No one needs an excuse to eat more fried chicken. From Zesto and Bernie’s broasted chicken to Drake Duck-In’s chicken sandwich, we have a rich history of fried chicken in this city.
Indeed, the breaded bird has always seemed like sacred ground around here, but it’s become even more present with trends like hot chicken, chicken and waffles, and the Popeyes-fueled fried chicken sandwich debate that took over our social media feeds last year.
Recently, though, a growing list of restaurants have jumped into the game and developed their own spins on the longtime favorite style of chicken-cooking — some familiar, some wildly different. Here are four highlights you need to try.
Deep Fried Chicken Wings with Fish Sauce
Pho Viet (9308 Two Notch Rd., 803-699-5959; 2011 Devine St., 803-779-4077)
There’s nothing wrong with regular chicken wings at your favorite bar or at home. It’s a national favorite for a reason, and classics like Buffalo and lemon pepper are absolutely delicious. In many ways, Pho Viet’s version reproduces a lot of what we love about chicken wings. They’re crispy, sticky and sweet. The cool part of these wings, though, is the bit of extra umami funk from the fish sauce, which adds a huge depth of flavor that’s unlike any wing you can find in town.
Fish sauce is made from salting fish and letting it ferment so that it releases its brine. It understandably doesn’t sound particularly fantastic, but what you get when you go through this is a clear, lightly colored liquid that’s bursting with umami, that fifth flavor that’s all about savoriness. Fish sauce upfront can be overpowering, but blending it with sugar, citrus and aromatics mellows it out into a pleasant brininess that’s unlike anything other form of salt.
The fish sauce glaze Pho Viet makes gives a deep, golden color and an irresistible sweet and salty taste to its wing. An order of this with a plate of house fried rice or mi xao, a noodle stir-fry, would make a terrific game night dinner for binge-watching ballgames.
Asanka’s Fried Chicken
Asanka Kitchen (10203 Two Notch Rd., 803-851-0111, asankakitchen.com)
If Asanka’s fried chicken were just fried chicken, it would already be really good fried chicken. It’s crispy and juicy in all the right ways, and the meat is well-seasoned to the point you wouldn’t need anything added to enjoy it any day of the week. Their spice blend, however, completely changes the game. The best word I could muster to describe what the spices add to the chicken is “warmth,” an internal heat that’s spicy in the traditional sense, but also comforting in the way something like paprika can be for a lot of dishes. Unlike most fried chickens, which leave you feeling a bit guilty after finishing, you get a real feeling of satisfaction after finishing Asanka’s version that lingers well after it’s over.
Fried “Chicken” Sandwich
A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen (2338 Main St., 803-253-7889, apeaceofsoul.com)
I didn’t want to like it, but when I opened the container with A Peace of Soul’s vegan fried chicken sandwich and took a bite, it was hard to argue with how crazy delicious it was. The “chicken” is made from a soy-and-wheat protein that replicates chicken shockingly well. Owner Folami Geter has known about the powers of soy-and-wheat protein for years, serving things like kung pao “chicken” to great success.
What really brings the sandwich to life is the layering of flavors. The sandwich is not just trying to mimic the beloved fried chicken sandwich. The aim is higher, to actually make a truly delicious version that stands on its own. The breading is super crispy and crunchy, with lots of flavor packed in. Lettuce, tomatoes and a hearty pickle add lots of texture, and a thick layer of spicy mayo-esque house sauce brings the whole sandwich together.
This isn’t just a good vegan chicken sandwich. It’s as good as any “real” chicken sandwich in town.
Korean Fried Chicken
929 Kitchen & Bar (929 Gervais St., 803-764-3825, 929kitchen.com)
The other KFC in town, Korean fried chicken, has become a popular hit at modern restaurants both here and abroad. Not deeply battered like American chicken, Korean fried chicken is usually coated not in flour, but a light corn or potato starch batter. The starch is a huge change, offering an almost tempura batter that’s light and airy, but still ultra-crispy. The chicken also is typically in the wing category, though some places do the whole bird.
It also is different in that it can absorb sauce well. Korean fried chicken can come in lots of flavors, but the staple is typically a sweet, sticky soy sauce with garlic.
929 started offering this modern Korean favorite on its appetizer menu, with options for either a soy garlic or “hot” garlic option. Even after a long 20-minute drive home with a fresh to-go order, the wings were still shatteringly crispy despite being brushed in sauce. The sauce really makes the chicken shine, offering a burst of sweetness and a hint of saltiness that will make you want seconds and thirds.