The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints
photograph by Lissa Gotwals / Andrew Kornylak / Johnny Autry

Might as well hang up the family skillet. There’s a great big world of fried chicken just waiting for you to take a bite: tucked inside biscuits in Asheville, drizzled with honey in Raleigh, served cold with summer corn in Belhaven. From chefs’ tables to take-out boxes, we ate our way across the state in search of the best places to satisfy that anytime, anywhere hankering for Southern fried perfection.

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IN A BISCUIT

Now that chicken biscuits have been spied in NYC and LA, culinary trend-spotters think they’ve discovered something new. Bless their hearts. We’ve long known that one of the best ways to eat a piping hot fried chicken fillet is inside a biscuit so large we need to use both hands and more napkins than we can count.

Dallas Famous Chicken & Biscuits • Apex
The fried chicken for these biscuits comes from the same supply used for their plated meals, which means it’s a juicy piece that’s pulled from the bone just before it lands on the biscuit. Among the charms of this approach: You can get flavorful dark meat on a biscuit, a rare treat.
1101 East Williams Street, (919) 362-0051

Biscuit Head • Asheville
Their motto is: “Put Some South in Your Mouth.” That’s easy to do with a chicken biscuit that comes with a tempting array of unexpected toppings, such as a poached egg, Sriracha slaw, and sweet potato butter. Clearly a knife-and-fork meal on a biscuit. (Gluten-free biscuits are available, too.)
733 Haywood Road, (828) 333-5145;
417 Biltmore Avenue, No. 4F, (828) 505-3449

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen • Chapel Hill
The queue of cars awaiting a turn at the drive-through window can cause a traffic jam, especially on Tar Heel game days and alumni weekends. Fans note that the ratio of chicken to biscuit is pretty even, ensuring a bit of both in every bite. The biscuit, hash brown, and sweet tea combo is a popular order. But don’t forget a cinnamon roll made with biscuit dough to snack on later.
1305 East Franklin Street, (919) 933-1324

The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints

The owner of Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, David Allen, greets UNC fans hungry for chicken biscuits at the drive-up window. photograph by Andrew Kornylak

Time-Out • Chapel Hill
It’s hard to say whether they sell more chicken biscuits before or after dark, but late-night revelers find comfort and joy in these renowned chicken-Cheddar biscuits served 24 hours a day. Each huge square biscuit is filled with an equally huge piece of chicken; the crunchy batter pokes out from the edges as if chickens really did have fingers.
201 East Franklin Street, (919) 929-2425

Rise • Durham
Known for their doughnuts — and the line for those doughnuts — this North Carolina-based franchise also draws a crowd for its biscuits, in particular the fried buffalo chicken biscuit, which is a fried piece of chicken dipped in not-too-spicy sauce and garnished with buttermilk blue cheese and shaved celery.
8200 Renaissance Parkway, (919) 248-2992;
(Nine other locations, including Raleigh, Charlotte, Carrboro, Holly Springs, Morrisville, and Greensboro)


ON A BUN

A cousin of the chicken biscuit and barbecue sandwich, yet appreciably different from both, a perfect handmade chicken sandwich is a prized offering. No uniform fast-food versions here.

Buxton Hall • Asheville
Pimento and American cheeses, pickles, and creamy white barbecue sauce adorn this buttermilk fried chicken sandwich. Buxton’s take is as clever as it is tasty: White barbecue sauce, which is intended to accompany chicken instead of pig, hails from northern Alabama and is an anomaly in North Carolina.
32 Banks Avenue, (828) 232-7216

The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints

Buxton Hall’s fried chicken sandwich piles on the Southern charm. photograph by Tim Robison

M Kokko • Durham
In a compact space tucked almost out of sight in downtown Durham, something exciting is happening in the world of fried chicken sandwiches: Korean-style. This KFC (short for Korean Fried Chicken, of course) has a distinctive crust — substantial, yet light, eggshell-thin, and crisp — and is served on a soft bun with a light garlic-based aioli and pickles.
311 Holland Street B, (919) 908-9332

Chuck’s • Raleigh
This streamlined buttermilk fried chicken sandwich comes with only lettuce and a sauce, but that sauce is no slouch. The Tabasco aioli studded with house pickle relish is one of the many elaborate sauces that accompany all of the sandwiches and fries at this downtown burger haven.
237 South Wilmington Street, (919) 322-0126


LANDMARKS

Sometimes it really is the destination, not the trip, that matters. A drive to these legendary places for a fried chicken dinner feels like a pilgrimage.

Mama Dip’s • Chapel Hill
Decades before celebrity chefs became household names, Mildred Council, a k a Mama Dip, was known by almost every student who passed through UNC and craved the comfort of home-cooked soul food. Fried chicken has been a fixture on Council’s menu since her restaurant opened in 1976, and it earns a spot on many national lists of the best fried chicken. Mama Dip’s has a bustling take-out business, but the chicken never tastes better than when enjoyed at the restaurant.
408 West Rosemary Street, (919) 942-5837

The Derby Restaurant • Mount Airy
Designed to resemble a derby hat, this round building has served as a hometown institution for folks in and around Mount Airy since 1937, but it’s a destination for travelers seeking a home-cooked meal, too. Now under the watch of a third generation, this family-owned business offers fair warning that their weekday fried chicken requires a 20-minute wait, which is a sure sign that someone is cooking chicken to order. The same deliciously crispy bird is available as a Sunday special, as well.
1901 South Main Street, (336) 786-7082

“The Coop” has been dishing out the same light and crunchy fried chicken, including gizzards and livers, since 1962. photograph by Tim Robison

Price’s Chicken Coop • Charlotte
This no-frills, cash-only restaurant serves fried chicken in many forms, including the beloved but hard-to-come-by livers and gizzards. Chicken is the star attraction. The entire menu is painted on a wooden sign hung over the counter where patrons place their orders and watch the staff fill paper plates and slip them inside cardboard to-go boxes. Service is carryout only, but when taking the time to drive anywhere is too long to wait for that first savory, crunchy bite, folks simply feast inside their cars parked along the street.
1614 Camden Road, (704) 333-9866


SPICED UP

Some eaters are content to let a fine chicken dinner linger only in their memories. Others prefer to feel the burn for days. Shockingly spicy fried chicken has developed a cult following in the past few years. These firebirds are so closely associated with a certain Music City that some people refer to this type of chicken as Nashville hot chicken. However, North Carolina has a say in these matters, too.

Slappy’s • Winston-Salem
A popular manifestation of hot chicken with deep roots in south-central North Carolina (the area inside the wonky triangle formed by I-77, I-40, and I-85) is chicken breaded, fried crisp, and then dunked into a peppery hot sauce that has a touch of sweetness for balance. It’s finger-licking, lip-tingling good.
200 West Acadia Avenue, (336) 761-0268

The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints

Scott Brandenburg serves up finger-licking hot dipped chicken at Slappy’s, his chicken- and-sides joint in Winston-Salem. photograph by Dhanraj Emanuel

Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack • Asheville
They refer to their diners as “heat seekers,” and their sliding scale of spiciness starts at zero and peaks at XX-Hot, or “Mount St. Hell No!” Even though their hottest version has been described as “face-melting,” all of their chicken begins as a classic version and escalates from there. Plain or hot, it’s often called addictive.
1455 Patton Avenue,
(828) 575-2260; Arden location, (828) 676-3222


CHILLED OUT

It’s been said that the best reason to fry chicken is so that you can eat it cold the next day — ideally on a picnic or standing in front of an open fridge on a hot summer night. Cold fried chicken is considerably different from hot: The crust becomes more bread-like and the meat firmer and more toothsome. While there’s room for both kinds in this world, only a few restaurants put chilled chicken in the spotlight.

Spoon River Artworks and Market • Belhaven
Only steps away from the Pungo River, this artfully decorated restaurant on the Inner Banks draws visitors by land and by water, including boaters en route along the Eastern Seaboard and those who float over from neighboring counties on Pamlico Sound. Come summer, the chef sometimes offers a plate of cold fried chicken served with local sweet corn
and herb compound butter.
263 Pamlico Street, (252) 945-3899

Crook’s Corner • Chapel Hill
The cornerstone of the Crook’s Corner summer picnic plate is cold fried chicken served with watermelon, cucumber and tomatoes, and other seasonal treats. It’s the only way and the only time of year they serve fried chicken, so plan accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for their once-in-a-blue-moon special of fried thighs with Sea Island red pea gravy.
610 West Franklin Street, (919) 929-7643


WITH A WAFFLE

No one can say for sure who first served fried chicken and waffles, but the combo took off during the Harlem Renaissance, when jazz musicians and revelers needed either a very late dinner or a very early breakfast after a show. Over time the dish migrated south and became a North Carolina classic.

King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffle • Asheville
Fried chicken comes “regular” or “heirloom” (a more flavorful breed of bird), and is cooked to order in an iron skillet, requiring a 30-minute wait. Choices abound: There are a half dozen other versions of chicken on the menu, from wings to livers to pulled chicken bathed in white gravy. Five types of waffles are served with sorghum or maple syrup. And something you don’t often see: gluten-free options for both the chicken and the waffle.
444 Haywood Road, No. 101, (828) 785-1690

The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints

A sweet-and-savory pair: King Daddy’s, a West Asheville hotspot, is the latest venture from the chef and owner of nearby Early Girl Eatery. photograph by Johnny Autry

Vidalia Restaurant & Wine Bar • Boone
The chicken and waffles here are fancier than most: The chicken is battered, the waffles are sweet potato, the gravy is sawmill, and the crowning touch is a side of cane syrup infused with North Carolina’s own Defiant single malt whiskey, made a couple of hours away in Bostic.
831 West King Street, (828) 263-9176

Dame’s Chicken & Waffles • Durham
Dame’s says it’s the place “where crispy, Southern fried perfection meets deliciously sweet European decadence.” Fried chicken legs, wings, or a cutlet tops each waffle, which comes with sweet, flavored butters called schmears — strawberry crème, maple pecan, chocolate hazelnut, and more — sure to satisfy any salty-sweet craving.
317 West Main Street, (919) 682-9235;
Greensboro location, (336) 275-7333;
Cary location, (919) 234-0824


FAMILY STYLE

Places that serve family-style — heaping platters of fried chicken and bowls of sides passed around the table — feel like a dinner at Grandma’s.

Rhubarb • Asheville
On the first Sunday of each month, lauded Southern chef John Fleer serves an old-fashioned but updated three-course Sunday supper. Chicken brined in sweet tea — a much-copied technique invented by Fleer — is often given a tangy accompaniment: bread-and-butter pickles or sweet-and-sour collards. Innovation is always on the menu.
7 South Pack Square, (828) 785-1503

Dan’l Boone Inn • Boone
Located in one of Boone’s oldest buildings, this High Country standby has been serving three squares for 58 years. Guests queue up for the fixed-price menu that includes fried chicken plus at least two other meats, multiple sides, biscuits, a dessert, and a beverage. It’s like having an all-you-can-eat buffet brought to your table.
130 Hardin Street, (828) 264-8657

The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints

Julia’s Talley House photograph by Jon Eckard

Julia’s Talley House • Troutman
Step onto the porch of this gray clapboard house, and you’re home for dinner. There’s always fried chicken to pass around family-style or in the cafeteria-style buffet line.
305 North Main Street, (704) 528-6962


CHEF’D UP

This fried chicken may be spiffed up by pedigreed chefs, but beneath the frills is an honest bird with amazing fixin’s.

Acme • Carrboro
Chef and owner Kevin Callaghan draws inspiration from the seasonal rhythms and flavors of the Piedmont to create riffs on Southern dishes. The crust on his fried chicken is full of finely chopped pecans and is served with mushroom gravy and traditional sides, such as butter beans and mashed potatoes with dinner, and rice with brunch.
110 East Main Street, (919) 929-2263

Carpe Diem • Charlotte
To say that fried chicken is the most popular and well-known dish at this unpretentious white-linen restaurant is an understatement. It’s been on the menu for more than 15 years, and even has its own Facebook fan page. Stacked pieces of boneless fried chicken sit atop mashed potatoes, graced with shallot-black-pepper gravy. Ardent fans swear it’s the best dish in the Queen City.
1535 Elizabeth Avenue, (704) 377-7976

The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints

Brothers, co-chefs, and co-owners John (left) and Buddy Milner fry up North and South Carolina culinary traditions in their namesake restaurant. photograph by Dhanraj Emanuel

Milner’s American Southern Cuisine and Cocktails • Winston-Salem
The food at Milner’s has a Low Country point of view, a nod to both brothers’ time spent cooking on the Charleston peninsula. Chefs and co-owners John and Buddy Milner have garnered a following for their buttermilk fried chicken served with Carolina Gold rice, collard greens, and tomato gravy.
630 South Stratford Road, (336) 768-2221

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey • Raleigh
Fried chicken comes on plates, biscuits, and waffles at this downtown eatery that serves Southern comfort favorites and swanky cocktails. Chef and owner Ashley Christensen, who also owns Chuck’s next door, adds a signature drizzle of honey to her bird, a tribute to her beekeeping dad. Some say bubbly is the best way to wash it all down; others opt for something sweet. Here you can have your pick: Cheerwine or Dom Pérignon.
237 South Wilmington Street, (919) 322-0127


THE GOLDEN-BROWN STANDARD

Traditional is in the eye — and taste buds — of the beholder. Flour dredge and a skillet, or batter and a deep fryer? People will mutter under their breath and air grievances over such things, but few would argue that the best fried chicken, no matter the style, is the kind that most closely resembles their grandmother’s, or the first bite that made them think, Ah, yes.

Magnolia 23 • Asheboro
The chicken is pan-fried, and the down-home sides are made from family recipes, such as stewed potatoes and crowder peas. It’s the type of small-town place where the original owner walks around to say hello and check on things, even though he’s now retired and has turned over the keys to his daughters.
23 South Fayetteville Street, (336) 672-2300

The Bucket List: 42 Carolina Chicken Joints

Fried chicken isn’t picky about its companions. Any of the sides from the Magnolia 23 roster will do just fine. photograph by Joey Seawell

South 21 • Charlotte
This old-fashioned drive-in with curb service dates back to 1955. It’s perhaps better known for burgers, but insiders know never to overlook their golden fried chicken. Guests can eat in their cars, although the staff reminds folks that they’ll box up take-home orders.
3101 East Independence Boulevard, (704) 377-4509

Lucky 32 • Greensboro
This restaurant was among the first to call itself farm-to-table with an emphasis on local ingredients. Both locations have skillet-fried chicken specials — a breast, leg, and wing fried in rendered lard, served with mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, collard greens, and cornbread for sopping — available Wednesdays in Cary and Sundays in Greensboro.
1421 Westover Terrace, (336) 370-0707;
Cary location, (919) 233-1632

Becky’s and Mary’s Soul Food Restaurant • High Point
Two sisters, as well as other family members, run a tight ship at their namesake restaurant that specializes in fried chicken. Loyal guests also rave about the cornbread, “Family Reunion” potato salad, and warm banana pudding.
731 East Washington Drive, (336) 883-9917

Mountain Fried Chicken • Winston-Salem
Mountain Fried claims to know the secret to fried chicken that “isn’t greasy.” They’ll even let you in on the secret: a pressure cooker. Here, chicken comes by the piece or as part of a plated meal, which includes two of 14 different side dishes. Take out, eat in, or get dinner delivered.
5954 University Parkway, (336) 767-1676;
507 Akron Drive, (336) 767-1675;
Locations in Clemmons and Hickory

Sweet Potatoes • Winston-Salem
Two types of fried chicken dinners are on the menu at this downtown restaurant. The Smothered Yard Bird comes with gravy and melted brie, while the Southerly Fried Chicken features pan-fried boneless chicken breasts and mashed potatoes with peach-onion marmalade on top. The Sunday brunch chicken special combines chicken, greens, a sweet potato biscuit, and gravy.
529 North Trade Street, (336) 727-4844

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Sheri Castle hails from Watauga County, but came down off the mountain to go to Carolina and now lives in Fearrington Village. She is a writer, recipe developer, cooking teacher, and popular public speaker. She is fueled by mountains, excellent bourbon, farmers’ markets, and searching for the right word. Sheri believes that stories happen only to those who can tell them. Check her out at shericastle.com.

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