Portland may not have “traditional” roots in frying chicken, but it doesn’t take an expert to grasp that fried chicken is “finger lickin’ good.” And although KFC ditched that slogan of 50 years for something “healthier” sounding, Portland knows fried chicken is just that. Luckily, we have our own deliciously crispy fried chicken scene (yep, we said it, there is one) going strong, and then some.
But where can you find the “best” fried chicken?
We all know the wings at Pok Pok have long held prestige as the city’s unofficial favorite. And the fried chicken at Screen Door and the Delta Cafe make them easy, go-to Southern food destinations, for good reason.
However, fellow food enthusiasts, there are a some other fried-chicken players in town we think you should know about, showcasing a variety of mouth-watering styles.
So, we’ve decided to share the love and list our favorites. If you’re at work, fair warning, you might be drooling by the end. Go forth and eat, and share your own favorites with us in the comments!
Cackalack's Hot Chicken Shack
Named after the Southern slang for the Carolinas, this food cart embraces both Southern kitsch and fried chicken—the latter is the main ingredient in Cackalack’s popular sandwich options. Going straight for the original, enormous chunks of fried bird are served on a bed of sauce-sodden Texas toast, a thick-cut bread made for sopping up the juices. Choosing leg meat over breast meat will take an extra 20 minutes, but the difference in flavor is well worth the wait. And spice it up! The habanero heat of the XXX level is no joke, but the downgrade to hot only lends a noticeable kick for spice-lovers. Soft Cajun fries contrast the seriously crispy, smoky shell on the juicy chicken, which will be steaming into the air in front of you as you crack apart the meat.
Cackalack's Hot Chicken Shack, Good Food Here pod at SE 43rd and Belmont
Buried in Biwa’s hot plates list you’ll find karaage, which is typically a marinated, fried meat, and here manifests as a delicious little Japanese fried-chicken bar snack. The dish consists of fried chicken crisplets, served with a bowl of spicy yellow Japanese mustard as your only accoutrement. Well, not your only one—spritz that wedge of lemon over the chicken before you dive in for an extra citric oomph that pairs beautifully with the curry-, garlic- and onion powder-seasoned meat. And get there (relatively) early: This is one of the dishes not offered on Biwa’s late-night menu.
Biwa, 215 SE 9th Ave., 503.239.8830
The Country Cat
Already much lauded by the fried chicken blogosphere, we’re joining the fray. Chef Adam Sappington’s Midwestern-style fried chicken tastes like a heavenly summer night, with a delicate, smoky, crackling skin holding a perfect char to the succulent meat inside. If you made the unfortunate decision to share this with a friend, make the dark meat yours: The breast, while phenomenally textured, is less interesting in flavor. Hedonistically, Country Cat’s fried chicken, already treated to a buttermilk marinade, comes with a thick, luxurious gravy that sits on top of butter-laden mashed potatoes. You’ll still be eating long after you’re already full.
The Country Cat, 7937 SE Stark St., 503.408.1414
Thursday nights just might become synonymous with Korean fried chicken. Portland’s new “it” ramen place has started offering a
reservation-only dinner on Thursdays, and 48-hour-brined fried chicken is the star of the show. Served with traditional Korean sides like steamed buns and seaweed, the chicken is par smoked before being chilled overnight, fried, and served family style. Bring a friend or two for this one, throw in an order of soy-pickled shiitakes, and indulge in one of Portland’s more unusual approaches to the classic fried bird.
Boke Bowl, 1028 SE Water Ave., 503.719.5698
Reel 'm Inn Tavern
This, fowl enthusiasts, is where to go for the straightforward, red-blooded-American style fried chicken. Reel ‘m Inn does it well with minimal fuss: This is a dive bar, and they fry their chicken as simply as they might make a gin-and-tonic. What comes out is a thickly crusted bird (you choose which parts) that crunches deafeningly over a tender interior. We recommend you alternate bites with sips of your cold PBR, the drink of choice at this neighborhood joint. And feel free to make a mess, the way fried chicken was meant to be eaten—no one will so much as look up from the Keno game in progress.
Reel 'm Inn Tavern, 2430 SE Division St., 503.231.3880
What's your fave spot in Portland for finger lickin' fried chicken?