The current fried chicken trend shows no sign of stopping, and we’re not complaining.
With the surge of new spots and cult-worthy sandwiches from chefs like David Chang and Danny Meyer, we've entered a wonderful era of abundant crackling, juicy fried chicken for every palate—whether you like it dressed up, dressed down or between two buns. And within this countrywide movement, an unlikely subtrend has emerged: really good chicken fingers.
Traditionally enjoyed at kids’ parties and bowling alleys, chicken fingers (or strips or tenders) are appearing on grown-up restaurant menus across the country. But they aren’t the dry, rubbery, factory-produced strips you might be expecting. These chef-improved fingers are upscale plays on nostalgia that take advantage of the tender’s size and shape to create the optimal meat-to-crunch ratio. Here are five great places to discover just how good chicken fingers can be.
Fuku+, New York City
First there was Fuku, David Chang's habit-forming spicy fried chicken sandwich dispensary. Now there's Fuku+, a larger space with its own mania-inducing offering: Fuku Fingers (above). Created in collaboration with Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese, these crispy all white-meat fingers come tossed in a mouth-numbing Chongqing spice blend, chili oil, sliced scallions and fried chiles. They’re also available at Mission Cantina in the massive Fuku Finger Crunchy Wrap (Bowien’s chef-y take on Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap), made with pepper jack cheese, smoked habanero honey, lettuce, tomato, jalapeño pickles, salmon skin chicharrons and buttermilk dressing wrapped up in a tortilla. Both the Fuku Fingers and the Crunchy Wrap are here for a limited time, and a dollar from the sale of each dish is donated to Edible Schoolyard NYC. momofuku.com
Royals Hot Chicken, Louisville, KY
This much-anticipated restaurant from Feast BBQ owner and chef Ryan Rogers isn't open yet, but its hot chicken tenders are already making an impact at food festivals. “Chicken tenders are delicious,” says Rogers. “I may have never met one I truly wouldn’t eat, but we shouldn’t have to settle for mediocrity.” To achieve greatness, Rogers conducted extensive R&D in search of the ideal brine, the perfect flour and the best coating technique. The final touch is a slather of Nashville hot spice paste. royalschicken.com
Bobcat Bonnie’s, Detroit
Inspired by a chain restaurant dish that she loved as a kid, chef Beren Ekine-Hewitt coats chicken fingers in crushed Cap’n Crunch. The cereal's sugars caramelize as the strips fry, which gives the chicken a sweet-and-salty crust with surprising depth. “People end up falling in love with it,” says owner Matt Buskard. bobcatbonnies.com
Treylor Park, Savannah, GA
If your inner child graduated from cooking school, it might open up a place like Treylor Park. The restaurant, owned by Trey Wilder and chef Hunter Satterwhite (who met while working at the Playboy Mansion), features a menu of nostalgia-inspired dishes like PB&J chicken wings tossed with house-made pecan butter, popcorn shrimp served on actual popcorn and a venison sloppy joe. But best of all are the chicken and pancake tacos—fried chicken fingers wrapped in peppery pancakes and topped with honey-chili sauce and strawberry salsa. treylorpark.com
Birds and Bubbles, New York City
At chef Sarah Simmons's shrine to fizzy wine and fried chicken, tenders arrive by the basketful with a side of spicy sorghum mustard. Available for brunch or on the late-night menu, the buttermilk fried fingers are terrific for soaking up a few glasses of Champagne or a cordial-spiked fizzy cocktail. birdsandbubbles.com