Chicken and waffles is a classic soul food combination that deftly straddles the sweet-savory divide—crunchy, salty fowl piled with hot, griddled waffles and drizzled with syrup or honey and a dash of hot sauce. But the dish’s origin story—like so many icons of America’s melting-pot culinary vernacular—is a bit murky. You might assume it originates in the south, but the powerhouse pairing is also a long-held tradition in Maryland, and in the Pennsylvania Dutch community, where the chicken is suspended in gravy, not fried. The version of chicken and waffles best known to today’s comfort food seekers, however, can actually trace its roots to 1930s Harlem, where a soul food-inspired iteration was commonly served at jazz haunts such as Wells Supper Club, a neighborhood spot frequented by patrons such as Gladys Knight, Sammy Davis Jr., and Nat King Cole. In fact, the West Coast owes Harlem native and Wells regular Herb Hudson a debt of gratitude for bringing the dish with him when he left New York for Los Angeles in the seventies—he founded Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in 1975, and the restaurant remains an institution to this day. The quirky allure of the dish continues to inspire chefs all over the country, who are fattening the waffle batter with foie gras and spiking it with Coca-Cola or bourbon, frying the chicken with chiles and 5-alarm hot sauce, and topping it all with honey, maple syrup, bacon, and more. “It’s just a perfect dish,” says Adrienne Cheatham, chef de cuisine of Red Rooster in Harlem. “The sweetness from the syrup, the texture of the chicken, a waffle that tames down the hot sauce down and soaks it all up.”   Here, we’ve compiled some of our favorite renditions from New York to Nashville to Los Angeles, with a few stops in between.– Jordana Rothman

Food & Wine

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