Bird’s The Word: Chicago’s Most Finger-Lickin’ Chicken

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! In Chicago, everyone who feels like chicken tonight is in the winner’s circle, because there’s a whole city of plump, juicy birds waiting to be discovered. Some of our favorites come straight from the fryer, while others are char-grilled, roasted, or even tucked between two pillowy slices of brioche. Taste these and trust us — you won’t believe you ever let chicken take a backseat to steak. And, don’t be afraid to try them all — what are you, chicken?

1 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Standard Market Grill.
Knife and Fork Chicken and Waffles at Standard Market Grill
Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life, like slathering butter all over a waffle and drenching it in maple syrup. Better yet, when that waffle is remarkably fluffy and topped with two hefty hunks of FreeBird chicken (organic, antibiotic-free birds raised on family farms in Pennsylvania) fried to a crackly golden-brown crisp. The dish is called Knife and Fork Chicken and Waffles, but no one will mind if you dive in with your hands to get every last bite off the bone.

Standard Market Grill, 444 West Fullerton Avenue (at Clark Street); 773-857-3080.
2 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Lillie's Q.
Smoked Fried Chicken at Lillie’s Q
A winner on the competitive BBQ circuit (yes, there is a competitive BBQ circuit), chef Charlie McKenna puts a special spin on fried chicken: He smokes his juicy bird over peach wood and charcoal before frying it in a light batter. The result is somehow airy and crispy, with zero trace of grease. Ranch or blue cheese would overwhelm the delicate coating and smoky flavor; instead, slather these puppies in sticky Tupelo honey. Talk about literally sweetening the pot…

Lillie's Q, 1856 West North Avenue (at Wolcott Avenue); 773-772-5500.
3 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Travelle.
Grilled Half-Chicken at Travelle
Pick your chicken at this sleek new spot in the Langham Hotel — either flaming saganaki wings (saganaki referring to the small frying pan that yes, Greece's infamous fried cheese is also cooked in) or a half bird beautifully charred with jet-black grill lines. The latter dish involves less mental yelling of the word “Opa!,” but the flavor of the juicy chicken, served with scarlet runner beans, is still something to shout about.

Travelle, 330 North Wabash Avenue (at the Chicago River); 312-923-7705.
4 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of State and Lake.
Crispy Chicken Thigh and Malted Waffle at State and Lake
Fried chicken and waffles: always a favorite. Fried chicken thighs and malted waffles? Mic drop; this is your new brunch go-to. Find the dish at State and Lake, the modern tavern at the base of the Wit Hotel. Each bite combines the sweet malt flavor of your favorite milk shake, a spicy kick from smoked chili honey, and the savory pleasure of what everyone knows is the best part of the chicken — why do you think the dark meat platter goes so quickly at Thanksgiving?

State and Lake, 201 North State Street (at Lake Street); 312-239-9400.
5 of 12
Photographed by Clayton Hauck.
Fried Chicken at Parson's Chicken & Fish
This Logan Square insta-hit just stepped up to fill a serious hole in the fried-chicken business: late-night service. Now offering its full menu until 1 a.m. (even that KFC at Diversey and Halsted closes at 10!), Parson's can answer chicken cravings of all sizes. Order anywhere from a two-piece to a whole bucket of bird, fried extra-crispy in a buttermilk batter. Beware of the hot sauces — both red and green have some serious kick.

Parson's Chicken & Fish, 2952 West Armitage Avenue (at Humboldt Blvd); 773-384-3333.
6 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Nana.
Fried Chicken at Nana
Nana's roasted half-chicken with cider-jus is a solid dinner any night, but hold out for the Bridgeport restaurant's Sunday Supper to end your week with something to squawk about. Chefs fry moist organic chicken from Indiana's Crystal Valley Farm in a thick, crispy batter and serve it family-style alongside mac 'n' cheese, buttermilk biscuits, and a whole table's worth of fixin's. Besides, now that Breaking Bad is over, what else do you have to do with your Sunday nights?

Nana, 3267 South Halsted Street (at 33rd Street); 312-929-2486.
7 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Bakersfield.
Chicken Wings at Standard Market Grill
SMG already has you covered for your chicken cravings at brunch, but what about lunch and dinner? The restaurant takes the same antibiotic-free chicken and makes it into some of the most flavor-packed wings we've had, seasoned with garlic, lemon, and fresh oregano and served with a garlic buttermilk aioli that kicks blue cheese's butt. Our only complaint is that these wings are on the dine-in-only "Bar Bites" menu, so we can't get them delivered straight to our couch when we're watching football.

Standard Market Grill, 444 West Fullerton Avenue (at Clark Street); 773-857-3080.
8 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Tanta.
Pollo a la Brasa at Tanta
Servers at this Peruvian spot recommend ordering family-style, but we wouldn’t blame you if you kept the pollo a la brasa all to yourself. The roasted Amish chicken (choose either a half or whole) practically falls off the bone, and comes with a whole slew of spicy sauces to tempt your taste buds. Also on the platter: white beans, rice, roasted potatoes, and a salad. Dinner is served.

Tanta, 118 West Grand Avenue (at LaSalle Street); 312-222-9700.
9 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Big Jones.
Fried Chicken at Big Jones
If this chicken were in high school, it would be homecoming queen — it’s that popular. Food critics praise the crispy, buttery bird at every turn, but the real proof is in the number of fried chicken orders that fly through the dining room. The $17 per person boarding house lunch or $25 per person family-style dinner also comes with cornbread, biscuits, mashed potatoes, red beans and rice, and spicy greens, but all of that fades into the background when you’re talking about chicken plunged into a cast-iron kettle full of hot lard and a ham hock for good measure.

Big Jones, 5347 North Clark Street (at Balmoral Avenue); 773-275-5725.
10 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of Two.
Roasted Chicken at Two
“We source locally, buy sustainably, and change often,” reads the menu at Two. We support the philosophy, except maybe on weeks when it means our favorite dish — the skin-on roasted half-chicken — isn’t on the menu. When it is, prepare for taste bud nirvana: the moistest white meat you’ve ever encountered, brightened by a light lemon flavor.

Two, 1132 West Grand Avenue (at May Street); 312-624-8363.
11 of 12
Photographed by Marc Hauser.
Farm Chicken at The Publican
In 2008, the Publican changed our lives with its farm chicken. We're exaggerating, but not that much, since it was the dish that made us realize that foul can be the best thing on a menu. So, what's the deal with this bird? It's fresh from Slagel Family Farm in Fairbury, and the secret to its incredible flavor is a marinade made with brown sugar, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, and espelette pepper — a pricey spice that adds just a little bit of heat.

The Publican, 837 West Fulton Market (at Green Street); 312-733-9555.
12 of 12
Photo: Courtesy of J Rocco Italian Table & Bar.
Roasted Chicken at J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar
Don’t mess with a classic. Chef Steve Chiapetti started serving this sumptuous roasted chicken years ago at Mango, a spot he opened in River North in the '90s. Now (just a block down!) he's dishing out the same bird at cozy J. Rocco, and we couldn't be happier. The beauty of this dish is in its simplicity: a perfect half-chicken with flavorful skin, served in a bright lemon-garlic-rosemary sauce with golden potatoes.

J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar, 749 North Clark Street (at Chicago Avenue); 312-475-0271.