I consider myself to be a pretty healthy eater, but I definitely have my vices — fried chicken sandwiches being one of them. It’s strange because when I was a kid, I thought fried chicken in general to be gross. (One thing I’ve always disliked and will always dislike is hot dogs.) But nowadays, I’ve found fried chicken sandwiches to be one of my favorite things to eat when I’m feeling careless. Luckily, today there are many restaurants and even chains that source locally farmed chickens which is healthier for people and the environment. Rather than eating Popeye’s, KFC or Chick-Fil-A, eating at local institutions that aren’t using factory farmed chicken is a much better alternative. So here is the lowdown on good quality chicken sandwiches, specifically in the city of Denver:
Various Locations: Five Points, University & the Union Station Whole Foods, Denver
My love for hot chicken began at this lovely establishment. I live near one of the locations, so I’ve had it more times than I’d like to say. My take on Birdcall is being a high-quality, futuristic fast food joint. You go in and it has kiosks where you put in your order on the screen and pay there as well. Some would say that seems anti-social but the employees there are extremely nice and helpful. But on to the sandwich, it has several varieties, but I’ve only ever had the Original and the Nashville Hot. Its base is a nice buttery aspen bun with dill or sweet pickles and then some juicy, crispy chicken breast. The french fries are great, too — some might say similar to McDonald’s but obviously way better quality. I will say though, it’s not always perfectly served, but 95 percent of the time it is.
Zeppelin Station, 3501 Wazee St., Suite 100, Denver
The Budlong started in Chicago, a long established foodie city, and this eatery lives up to its foodie roots. It opened up in the RiNo food hall, Zeppelin Station which is somewhat of an international hub of different cultural food offerings and a retail series called ‘Made In:’ which features a different city from around the world every few months and showcases its local designers. The specialty at the Budlong is Nashville hot chicken featuring sandwiches, tenders, wings and more. I had the coveted Hot Chicken sandwich (it’s perfect). It has the right amount of heat, a slather of its flavorful ‘comeback’ sauce and a heap of coleslaw to cool it down. It comes on a brioche bun, too, which you can’t ever go wrong with.
3618 Tejon St., Denver
I have yet to try Chicken Rebel, but I’ve heard many good things. Starting out as a food truck regularly housed at Finn’s Manor which is a bar that has a back patio which houses a few food trucks. It gained such popularity that it was able to get a spot as a vendor in Avanti F&B, one of Denver’s first food collectives which has an amazing upstairs patio with great views of the city. After a few months stint there, it decided to open its own brick and mortar location. It’s an all out restaurant with a full bar and wait service. Its chicken sandwiches are special because they are beer battered and come in several creative variations like the Hometown Rebel with bacon, guacamole and its ‘rebel’ sauce. You bet your bottom dollar I’m going to be trying this soon.
Lou’s Hot and Naked
701 Grant St. and Denver Milk Market, 1800 Wazee St., Denver
Well-known chef of Denver, Frank Bonnano who owns several restaurants in the city, recently opened a big downtown food hall near Union Station. The Denver Milk Market is grandiose with tons of food vendors, bars, a pasta maker, a butcher and more. One of the food stalls is Lou’s Hot and Naked which was inspired by a trip Bonnano made to Nashville trying all of the city’s infamous hot chicken. Milk Market is a very lively and fun place — I went and of course had to try the hot chicken. I got the Lou’s sandwich, which is just a potato roll, crispy chicken breast and pickles — you can request naked, medium or hot, I got the hot. It was solid, definitely the most like Chick-Fil-A, but slightly better. This past summer, it also opened its own individual brick and mortar, Lou’s Food Bar in Capitol Hill.
Edgewater Public Market, 5505 W. 20th Ave., Edgewater
Denver’s newest food hall and now the largest one in the city, Edgewater Public Market is home to tons of unique food stalls. It has everything from Ethiopian to lobster rolls — and a fried chicken spot — Lucky Bird. It started out as a food truck and still is, but has now expanded to have a physical space at the Edgewater hall. It’s not your average chicken, it has an Asian twist, though it does have some standard American offerings. I ordered the Spicy Bird which comes on a potato bun with a healthy sized fried chicken breast, gochujang butter and house pickles. Gochujang is a Korean chili paste which is both sweet and spicy. If you enjoy Asian or Korean flavors, I would definitely recommend, if not try the Big Bird with mustard slaw and cheddar.
Broadway Market, 950 Broadway, Denver
If you can’t tell, food halls seem to be the spot for all the good fried chicken sandwiches — and plenty of other delicious grub options. The Broadway Market is home to a sushi bar, pizzeria, chocolatier, self-serving beer — and Royal Rooster which offers epic chicken sandwiches and burgers. Famed Denver chef, Justin Brunson is the mastermind behind the Rooster. The chicken is cage-free and 100 percent antibiotic free. The sandwiches come on ‘squishy’ buns with dill or butter pickles and bibb lettuce. The varieties include a Nashville Hot (ghost pepper), Spicy (chipotle mayonnaise), French (topped with ham and swiss) and the Classic. I think I need to try them all.