great PR it can get. Starting in 2011, the company was the subject of a nationwide controversy, because of president Dan Cathy’s anti-gay-marriage stance and donations by Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm to anti-gay causes. They’ve since seen the error of their ways, or at least the virtue of appealing to everyone, bringing both Cathy’s problematic public statements and the objectionable giving to an end.
Now those who were morally queasy might possibly feel OK about eating at Chick-fil-A, depending on how forgiving they feel. But it’d be wrong to overlook our other fried-chicken-sandwich options — from locally owned places that are committed to high-quality ingredients, like antibiotic-free chicken. (To be fair, Chick-fil-A’s working on a five-year no-antibiotics plan themselves; they’re 20 percent there, which makes for only OK PR.)
These are more expensive than the plain-Jane, just-a-pickle-on-top franchise favorite, but they’re also more elaborate and more interesting. And you might even say they taste like they’re made with love.
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Skillet’s fried-chicken “sammy” (cuteness theirs) sounds overcomplicated, but its fennel-seed crust is subtle, the jalapeño aioli just hints at heat, and the kale keeps its health to itself, adding only a frisson of texture, while a pillowy Macrina potato bun miraculously maintains structural integrity. And the bird! The deep-brown, crisply breaded pieces stick out the sandwich’s side, and once bitten, it’s all juicy umami, like Thanksgiving instead of a bland protein patty. The secret: Draper Valley thigh meat, brined for at least a day, then buttermilk-soaked for another. It costs $13 but comes with hand-cut fries, soup or salad, plus Skillet’s classy nouveau-diner atmosphere. If you don’t believe in a benevolent god, this sandwich might make you rethink things. Two Seattle locations and a truck (skilletstreetfood.com)
The sandwiches at this adorable Capitol Hill shotgun space come on biscuits so huge and fluffy, they require a knife and fork. The chicken, pounded thin, is also Draper Valley, brined in buttermilk, lemon, garlic, thyme and Crystal hot sauce, while the crust’s crackling goodness extends for inches out into space. The Aunt Annie’s comes with bread-and-butter pickles, honey and house-made mustard, hitting all the sweet/sour/spicy/savory spots (and the soft/sticky/crunchy ones, too). It’s $10, but big enough to share. 403 15th Ave. E., Seattle (206-323-9938 or thewanderinggoose.com)
Mammoth’s sleek, tiled Eastlake space looks spartan, but the sandwiches satisfy via surfeit. The Predator has deboned Draper Valley fried-chicken legs, thin slices of pork belly, Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, arugula and caper aioli, all on a big, golden, sub-style Macrina roll. The pork belly is smoky but not overwhelming; the peppers are more dominant (maybe get them on the side). It’s $12, but it’s large and comes with a paper bag of kettle-style potato chips (house-made, natch). Mammoth arguably overdoes it, but in excess, there is joy. 2501 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle (206-946-1065 or mammothseattle.com)
Local chain Burgermaster has time-travel drive-ins where they hang a tray from your window, plus old-school sit-down locations. Go off-menu here and ask for “the crispy chicken sandwich”: two big tenders on a squishy, toasted bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo. It’s $7.35 and served piping hot. The chicken comes from less-than-stellar vendors like Tyson and Breakbush, but the burgers are made with local, grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef (and they’re actually really good — Bill Gates is reportedly a big fan). Burgermaster feels good while scratching the fast-food itch. Two Seattle locations, Bellevue, Everett, Mill Creek (burgermaster.biz)
[Eds. note: Pinky’s Kitchen has since closed, saying it would look for a permanent spot.] Pinky’s is a trailer moored by a semi-permanent shelter in the parking lot of the Wallingford Winchell’s. Hardworking people come here for lunch (overheard: “I’m exhausted, I’ve been digging a ditch all morning”), and the chicken sandwich will do them right. It’s a $9 monster, 8 inches long, made with thigh meat (from Sea Bend, where Paseo also shops), which is slow smoked before it’s fried, lending a pleasant hammy note. The roll isn’t fancy, but it’s fresh, and the spicy aioli actually makes your mouth tingle. Also: stellar macaroni and cheese, and the world’s nicest staff. 211 N.E. 45th St., Seattle (pinkyskitchen.com)