The fried chicken category caught fire this year. While Barbecue Inn, Frenchy’s, and Al Aseel are still the top three in the Houston fried chicken game, as far as I’m concerned, I really enjoyed sampling top chefs' versions of fried chicken this year. Here are five stand-outs:
1. Liberty Kitchen
Chef Travis Lenig of Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar thinks his “Dixie Fried Chicken” is the best thing on the menu—and I won't disagree. He brines his chicken then marinates it in buttermilk before finally getting around to dredging it in seasoned flour and frying it for the Wednesday special. The result is amazingly juicy—though a tad greasy. Chef Lenig makes 50 plates of chicken for lunch and 50 plates for dinner. You get a leg, a wing, a breast, and a thigh with fries, as well as coleslaw, hot sauce syrup, and bacon cream gravy to dip the chicken in as you go.
Chef Randy Evans's organic, free-range, buttermilk-marinated family chicken dinner with three sides is one of the best items on Haven’s menu. It’s made to order, so it takes awhile to prepare—you can get it herb-roasted or Southern-fried. The fried chicken is moist and tender under a very thick seasoned crust that, sadly, comes off a little too easily. The fried version comes to the table in eight convenient pieces with three bowls of sides. Get the creamy mashed potatoes thick andouille sausage gravy and farmers' market roasted vegetables.
3. Eleven XI Restaurant and Bar
The fried bird at Eleven XI isn’t a chicken—it’s a whole Cornish game hen that’s been brined in Katz’s Honeybush Apricot tea, fresh herbs, and citrus and then battered and deep-fried. The crust sticks to the bird, the meat is juicy, and just when you think you’ve finished, you discover the bonus—there’s more crunchy crust on the INSIDE of the hen! Kudos to chef Kevin Bryant for the ingenious twist on the Southern classic. (You can get also get the bird roasted if you want.)
4. Funky Chicken
This new fast-casual joint specializes in crispy fried chicken, but also offers roasted chicken. Southern-style sides include biscuits, cornbread, creamy mashed potatoes, and a bowl of chicken gravy with carrots, chicken chunks, and potatoes that tastes more like chicken stew than gravy. There’s also a tempting chicken pot pie. The restaurant is the first foray into the Houston market by legendary California chef Bradley Ogden.
5. Frank’s Americana Revival
When Texas food history buff Michael Shine bought the restaurant, he elevated chef Albert Estrada’s fried chicken from a weekly special to a regular menu item—and for good reason. The buttermilk fried chicken is extra-crunchy, and the dark meat is exceptional, though sometimes the center of the breast is a little dry. It is featured on the regular dinner menu and available for lunch once a week, on Fridays. The chicken comes with whipped potatoes, sautéed green beans, and a cheddar biscuit.