Hot Damn: Helen’s Hot Chicken Brings Painfully Authentic Nashville Hot Chicken to DFW

Hot tenders and fries; heavy on flavor, light on the wallet.EXPAND
Hot tenders and fries; heavy on flavor, light on the wallet.
Chris Wolfgang

Tucked into the Southern food/fried chicken explosion that continues to blow through DFW is a dish steeped in Nashville lore: hot chicken. The story goes that hot chicken was served to Tom Prince by his mate as punishment after she grew tired of his philandering ways. Tom happened to enjoy the spicy chicken, and Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville remains the measuring stick for hot chicken everywhere. In Dallas, local favorites such as Rapscallion, The Rustic and Ida Claire all offer a take on hot chicken, but perhaps the best example, with Nashville provenance to boot, comes from Helen’s Hot Chicken in Lewisville.

Much like Prince’s in Nashville, Helen’s works their chicken magic out of a strip mall location that would feel swamped with two dozen visitors, and fast-casual is the name of the game. Owner Floyd Reed moved here from Nashville three years ago and brought his love of Nashville’s signature poultry dish with him.

“We started in 2015 selling out of that trailer in the parking lot,” Reed says. “We opened the store in August of last year.” Reed’s story is similar to the original Helen’s in Nashville, which also started out of a trailer and now counts six locations in Tennessee. The Lewisville spot is their first foray into North Texas.

Your road to the heat starts here.EXPAND
Your road to the heat starts here.
Chris Wolfgang

The basics are covered on the menu that hangs over the counter. Chicken can be ordered as a leg quarter ($5.99), three tenders ($6.49) or three wings ($6.99). Two bucks more adds a side and a fountain drink to the order, and the need for a drink will become readily apparent later. Catfish and whiting fillets round out the proteins, and it’s time to bring the heat.

There are four levels of spice available: plain, mild, hot and hella hot. I started with a hot tenders combo with fries and took a seat to wait for my order. Speaking of waiting, nothing hits the fryer until it’s ordered, so plan accordingly; count on 15 to 20 minutes for food to arrive. While waiting, a gentleman walked in, announced it was his first time, and wanted to try some “hella hot” chicken. He was promptly disabused from that notion by one of Reed’s employees, despite claiming he was from Louisiana and could handle the heat.

“People from Louisiana seem to come in here, and they’re all like ‘I got a good spice tolerance,’” Reed says. “I always have to tell them, ‘Pace yourself.’”

Forget the other guys. Helen's Hot Chicken brings authentic Nashville hot chicken to Lewisville.EXPAND
Forget the other guys. Helen's Hot Chicken brings authentic Nashville hot chicken to Lewisville.
Chris Wolfgang

He’s not kidding about the heat. Our tenders arrived, and the cayenne heat is definitely strong at the hot level; in no time, my eyes are watering and my nose is running. But the crispy and spicy batter wraps around supremely moist, flavorful chicken breast meat. The combo nails the Nashville marks to a tee, down to the slice of white bread nestled under the chicken tenders and the dill pickle slices on top, just like they serve in Music City.

Perhaps emboldened by finishing the tenders, or suffering a momentary lapse in reason, I make my way back to the counter to order a leg quarter, hella hot. “You sure?” Secretly, I’m anything but sure. However, in the name of top-notch food journalism, I am determined to find out firsthand what it’s all about, consequences be damned.

There’s a 20-minute wait while the leg quarter is fried and seasoned, and the wait felt similar to the long creep a roller coaster makes up the opening hill, tension building before the first big drop. When it arrived, the leg quarter looked spicy, its deep crimson batter gleaming, fresh from the fryer. I gingerly picked it up, much like a first-time dad might pick up his newborn’s first dirty diaper, and took a bite from the thigh.

If you're going to order your hot chicken "hella hot," you'd better be prepared.EXPAND
If you're going to order your hot chicken "hella hot," you'd better be prepared.
Chris Wolfgang

Holy hell. Waves of heat immediately permeated the roof of my mouth, and my lips developed a sharp tingle that was still noticeable 45 minutes later. I quickly grabbed a swig of my drink, but that only served to spread the heat through the rest of my mouth and down my throat. Much like the tenders, the dark meat itself was still moist and tender, perfectly cooked, just with the spice knob turned to 11.

“You look like you’re struggling,” Reed says, chuckling as he reappeared from behind the counter. No doubt. I carefully picked my way through the rest of the leg quarter, pushed by some misguided sense of masculine pride, all while remaining uber-conscious not to wipe at my face with my capsaicin-soaked fingers. Helen’s Hot Chicken is light on the wallet but not light on flavor, and it captures a bit of the simple vibe of Prince’s in Nashville right in Dallas’ own backyard. Pace yourself.

Helen’s Hot Chicken, 413 Round Grove Road, Lewisville

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Helen's Hot Chicken

413 Round Grove Rd.
Lewisville, TX


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