Kim Chanthorn stands guard on the secret to Saap Lao Kitchen’s mountainous crunch of their takeout fried chicken. What is known: They dredge deboned chicken thighs in flour and spices and deep fry until the bird has a golden armor. Then, it’s dropped in a box with a scoop of sticky rice and a sour-tangy jeow som sauce for immediate dipping.
That pristine batter maintains its shatterable state long after a drive home (just outside downtown Dallas) from Bedford. Fried chicken plated with the sticky rice is a hell of a meal. If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, along with a fridge full of pickles and rolls, then you’ve got another one.
After a recent visit, a little bit of fried chicken somehow (I was in a crunchy chicken dream state) made its way to a toasted roll with more of that sauce and a nest of good dill pickles and onions. The chicken snapped and broke open, wonderful juices running into the pickles and onions — it was one of the best fried chicken sandwiches, with some assembly required, and all I had to do was open the refrigerator door.
There were a lot of leftovers this year because there was so much cooking. This was a year to transform leftovers into sandwiches and devour them standing because we’ve already sat in every room and every chair in the house.
There were also many fried chicken sandwiches in Dallas this year: The seriously spicy-to-the-bone Lucky’s, which has heat levels that range from Texas summer to the nuclear wave that wipes out Los Angeles in Terminator 2.
Here are some of those local choices, aka how you can order soul-consoling, local fried chicken sandwiches right now in Dallas.
Mike’s Sandwich at Mike’s Chicken4234 Maple Ave., No. 2403 (Oak Lawn)
Good peanut oil locks up the batter. It’s warm and spicy and wonderfully salty. You don’t need a bun or coleslaw, honestly, but the sandwich is welcome. Creamy heat comes from the long-cut slaw, orange as a roaring campfire. It's piled on top of smoking-hot tenders. Son and Tram Dao’s little joint moves fast — they fry and serve to order — and a line can pile up if you show up during the lunch rush. It’s worth every minute you spend.
The Chicken Parm Hero at Carbone’s4208 Oak Lawn Ave., Highland Park
Tenderness you could crack open with a fork comes from the brine. Long before the deep fryer, Carbone’s bathes the chicken breast in a salty, sugary water. Out of the bath, they pound the chicken breast flat, then run it over with Parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper and a breadcrumb cage of day-old bread. Good mozzarella stretches from each bite. Shishito peppers, blistered and warm, mingle with peppers and onions.
The Pickle Brined and Fried Chicken Sandwich at Roy G’s4001 Cedar Springs Road (Oak Lawn)
The bird sits for a day in Best Maid pickle juice at Roy G's. Dipped in two different kinds of buttermilk, then a dredge through heavily spiced flour and deep-fried, it’s tender and brittle and creamy. This is a fried chicken sandwich for eating solo, hunkered up to the bar, both elbows planted, with an ice-cold beer. It’s an experience that tops the list of things to do if we can vanquish this virus.
The Cardi B at Invasion4029 Crutcher St. (Old East Dallas)
You don’t get an overwhelming “fried” flavor on this sandwich at Invasion. You taste fresh herbs. They’re on everything you bite into here. You’ll find flecks in the flour and the buttermilk. The thighs are immersed for two days, at a minimum, then get fried in a neutral oil and topped with a spicy sauce that sparkles with heat and roasted garlic. It’s WAP: Wonderful ass poultry.
The Dirty South at Standard Service5631 Alta Ave. (Lowest Greenville)
Chef Danyele McPherson’s fried chicken sandwiches like to get hammered with Texas Pete’s hot sauce. The buttermilk soak for the chicken is dashed with salt, garlic and plenty of Texas Pete. On a recent visit, the Dirty South sandwich made a crunch explosion frack sound: It comes from that flour blend that includes rice and tapioca. A drizzle of honey (sourced from Sabine Creek, Texas) folded into a melty butter evens out the heat and salt and crunch.
The Crispy Chicken at Chirps Chicken Shack3619 Greenville Ave. (Lower Greenville)
This is local fast food that’s good. It’s a fast-food counter strategy — skip the drive-thru this time and roll through Chirps Chicken Shack’s bar. Tender fried chicken is in every bite (there are no fried-casing-only bites) with good pickles, slaw and a creamy sauce. Their three levels of heat sneak up on you and tap you on the shoulder. The fries are waffle-cut — another reason to ditch that chain that pretends to be good-natured. The juices, stuck behind the breading, never run dry.
The “Which Came First” Sandwich at Jonathon’s1111 N. Beckley Ave. (North Oak Cliff)
Chicken breast is showered with chili powder, paprika, garlic and onion powders, salt and pepper. Once the chicken is deep-fried to a fashionable crisp, it sits on heavily buttered and grilled bread. Two fried eggs, good sunset-yellow yolks, rocket this Dallas-diner-classic into the upper atmosphere. Important note: The sourdough is griddled on both sides, leaving a sort of four-dimensional butter-crunch on each bite.
Matt’s Chicken Sandwich at Matt’s Rancho Martinez1904 Skillman St. (East Dallas)
Somewhere on their lengthy Tex-Mex menu, loaded with traditional options like sour cream enchiladas and chiles rellenos with raisins, is one fried chicken made with a handful of simple ingredients: It’s just chicken breast that’s pummeled until tender, flour puffed with “Matt’s Texas Sprinkle” (their custom seasoning blend) and buttermilk. They swipe the tenderized chicken through the flour, dunk it in the buttermilk, hit it with more of that sprinkle stuff, then another dunk in the buttermilk. It's fried until it’s encased in a peppery bark.
The S.O.S. at TLC Vegan Kitchen520 Shepherd Drive, No. 10, Garland
Chef Troy Gardner is a ninja at making vegan dishes that won’t make you miss meat. One of those is a fried Impossible Foods steak (stay calm) encased in a breading of rice and pea flour and dried herbs. Everything’s evenly seasoned, salt and steamy pepper flavors, loaded with a ton of toppings. There are portobello mushrooms in a smoky, spicy barbecue sauce, a horizon of mac and cheese (cheese sauce made primarily of potatoes and carrots), mashed avocado, plenty of acid from pickles and red onion. A big bite takes you through all the layers. Impossible Foods is the best of the plant-based brands — it doesn’t replace a good steak by any stretch, but it’s damn good on its own.
The Fried Chicken at Brown Bag Provisions150 Turtle Creek Blvd., No. 202 (Design District)
With the yogurt whey leftovers from their dairy operation, Milk & Patience, Brown Bag co-owner Brent Gilewicz ferments and loads up the brine with ginger and jalapenos — these pickles practically buzz with the flavor. That pickle juice is dashed into the brine. The chicken's cooked sous vide, then washed in their homemade buttermilk and seasoned in garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Their fancy sauce is inspired by the movie Step Brothers: ketchup, mayo, mustard and fermented chili paste. Three Hawaiian-style rolls, soft as buttered clouds, are decked with American cheese. The crust of the fried chicken is a dark amber, intensely crunchy.
“The way this got started was that pickle,” Gilewicz says.
Pro-tip: Recently, Gilewicz has been testing a crunch roll for the bread that's lacquered with fried chicken seasoning. In other words, their fried chicken sandwich has fried chicken seasoning rolls.