Just before high noon, the entryway swells with hungry customers. We are eyeing each other, twitching with anticipation in between orders. With each name that’s called out, the people who have been waiting, patiently or otherwise, blast lasers from their eyes in that way that reads, “How did you get your order before mine?” The only comfort is the ding of a bell: Another order’s ready, and then comes the violent flurry of fry oil bubbling.
That’s the best sound at Mike’s Chicken, Maple Avenue's humble little chicken shack: Count the number of bubble flurries and bells, and you can time out which order is yours. The popping sound of chicken skin in lightning-hot peanut oil soothes all wounds.
“Can I have somebody here, please?” the day manager asks, moving the line along. Regular or not, be prepared to wait a minute or 10 at Mike’s Chicken: They’re frying fresh bolts of chicken to order, and it is, as promised, delivered hot — not heat-lamp hot, it’s NASCAR-engine, asphalt-shimmer hot.
“I should have ordered a whole chicken while I waited,” one woman mumbles to herself. It’s everyone for themselves at Mike’s Chicken for one reason: The fried chicken, in tender, wing or drum form, is mind-erasingly good. Bad days, bad thoughts — bad anything — burn away after one bite of this dead-awakening sandwich. Inside the dining room, the pepper heat and spices cause a sound-effects symphony of throat clears and eye-watering.
The Mike’s Sandwich means they pile gigantic chicken tenders, three craggy beauties, under a heap of shredded cabbage and carrot slaw. There are a couple of pickles in there, which is meant to be. It’s all pepper and juices behind the thin, breakable orange-gold shell. There are no desiccated crispy bits on this chicken —you can see the black pepper flakes.The bun is soft and smashed. Long-cut slaw is dressed in a sauce as orange-red as rocket fire. Sitting with a sandwich, a couple of customers eye the Styrofoam box it showed up in like they’re going to steal it right off the table. This is the point in the Western film when thumbs and fingers twitch over holstered guns. Back away people, back away.
This tiny shack with pine wood, run by the family team of Son and Tram Dao (the chicken is inspired by their teenage son’s taste), is serving one of the best chicken sandwiches in Dallas. You can pry it out of our cold, napping hands. Minutes after a spike of customer frustration, the line dissipates. Frustration is in the rearview mirror because what matters is the food: It’s good and it’s hot.
Mike's Chicken, 2403, 4234 Maple Ave.