I consider myself a pretty healthy eater, but I 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 are 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 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 amicable 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 some juicy, crispy chicken breast. The french fries are great, too — some might say similar to McDonald’s but way better quality. I will say, though, it’s not always perfectly served, but 95 percent of the time, it is.
81 S. Pennsylvania St., Denver
The Budlong started in Chicago, a long-established foodie city, and this eatery lives up to its foodie roots. 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 is always good.
3618 Tejon St., Denver
I have yet to try Chicken Rebel, but I’ve heard many good things. It started as a food truck regularly housed at Finn’s Manor, a bar with a back patio that houses a few food trucks. It gained such popularity that it got a spot as a vendor in Avanti F&B, one of Denver’s first food collectives with an amazing upstairs patio with great views of the city. After a few month’s stint there, they decided to open their own brick-and-mortar location. It’s an all-out restaurant with a full bar and wait service. Its chicken sandwiches are unique 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
Denver chef Frank Bonnano owns several restaurants in the city and 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 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 a separate brick and mortar, Lou’s Food Bar in Capitol Hill.
Edgewater Public Market, 5505 W. 20th Ave., Edgewater
Denver’s newest food hall and 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 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 that is both sweet and spicy. If you enjoy Asian or Korean flavors, I would recommend, if not, try the Big Bird with mustard slaw and cheddar.