You can't beat perfect. But you can pound it flat and fry it and put it in a bun.
Steaming hot, armored in seasoned batter, fried chicken is elementally delicious — a boulder of fat and crunch that speaks to the heart as much as it does the belly. It's a perfect American dish.
The fried chicken sandwich has been having a big year, popping up in many of Cleveland's most exciting modern restaurants and neighborhood taverns, topping some of our favorite happy hour menus and holding down the fort as the main attraction at some Cleveland staples new and old. Plain-jane, draped in crisp slaws, served with fancy pickles, slathered in tangy sauces, we'll take each and every variation. But there are some that stand out and above the crowded field, of course. We traveled across the city to find the best.
Lox, Stock and Brisket
13892 Cedar Rd., University Heights
You'll find the best chicken sandwich on the east side at Anthony Zappola's new-school Jewish deli. Lox's Lincoln Park ($10) sandwich, served on an egg roll from Unger's Kosher Bakery in Cleveland Heights, comes with an enormous triangle of buttermilk battered schnitzel set off with fluorescent pickles, slaw and a touch of spicy mayo. Lox's sandwich is a masterclass in balance: buttery, sweet and crispy with just a hint of spice.
Larder Delicatessen and Bakery
1455 West 29th St.
Another new Jewish deli that marries modern preparation and local ingredients to classic deli offerings, Hingetown's Larder offers the best fried chicken sandwich ($9, or $5 on Tuesdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m.) on the west side, and perhaps, in town. It's all thanks to an exceptionally pillowy house bun made with spent grain, buttermilk and Amazake, a Japanese fermented rice drink. In that bun you'll find pieces of fried chicken thigh accompanied by lettuce, a sauce made from mustard, mayo and toasted yeast, fresh herbs and both kosher dill zucchini pickles and Kool Aid-pickled onions.
4133 Lorain Ave.
The Plum's crispy chicken biscuit sandwich ($13) is a glorious mess. The Ohio City eatery fries their buttermilk-brined chicken thigh in an oregano-seasoned batter and tops it with American cheese, thick sliced pickles, shredded lettuce, a tangy sauce and, if you like, a fried egg (you like). It is best eaten with a knife and fork, especially after you dump the sides of hot sauce and honey all over it, transforming your sandwich into a delightful landslide of fat and acid.
Herb N' Twine
4309 Lorain Ave.
Herb n' Twine's foray into the fried chicken sandwich ($10) game stands out as the only one in the city that doesn't make you feel like you have been battered and deep fried yourself. Herb n' Twine glazes strips of fried chicken breast in a sweet honey garlic sauce and wedges them between their house made french bread, making for a subtle interplay of crisp and crunch set off by a punchy slaw.
ParkView Nite Club
1261 West 58th St.
The fire-breathing chicken that serves as this beloved Gordon Square bar's mascot will prepare you for their sandwich ($8.50). A slab of crackling fried chicken breast arrives Tang-orange thanks to a coating of fryer oil mixed with cayenne pepper and brown sugar. It's served on a kaiser bun with a cabbage slaw seasoned with apple cider vinegar. You'll be warned by your server that the sandwich is seriously hot. It is, but not too hot to overwhelm the juicy crunch of the chicken and a gentle sweetness from the sugar.
V's Gourmet Chicken
15418 Lakeshore Blvd.
The home of some of our favorite fried chicken in Cleveland unsurprisingly offers the best classic, soul food-style fried chicken sandwich ($7.50) in town. Served with the traditional accoutremonts of red onion, mayo, provolone and shredded lettuce, V's sandwich towers with chunks of immaculately crispy chicken breast and comes nestled in a pillowy kaiser roll from Orlando Bakery.