Credit: © Ryan Lee

Like truly delicious pizza and bagels, a top-flight chicken Parm can be a rare breed—even in a place like New York. For every half-decent Parm out there, you'll find others with limp, lifeless breading, Sysco-quality chicken or flavorless mozzarella that drags the sandwich down. To avoid those pitfalls, here's what to look for.

The bread. We're after a freshly baked roll or hero, the latter of which should be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, the better to soak up all that tomato sauce.

The filling. Only thin white-meat cutlets, freshly breaded and fried, need apply—no oversized frozen chicken tenders, please. The sauce should be robust and full-flavored, not watery or under-seasoned. And a blanket of mozzarella, still hot, stringy and melty, is crucial.

Where to get it:

Parm. This cheffed-up take on the classic Italian-American lunch counter stakes its reputation on the Parm, and they do it up right, whether eggplant, meatball or chicken. The chicken is of particular note: on a semolina roll from the legendary Parisi Bakery down the street, it has just enough vibrant tomato sauce and basil leaves layered right in the sandwich.

Best Pizza. The Williamsburg pizzeria has earned a ton of acclaim for its pies, but the sandwiches might be even more impressive—particularly the Chicken Parm, whose tomato sauce is amped up with anchovies and whose chicken is fried to order, ensuring it's always crisp and hot.

Faicco's. This old-school deli on Bleecker Street is the place to go for a true gut bomb: a chicken Parm that even a fireman or college athlete might have trouble putting down. Expect three or four chicken cutlets in there, along with fresh mozzarella and a garlicky tomato sauce. Make sure to ask for extra sauce.