It's baffling that the great chicken wars of 2019 have only just begun, but they've resulted in a lot of fast food fussing and Popeyes’ August 27 announcement that it already sold out of its newly introduced sandwich nationwide. It’s twice as baffling in Austin, where local chefs are engaged in a higher form of fowl play. With juicier patties, better buns, and far more innovative toppings, these local spots are already winners.
This downtown Southern eatery’s chicken sandwich is all about the details. A benne seed roll lays the foundation for an intriguing mix of flavors from house sweet tea pickles, sunchokes, and mayo (made even more luscious with chicken fat). It's altogether a more genteel version of the dish, but diners won’t want to eat it with a knife and fork. Grab hold of it with both hands between taking sips of a Bourbon on the rocks.
Calling itself “feel good fast food,” this locally owned mini chain mixes conscious sourcing with all the convenience of the corporate giants. On-the-go guests can zoom through the drive-thru for the Club 512, a Bat City redux of the sandwich classic with pepper jack cheese and a creamy house avocado salsa. Those with a few more moments to spare will be happy to know it has a comfortable dining room where guests can relish every bite.
When chef Matthew Reinhart opened this Manchaca Road food truck in 2018, he decided to pay homage to his two grandmothers — one known for fried chicken and the other for South Texas cuisine. The result is a menu that feels 100 percent Austin. The sandwiches range from the sprightly Original with a slick of lime mayo to the weekends only El Martín with a fried egg and Mexican Coke glazed bacon, but the Espicy has pecked its way to the head of the flock with a peppery triple threat of árbol-garlic oil, chipotle mayo, and creamy jalapeño salsa.
A bowling alley restaurant could easily plop down a frozen patty and keep its captive audience happy, but this diner carved into a corner of Westgate Lanes aims to roll a strike. The cutlets are marinated and hand-breaded, ensuring the sandwich is always moist. Some may argue adding ranch dressing and bacon is hardly innovative, but as The Dude says, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
It’s no surprise that Salty Sow chef Harold Marmulstein would be a whiz at fried chicken. The crisp thighs at that restaurant are among the the city’s best, but his fare at Tumble 22 feels like a revelation. There are two chicken sandwich choices, but the Southern version is the best. Both have snappy bread and butter pickles, Duke’s mayo, and an, ahem, tumble of kale slaw, but the dark meat version trumps the white meat every time.
While many Austin concepts seem to be in a race to bring the most farm to table, this tongue-in-cheek East Austin food truck proudly layers Swiss cheese product on all of its Hot Gai sandwiches. The gooey slices trigger latchkey kid nostalgia while drawing out the sweetness of massaman mayo and Thai basil. It’s perfectly lovely with an IPA on the Zilker Brewing patio. It’s just as good to go when guests want to get their Claw on.