Alberta Market's fried chicken and jojos: maximal crunch for your buck, served out of a paper bag.

Image: Michael Novak

Is there any dish as classic and as frequently riffed upon as fried chicken? From Southern-style bone-in chicken to Cambodian wings to creative, towering sandwich creations, there’s fried chicken for every palate in Portland. Our top picks (appearing here in alphabetical order) spanned all these genres, but they all have two major criteria in mind: maximal juice and crunch. That means that no tenders or nuggets made the cut; nor did any fried chicken sandwiches made with chicken breast. The flavors—ranging from snow cheese to essence of instant ramen to green papaya–topped bacon jam—are just the icing on the cake that is an already excellent fried bird. Don't see your favorite on the list? Drop us a suggestion in the comments!

Alberta Market

Alberta Market serves up a classic, no-frills fried chicken that hits all the right marks.

Image: Michael Novak

Arrive early to this Northeast convenience store to grab white paper bags stuffed with plump, whole chicken wings and petite jojos before they sell out for the day—complete with individually wrapped hot sauce packets and plastic containers of mass-produced ranch. What makes this corner-store chicken stand out from the rest? Former Portland Monthly food editor Benjamin Tepler did a little sleuthing back in December 2017: “The secret? Quality Draper Valley chickens sizzled in an open fryer rather than a soggy pressure cooker, according to owner Chris Chung, who’s been tinkering with his recipe for more than a decade.” 909 NE Alberta St, 503-282-2169

Bae’s Fried Chicken

Hot chicken is the way to go at Bae's.

 

Though it doesn't get the hype affixed to restaurateur Micah Camden's other food projects, this 2019-launched downtown joint with a recently opened second location in Sellwood is worth knowing for the spicy fried chicken alone. It’s smoky and tingly, an intriguing kind of spice that makes you want to take another bite even while your tongue burns and your forehead beads with sweat. Order as few as two pieces or the whole bird, simply served with pickles and placed on top of white bread stained with the chicken’s brick-red, oily spices. It’s absolutely worth the upcharge for the spicy peach barbecue sauce (think peach jam with a chile kick) and the Southern-style comeback sauce, both ideal for slathering your chicken. 225 SW Ash St, 503-954-1635, and 1613 SE Bybee Blvd

Big’s Chicken

While not the juiciest chicken of the lot, Big’s chicken wings stand out for their unique smoky, aromatic flavor, thanks to the smoked-then-fried cooking process and a marinade in Fresno chile. They go great with jojos and coleslaw, or alongside wonderfully melty, stringy fried mac-and-cheese bites. Get plenty of creamy, tangy Alabama white barbecue sauce for dipping. 4606 NE Glisan St, Portland, and 4570 SW Watson Ave, Beaverton

Chimaek Town

Chimaek Town's snow cheese chicken wings

This Northwest hotspot for Korean fried chicken wings is home to hard-to-find flavors like snow cheese (a lightly sweetened batter with a dusting of powdered Parmesan-like cheese) and the excellent honey butter (drenched with sweet, buttery goodness), alongside more common flavors like soy-garlic and sweet-spicy sauce, all sided with refreshing cubed pickled radish. Complete the Korean drinking and snacking experience with a giant bottle of Hite beer and sides of ddukbokki and cheese corn. 2330 NW Thurman St

Chimcking

This Beaverton outpost of a franchise founded in South Korea softly opened last fall with a streamlined, straightforward menu of Korean fried chicken, popular drinking snacks like cheesy ddukbokki, and Korean beer. Our pick: the half-and-half plate of spicy and soy-garlic wings—both like eating candied, crispy chicken—a plate of cheesy ddukbokki (spicier than most other versions we’ve tried, and with fish cakes galore), and a Hite to wash it down. 11741 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy, Beaverton

Gumba

Pasta parlor Gumba serves its fried chicken sandwich only once a week, on Wednesdays for dinner—but it’s well worth planning your whole week around it. Offerings include a classic fried chicken sandwich with pickles and mayo and a hot fried chicken sandwich with zucchini pickles. Keep your eyes peeled for out-of-the-box, carefully composed specials like the excellent green papaya and bacon jam sandwich, topped with melted fontina, fried shallots, and zucchini pickles sliced the long way. Regardless of the toppings you choose, you’re in for juicy chicken thighs in audibly crunchy, not-too-greasy breading, served atop a beautifully toasted bun. With Basilisk on hiatus, Gumba easily takes Portland’s fried chicken sandwich crown. 1733 NE Alberta St

Hat Yai

Hat Yai has an impressive menu, but the go-to for many is the #1 fried chicken combo.

The indisputable order for first-timers at Hat Yai: the #1 combo of a Thai-style fried chicken leg quarter, roti, sticky rice, and curry sauce. “A heap of chicken is dredged in rice flour and coated with fried shallots, white pepper, and whole toasted coriander that fuse to the crispy, browned skin,” PoMo critic Karen Brooks wrote in her 2016 Best Restaurants write-up of the Southern Thai restaurant. Add on a fried wing for bonus points. 605 SE Belmont St and 1605 NE Killingsworth St

Jojo

The exceptionally crunchy, perfectly seasoned jojos at the eponymous Jojo cart are, of course, legendary, as are the plethora of dipping sauce options (shout-out to the house ranch and the jojo sauce). But so are the fried chicken sandwiches, which come in all sorts of iterations from the classic to the spicy to the chicken-bacon-ranch to the not-so-traditional chicken melt served on shokupan bread. They’re gigantic and pleasantly greasy, but guaranteed to put you in a food coma even before you’ve taken your last bite. 3582 SE Powell Blvd

Kee’s Loaded Kitchen

We came equipped with an umbrella and braved the line in the rain for Kee’s Loaded Kitchen, with food and good vibes that couldn’t be dampened by the weather as customers happily chatted among themselves in line and danced to 2000s R&B. The cart’s signature loaded plate gets you some of everything on the menu—in our case, brisket, pulled pork, mac and cheese (or rather, Mac ’n’ Kee’s), potatoes, corn on the cob, catfish, fried chicken, potato salad, beans, lemonade, and cake—all noteworthy, but you’re here to read about the fried chicken. These super-juicy wings come lightly breaded and fiercely seasoned, with a tanginess and zest that dances on your tongue—we detected lemon pepper—and they pair perfectly with the bright-red, vinegary hot sauce. Worth. The. Wait. 3625 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd

Matta

Keep an eye on Matta's Instagram page for the next time the VFC (Vietnamese Fried Chicken) is on offer.

Image: Michael Novak

Fried chicken is rarely described as delicate, but Matta’s fried chicken easily could be: lightly dredged in rice flour and coconut milk, then fried to a thin, delicate crisp. In one variation, a fried chicken leg and thigh get imbued with the nutty, creamy flavor of coconut milk, sided by refreshing, spicy house-made slaw, fluffy white rice, and essential nuoc cham for dunking, dipping, and drizzling. In the VFC version pictured above, owner Richard Le riffs on the Colonel with buckets of chicken, mashed potatoes, and pandan buns. Check the cart’s Instagram to see what's on offer that day. 4311 NE Prescott St

Merendero Estela

Merendero Estela packs to-go containers full of quarter fried birds and thinly sliced fried green plantains, all drizzled in a mayo-based sauce and served with zippy pickled red onions.

Back in October, I lamented that Merendero Estela, though recognized by other local food media for its excellent fried chicken, plantains, and baleadas, hadn’t, to my knowledge, made any top fried chicken lists. That changes now; this cart’s super-juicy, lightly breaded fried chicken is some of the best in the city. Your quarter of a fried chicken comes with thinly sliced fried green plantains, pickled red onions (an essential foil to the juicy, slightly greasy chicken), and a drizzle of tangy, creamy mayo dressing. It’s plenty to feed one, if not two people. But that shouldn’t stop you from commissioning a baleada on the side—a thick handmade flour tortilla stuffed with black beans, sour cream, avocado, and scrambled egg. 7107 SE 82nd Ave

Ms. T’s

For classic, no-frills Southern-style comfort food, head to Ms. T’s at the Cartlandia pod, which churns out super-succulent chicken with crisp, craggy, perfectly seasoned breading, served with plastic tubs of vinegary hot sauce. Also on offer: excellent cornmeal-breaded fried catfish, mac and cheese that nails the cheese-to-creaminess ratio, and cabbage with pork, cooked down until it becomes buttery. Call ahead for an eerily accurate, down-to-the-minute estimate of when your chicken will be ready. 8145 SE 82nd Ave

Nacheaux

Nacheaux opened in a world of uncertainty, just days after restaurant dining rooms closed to the public in March 2020. But in less than a year, Anthony and Stephanie Brown have skyrocketed from their teal unicorn-emblazoned cart at the Cartlandia pod on 82nd to a brick-and-mortar restaurant on NE Fremont that opened March 5. Beyond the fact that their food just flat-out tastes great, it’s unlike anything else you’ll find in the city: a mashup of the Cajun and Mexican flavors Anthony grew up eating in Los Angeles with his Southern-born mother and Mexican-American stepfather, with a constantly changing menu and plenty of playful specials. Look for fried chicken in all kinds of iterations: on tacos using handmade tortillas infused with Cajun spice; on sandwiches garnished with Cajun-seasoned crema, red cabbage, pickles, and a layer of griddled cheese; in crunchwraps stuffed with mac and cheese; plates of smoked-then-fried wings with fries; and alongside waffles for brunch (hot Cheeto variations included). 4765 NE Fremont St

Reel M Inn

It’s back, baby! Beloved dive bar and fried chicken destination Reel M Inn has been through multiple pandemic pivots—shutting down at the beginning of the pandemic, then shifting to fried chicken sandwiches, then going on indefinite hiatus in November. When Reel M Inn briefly reopened to offer wings for Super Bowl Sunday, those useless but delicious flight appendages sold out within hours (yours truly called five times to try to place an order, without any luck). Now, Reel M Inn is back with bone-in chicken Wednesday through Monday from 4 to  8 p.m. for patio dining and takeout. Place your order via text message 24 hours in advance; see Reel M Inn’s Instagram post for more details. 2430 SE Division St

Prey & Tell

At Prey & Tell, Diane Lam serves crunchy Cambodian-style chicken wings with housemade sauces, like this French-Cambodian ranch dressing based on a recipe her aunt taught her.

When chef Diane Lam opened Sunshine Noodles last summer as a contemporary Cambodian pop-up at Psychic Bar, she charmed us with noodle soups, potato chip salads, and punchy lime-pepper fried chicken wings. On March 4, she switched up her concept and opened Prey & Tell at Psychic Bar, a restaurant focusing on fried chicken with banana leaf-wrapped packs of rice and garnishes. These Cambodian-style chicken wings are battered in rice flour, making them gluten-free yet exceptionally crunchy. What really puts these wings over the top are the house-made sauces only Lam, with her creativity and unique life experiences, could make: makrut lime buffalo sauce, lime-pepper sauce, French-Cambodian ranch dressing, and fish sauce–butter emulsion. We’ll take all four. 3560 N Mississippi Ave

Toki

On Hulu’s Eater’s Guide to the World, PoMo food critic Karen Brooks professed her love for Han Oak’s fried chicken wings, dusted with essence of instant ramen seasoning: “I love this Titanic crunch,” she said in an epic, trademark-worthy catchphrase moment. “I want that dust on everything. Could you put it on a doughnut, please?” 

Han Oak, the creative home-as-restaurant, is temporarily closed while chef Peter Cho and his wife, Sun Young Park, smooth out operations at their newly opened downtown spot, Toki. But already, Toki is doing things I never thought possible: creating iterations of the fried chicken wing that rival their ramen-essence-dusted counterparts. Get the flight so you can try both new flavors alongside the classic. The soy-garlic version is sticky, aromatic, and pleasantly sweet, but for me, the real star is the Korean hot chicken wings, which taste like they’ve been supercharged with Shin Ramen powder. I want that dust on everything. 58 SW 12th Ave

On Hiatus:

Basilisk

We haven’t made it to Basilisk in recent times—the restaurant is temporarily offline due to the pandemic—but those in the know are impatiently awaiting the return of these top-tier fried chicken sandwiches. “You’ll find a superlative fried chicken sandwich, double-stacked with heavily battered, crackly-crisp hunks of dark meat, and topped with bread and butter pickles, slaw, and a buttered bun,” wrote Portland Monthly’s Benjamin Tepler . 820 NE 27th Ave