Restaurants Are Competing to Make the Best Fried Chicken in Houston for Charity
Who makes the best fried chicken in Houston? There are many potential answers, depending on what seekers value — type of batter, desired seasoning, spiciness and whether or not the chicken was brined, for example. This Saturday, September 16, Houstonians will be able to compare some worthy contenders — including one that just made a bid for the “best breakfast” title on national TV.
The competition, appropriately named Houston’s Best Da#* Fried Chicken Contest, happens at Evelyn’s Park, located at 4400 Bellaire. All the event proceeds go to the Texas Gulf Coast Chapter of the Lupus Foundation. The organization strives to improve quality of life for those dealing with lupus, including helping provide access to high-quality health care through its PATH Grant program. General admission tickets for 1 p.m. are $175 and a certain number of “last chance” tickets with admission at 2 p.m. are available for $50. Adults 21 and up will enjoy an open bar, while kids 12 and under are admitted free.
Some of the competitors are known for taking their fried chicken very seriously, and others are known for excelling at any dish they decide to perfect. The contending restaurants are:
- Blood Bros BBQ: While not necessarily famous for fried chicken (yet), pitmaster Quy Huang and brothers Terry and Robin Wong have had so many accolades heaped upon them that they’ve proved there’s pretty much nothing they can’t do. If their take on fried chicken is as well-received as their beloved, Texan-by-way-of-Alief barbecue, they will be serious competition this Saturday. (We couldn’t help but notice there’s a Togarashi Chicken on the pre-order and catering menu that may serve as inspiration.)
- Dak & Bop: This local restaurant first became known for its well-executed Korean-style fried chicken in 2015 — and made our own Best Fried Chicken list in 2022. So, it’s safe to say these are “seasoned” pros — and they’ve had eight years to perfect their craft.
- Dandelion Café: Possibly the biggest threat in the competition, this little Bellaire café beat The Breakfast Klub in a local Good Morning America competition for the best breakfast in the United States. That sent them to New York as one of four competitors across the nation. While chef JC Ricks’ fried chicken and waffle didn’t win, it elicited a four-yum exclamation — and a vote — from judge Barbara Corcoran of “Shark Tank” fame.
- Esther’s Cajun Café & Soul Food: When someone says, “Soul food in Houston”, they’re likely thinking of this beloved local staple in the Northside neighborhood. Fried chicken is on the rotating menu nearly every day of the week — and that should tell you something. The owner’s grandmother was known as “the master of country-style cooking” and you can bet the fried chicken is seasoned with the family’s secret blend of spices.
- Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken: It’s fair to say Houston went nuts when the initial Washington Avenue location of the Memphis fried chicken chain debuted — like, “Someone get a traffic officer here,” levels of nuts. There’s now a Kirby Drive location, too, so it’s safe to say Gus’s found favor with Houstonians. In 2016, GQ declared it the best fried chicken in the world, and while that seems like overblown praise (“best” is highly subjective when it comes to fried chicken preferences), it’s clear that this will be a strong contender in the competition.
- Eloise Nichols’ All-Day Café: If caught a Southern inflection in this Adair Concepts’ restaurant name, you’d be correct. While “fried chicken” isn’t on the menu — look carefully and you’ll see Joe’s Hot Chicken with housemade pickles among the small plates, as well as a crispy chicken sandwich. On the weekend brunch menu, there’s chicken and waffles. So, yeah, we’d say it will be prepared to compete.
- La Lucha: When native Houstonian (and resident Atlantean) Ford Fry opened the original concept La Lucha next door to a new location of established Tex-Mex restaurant Superica, we knew what to expect from the latter — but not as much from the former. One big way La Lucha established its identity and grabbed the hearts of Houstonians was through its heaping platters of crunchy fried chicken. It’s clear as to why it’s in this competition.
For a great fried chicken competition, you need judges who are serious about the craft. One such judge is chef Mark Holley. His fried chicken dinners were so popular at his old restaurant, Pesce, that Houston diners still request them to this day. Holley is executive chef at Davis St. at Hermann Park and for restaurant Alife Hospitality Group. He was also a chef whose work was honored at The Perfect 10 Gala earlier this year.
Another judge, Kaiser Lashkari of Himalaya, combined ingredients of his Pakistani heritage with the fried chicken of his Houston home to create Masala Fried Chicken. The dish became so popular that it’s landed on numerous best fried chicken lists in Houston — and beyond. (We showcased Lashkari at our first Perfect 10 Gala in 2019.)
Oh, and by the way: I’m a judge, too. I’m a writer and food editor who started this publication in November 2016 and who’s covered the Houston restaurant scene for 13 years. How important is fried chicken to my life? I’ll put it to you this way: I’ve tasted and evaluated fried chicken all along the Gulf Coast, including the storied Old Country Store in Loreman, Mississippi — and I definitely know what qualities I’m looking for in fried chicken. (I’ll give you a hint: the seasoning had better not be only in the crust.)
Michael Fulmer, a co-founder of the Houston BBQ Festival, is putting his extensive event coordination skills to work by helping with this fried chicken competition.
Go online for additional details and tickets. If you can’t attend, support the fight against lupus by donating to the Texas Gulf Coast chapter of the Lupus Foundation online. May the tastiest fried chicken win!
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.