America's Best Chicken and Waffles
It’s a classic brunch dilemma: savory or sweet? Fortunately, the inspired combination of fried chicken piled on top of waffles means there’s no need to choose.
There’s magic in the rich, fatty salt of fried chicken, tempered by the sugar of maple syrup and a crispy waffle. And there’s satisfaction in having breakfast and dinner at once—no matter the time of day. It’s a recipe that has stood the test of time, spread across the nation, and gotten only more appetizing.
The classic chicken and waffles we know and love can be traced to the late 1930s, when the Wells Supper Club opened in Harlem. The joint drew Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, and Gladys Knight, often looking to refuel after a show. One of the regulars, Herb Hudson, moved to L.A. and opened the now-legendary Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.
Some chefs have since been inspired to tinker. Kentucky’s MilkWood serves a chicken and waffles appetizer on a bed of parsley, dill, and buttermilk. In Greenville, SC, chef Anthony Gray of Bacon Bros. Public House layers waffles with thin slices of country ham and fresh sage leaves and fries the chicken to order in a cast-iron skillet.
In the name of research, we even stopped at one of the Coolhaus trucks for an ice cream version: brown butter loaded with waffle bits and swirls of homemade caramel, infused with organic fried chicken skins.
For a full meal, hit up one of these chicken and waffle restaurants. Some take the classic approach, others skew creative, but all do justice to this satisfying comfort food.
Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, Los Angeles
Mentioned in movies like Rush Hour and Swingers, Roscoe’s is arguably the most famous place in America to satisfy a chicken and waffles craving. It has grown to six locations, with another set to open in Anaheim, walking distance from Disneyland. The southern-style chicken is delivered three times a week and skillet fried to perfection, while your waffle comes with a side of maple syrup made from natural sugarcane. If it’s your first time, ask for a No. 9—three wings, waffles, potato salad, and fries—as President Obama did when he stopped in for lunch in 2011.
MilkWood, Louisville, KY
“When I moved to Kentucky, I was so curious about this dish,” laughs chef/owner Ed Lee. “Is it breakfast? Is it dinner? It makes you cock your head, and it’s certainly a favorite. My only complaint is it’s so heavy.” So at MilkWood, he turned chicken and waffles into an appetizer. It starts with yeast-based waffles, cut into small strips and crisped as croutons. A bed of parsley and dill has a thin smear of buttermilk dressing, and his dark-meat chicken is poached in a stock of vinegar, soy, fish sauce, and spices. It’s then dredged in buttermilk and flour and deep-fried. actorstheatre.org/milkwood
Nana G’s Food Truck, Atlanta
Nana Grimes, who celebrates her 103rd birthday in 2013, began making waffles for her family in the 1940s. “Times were tight back then, so she would crumble up bacon in them to make them go a little farther,” explains her daughter Paula Hollcroft. “We serve her recipes now, with those same bacon-bit Belgian waffles, topped with fried chicken with her secret blend of spices and a dusting of powdered sugar and maple syrup.” Nana G’s home cooking comes courtesy of a food truck—and they’re adding a second truck to meet the growing demand for her classic cooking. nanagchik-n-waffles.com
Bacon Bros. Public House, Greenville, SC
“I serve my Chicken & Waffles with sorghum, as a nod to my upbringing in Macon, Georgia,” says chef Anthony Gray. “It’s more earthy and less sweet.” Gray layers the waffles with thin slices of country ham and fresh sage leaves. His chicken (your choice of white or dark meat) spends 24 hours brining in a sweet tea and buttermilk mixture. “This dish is a special on the menu, about once a week because we fry every piece of chicken to order in a cast-iron skillet,” he says. “It’s the right way, but it creates a lot of work.” baconbrospublichouse.com
Cowbell, New Orleans
Owner/chef Brack May describes Cowbell as a “funky, upscale truck stop.” Inside the converted gas station, you can sip a Sazerac while perusing the meat-heavy menu. “We do Chicken & Waffle Wednesdays, and it’s big,” he says. “You are not going back to work after this lunch.” Waffles are malted, with an almost caramel-like flavor, while the boneless breast gets a two-hour brine in apple cider, rosemary, maple, garlic, and peppercorns. The seal-the-deal flavor comes from the pork-sausage gravy—and the side of collards, sourced from neighborhood farms, braised by Brack in local cane vinegar. cowbell-nola.com
Despite being mile-high, there’s a down-home essence at Steuben’s, from the old diner décor to the super-friendly staff. And chicken and waffles don’t get more classic than chef Brandon Biederman’s version. The meat is brined in buttermilk and seasoning for a day, then dredged in seasoned flour and fried to order. The waffles are traditional Belgian, served with a red-eye gravy made from Jim Beam bourbon, coffee, and bacon. Afterward, waddle next door to sister restaurant Ace, with plenty of Ping-Pong tables.
Early Bird Diner, Charleston, SC
In annual City Paper polls, Early Bird regularly wins Best Chicken and Waffles—and general manager Daniel Infinger verifies that they sell the most in town. The secret is in the double breading. “We use a ground pecan and flour breading,” he says, “so there’s a nutty crust on the chicken.” A hint of cinnamon flavors the Belgian waffle batter, while on top of the chicken, there’s a honey mustard sauce. “Last Sunday, we fed 480 people and 170 ordered our chicken and waffles. I’d say people love them, all right,” says Infinger. earlybirddiner.com
Birch & Barley, Washington, D.C.
In anticipation of the Sunday rush, chef Kyle Bailey preps his yeast-based waffle batter the night before. Located below ChurchKey—one of D.C.’s hottest craft-brew pubs—Birch & Barley takes a farm-to-table approach. Bailey tops his waffles with boneless chicken thighs that he sources from FreeBird farms up in Pennsylvania. Each is double drenched and deep-fried. The signature touch is a proprietary blend of maple syrup and warm chicken jus, and for the finish, he sprinkles buttered pecans on top. birchandbarley.com
Amy Ruth’s, New York City
At Amy Ruth’s, menu items are named for legendary Harlem residents as well as regulars. So, rather than ordering chicken and waffles, you’ll request a “Rev. Al Sharpton,” your choice of fried or smothered chicken, with white or dark meat, on top of a crispy waffle, with a side of thick brown gravy seasoned with a hint of oregano and maple syrup—truck-delivered from Vermont by the same man who taps the trees. It’s the sides and small touches that make Amy Ruth’s a heavyweight contender in the world’s most famous neighborhood for chicken and waffles. Choices include mac-and-cheese, braised collards, and, to wash it all down, a big cup of classic Kool-Aid. amyruthsharlem.com
Watts Grocery, Durham, NC
While you will find tons of southern classics on the menu—including deep-fried chicken gizzards as a late-night bar snack—Watts likes its chicken and waffles to be more savory than sweet. A crispy cornmeal waffle, peppered with chives and parsley in the batter, holds up a hefty piece of fried breast meat. Chef Amy Tornquist’s syrup is made from a combination of sorghum and chicken stock, and the whole dish gets a finish of Tabasco aioli for an acidic kick of spice. It’s a unique recipe that keeps guests clamoring for more. wattsgrocery.com
Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles, Phoenix
In a state where temperatures regularly surpass 100 degrees, selling out of piping-hot chicken and waffles is no small feat. “We make everything from scratch, with a special seasoning blend for our chicken that’s been handed down through generations,” says Mills Morgan, general manager. It’s a recipe that has won over locals as well as Muhammad Ali and other celebrities—Charles Barkley endorsed Lo-Lo’s on national television. Look for an outpost in the Phoenix airport in 2014, as well as a location in Scottsdale.
Gussie’s Chicken & Waffles, San Francisco
While some might experiment with seasonings, breading, and brines on their chicken, Gussie’s is famous for fiddling with the waffles. Take your pick among the traditional, sweet potato, banana pecan, vegan buckwheat, cornmeal, and even red velvet. “It comes with cream cheese butter, pecans, and powdered sugar,” explains manager Daniel Wheeler. “Although it’s more of a dessert waffle, people love it with fried chicken.” The chicken, however, couldn’t be simpler—straight from Grandmother Gussie’s recipe. “We hit it with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion, and flour,” says Wheeler. “We put it in the oil and turn up the heat.” gussieschickenandwaffles.org
Maharlika, New York City
Maharlika introduced the East Village to the true flavors of the Philippines and has become a darling of The New York Times and many food publications. Its version of the comfort food uses fried chicken without flour, marinating it in smoked paprika, ginger, and onion. The waffle batter is made with ube, a dark purple cousin of the yam, served with coconut syrup and bagoong butter. “Bagoong is fermented anchovy butter, so you have the nutty/sweet waffle, fatty salt from the butter, and there’s a caramel coconut syrup and the rich fried chicken,” explains co-owner Nicole Ponseca. “It’s so popular, we now serve it all day.” maharlikanyc.com
Batter & Berries, Chicago
General manager Don Jones likes to describe Batter & Berries as “American breakfast redefined.” When it opened in May 2012, the restaurant ran a promotion to serve guests a different flavor of French toast every week for the first year. The chicken and waffles gets similarly creative. It starts with a sweet potato waffle that’s been stuffed with bits of shredded chicken. A whole, deep-fried breast is placed on top, and the entire dish is drizzled in a secret recipe of hot sauce and homemade maple butter. facebook.com/BatterandBerries
Trina’s Starlite Lounge, Boston
Locals flock to this ’50s-style diner for Service Industry Brunch, which occurs on Mondays as a thank-you to those who work weekends. Start your week right with a serious half-chicken portion—that’s breast, thigh, and leg—buttermilk brined for more than 24 hours. Coated in a dredge of white flour, dried herbs, salt, and black pepper, it’s fried and placed on a savory, herbed buttermilk waffle. The finishing touch is a hot-pepper syrup, made from cider vinegar, jalapeño peppers, and sugar. trinastarlitelounge.com
Eating House, Miami
Miami native Giorgio Rapicavoli’s Chicken ‘n’ Foie-ffles is like nothing you’ve had before. First off, the dry rub for the chicken contains more than 20 ingredients, including adobo and several other Latin herbs and spices. “In a way, this particular dish is a nod to my father’s Argentinean heritage,” he says. Second, your waffle batter is made with foie gras fat instead of butter. Sprinkled with candied bacon and garnished with a smear of sour cream and buttermilk ranch, hot sauce, and a salty, fatty dose of candied bacon bits, it’s not on your diet. Yet it should be high on your priority list. eatinghousemiami.com
The South Side, Cleveland
This chicken and waffles dish didn’t become a crowd-pleaser for its restraint. Not only is the roasted chicken breast deep-fried, but South Side also takes a cooked Belgian waffle and fries it for good measure. “We sell about 150-200 in a weekend,” says owner Robert Delozier. The finished tower of waffles is sweetened with cinnamon butter, maple syrup, powdered sugar, and a kick of Thai Sriracha. According to Delozier, “the waffles are more like a funnel cake—crispy on the outside and light and airy in the center.” southsidecleveland.com
May’s Counter Chicken & Waffles, Tucson, AZ
A sports bar that describes itself as “upscale-ish,” May’s serves a three-piece, dark meat fried chicken with two waffles for the easygoing expense of $11. The customer is always right here, and if dark meat isn’t your favorite, ask for The Hen, with two chicken breasts and a waffle. And while you’re indulging, treat yourself to a craft cocktail or two. We like the Anti Oxy: pomegranate juice with Solerno blood orange liqueur and a dose of champagne. mayscounter.com
Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles, Indianapolis
With waitresses hollering orders from an open kitchen, this always-lively joint is a family affair started by Maxine herself—a woman who knew about operations, having raised 10 kids in a four-bedroom home. The house specialty calls for three massive chicken wings and a waffle, which you can request with blueberry or sweet potato. Whatever you choose, help yourself to a generous portion of the famous peach butter. maxineschicken.com
The Breakfast Klub, Houston
Whether it’s your first time or your 40th, when you walk in the Breakfast Klub, the staff will greet you with a hearty “Good morning!” It’s always breakfast time inside, and when you leave, the send-off is “See you later.” That confidence is understandable once you’ve tried their take on chicken and waffles. It comes with piping-hot syrup, six chicken wings on a fluffy Belgian waffle, a strawberry as garnish, and butter upon request. thebreakfastklub.com