Even before all the Popeyes brouhaha, the fried-chicken sandwich appeared on many lunch menus, usually listed below the burger in the pecking order.
You likely didn’t notice because it’s not a sexy meal. We seem to love fried-chicken sandwiches more in a fast-food context. But I would argue the best chicken sammies aren’t your drive-thru variety. It’s likely already in your favorite diner or corner pub.
That chicken sandwich will always be on the menu, and chefs will always toy with it to make it more appetizing simply because poultry is the cheapest protein, which makes it an important seller for any restaurant’s bottom line.
Here are my 10 favorite chicken sandwiches in Seattle, with one sammie that stands above all the rest.
Best fried-chicken sandwich in Seattle:
The other fried-chicken sammies around town tower over this squat sandwich by a good 1-to-2 inches, but don’t let appearances fool you. This is the best chicken sandwich in town. The ratio of juicy dark meat to craggy crust is perfect, and it is structurally impeccable, the batter sticking to the meat and never falling apart like many other fried chickens. It’s a clean bite that tastes, well, like a bird, without the pomp of any slaw or exotic flavored aioli. This unfussy sandwich ($6.95) comes with just a squirt of mayo and three pickles on a buttered burger bun. Unlike most purveyors, SODO Chicken leaves the skin on the thigh meat, so you get that extra layer of salty, crispy fat flavor. The best fried chicken out of a bucket comes with the skin on, so why should it be any different with a chicken sandwich?
6538 Fourth Ave. S.; 206-898-5862, facebook.com/sodochicken
All the other runners-up (in no particular order)
Bok a Bok
This Korean fried-chicken-style sandwich has an audible crunch; owner Brian O’Connor called it a “potato-chip-py” sound that came from all his mad-scientist tinkering before he settled on a six-flour blend. The crackling, tempura-like batter that enrobes the briny butterflied thigh meat is two times thicker than the competitors’ but still obtains an airy lightness. Fried chicken gets dressed up in four different combos of sauces and seasonings — from a soy-sesame-garlic take to a yuzu-green-chili mix, but the best is his “spicy” sandwich ($8), with a medley of house-blend hot sauce, red chili aioli, pickled serrano chilies and kimchi.
Bok a Bok has locations in White Center, Burien, Capitol Hill and the University District. It’s also served at the Runaway bar on Capitol Hill; bokabokchicken.com
This will ruffle some feathers, but you know why that Chick-fil-A sandwich tastes so good? It’s loaded with MSG. Likewise, this Hawaiian-Asian-inspired sandwich ($11) packs an umami punch, heavily seasoned and dredged with soy sauce powder, ground shiitake mushroom, tomato powder, garlic, dried seaweed and, for good measure, the King’s Hawaiian sweet bun gets glossed with Japanese Kewpie (which acclaimed chef David Chang declared is “the best mayonnaise in the world because it has MSG.”) Ma’ono’s is one of the few chicken breasts that made our list because unlike most white meat, which tends to be stringy and dry, Ma’ono’s tastes juicy because it’s brined and then bathed in buttermilk.
Locations in West Seattle, University Village and Capitol Hill; maonoseattle.com
Sisters and Brothers
The four-alarm fire that is this Nashville hot chicken sandwich features two lard-rubbed tenders, smaller pieces to allow for more surface to soak up more cayenne-habanero heat. Every slope and angle of the craggy crust gets blanketed in an orange-red sheen of hot sauce. At first I complained this sandwich was overworked with dripping slaw and sauce. But you need every bit from all the bit players (pickles, coleslaw, mayo, lettuce) to douse the fire in your mouth. Sandwich ($15) comes with side of fries, slaw, mac and cheese or collards.
1128 S. Albro Place, Seattle; 206-762-3767, sistersandbrothersbar.com
This beef nirvana pays homage to the poultry with its version of Buffalo chicken wings re-imagined as a sandwich ($9.50). The Katsu-style chicken coated in a panko-crumb crust is essentially a sponge for the ranch dressing with lumpy blue cheese and slivers of celery. That orange lava is Frank’s hot sauce, classy with Champagne vinegar and butter. Like those bar wings, this gets messy. But that’s what napkins are for.
4302 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle; 206-547-2600, uneedaburger.com
Chicken sandwiches often taste flat when they go over the top, riffing on the classic mayo-pickle-hot-sauce blueprint. This version, though, works: Sriracha mayo with a housemade dill pickle, smoked paprika, cayenne peppers, Fresno chili peppers and kimchi, the last especially adds a funky, spicy-and-sour layer of complexity. After eating this gem, you will wish more chefs used kimchi instead of pickles in their chicken sandwich. The buttermilk chicken sandwich ($15) comes with fries. Served only during lunch.
Ben Paris bar restaurant inside The State Hotel, 1501 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-513-7300, statehotel.com
Sunset Fried Chicken
Chef Monica Dimas’ take is one of the best on Capitol Hill, tender Draper Valley dark meat that’s been pickle-brined overnight (it’s rumored that Chick-fil-A’s chicken is prepped that way) and gets encased in a thick, crunchy coating. Her spicy “picante” sandwich ($13 with fries) swings more mild-and-tart than on the fiery side. The sandwich has a piquant pickle punch from the vinegary jalapeño and cabbage slaw and a creamy chili mayo. The downside is Dimas’ chicken sandwich is located inside a 21-and-over spot, Queer Bar, so you have to get it delivered through Postmates, DoorDash or Uber Eats if you’re underage. Or wait til early next year when she opens in Concourse D at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
1518 11th Ave. (inside Queer Bar), Seattle; sunsetfriedchicken.com
I can pick a Skillet chicken sandwich out of a lineup blindfolded, it’s so aromatic. The 48-hour fennel-brined dark meat is coated in a fennel-seed-crusted batter along with other herbs for a tangy, slightly licorice bite. The kale and the charred, pickled pepper aioli add to that bright green taste. The $16 sandwich comes with your choice of fries, salad or soup.
Four locations including Denny Regrade, Capitol Hill, Seattle Center and Sea-Tac Airport, currently at the N Satellite and early 2020 at Concourse C; skilletfood.com/restaurants
Fat’s Chicken and Waffles
This towering version includes two stacks of thigh meat along with pickles, tomatoes and greens piled into a hoagie roll. It’s a sharp, garlicky bite. You can get a smaller $10 lunch version, but it’s the $15 supersized dinner portion that sings. Comes with your choice of sides (14 options, including fried green tomatoes and a rice and sausage gravy).
2726 E. Cherry St., Seattle; 206-602-6863, fatschickenandwaffles.com
This is the only variation with cheese that made our top 10 — that’s because other takes were just the lazy kitchen swapping in a poultry piece in what otherwise would have been called a bacon cheeseburger. This Ballard sandwich shop constructed a variation where all the parts complement the poultry better. The melted provolone just molds onto the breaded cutlet; the salty cheese is balanced by creamy-tart zings of a red-bell-pepper relish, Hellmann’s mayo and Frank’s hot sauce and served on a Macrina bun. It’s a ginormous sandwich ($12) that’s conveniently cut in half, ideal for leftovers.
1510 N.W. Leary Way, Seattle; 206-789-9999, meansandwich.com