The drive to find the best fried chicken sandwich is not just about the sandwich. It’s the idea that something so indulgent could be measured and critiqued, and a moment of enjoyment can become a memory shared over something so innocuous.
I never knew that my late-night cravings could lead me down a path of adventure into the world of the foodie — and also down a path of regret for which my arteries will never forgive me.
I should begin by saying I am not a chef or culinary student and in no way qualified to judge food, but I do have a passion for cooking and an average pallet, so take my words with a grain of salt or MSG.
Also, I am no rogue sandwich eater. My rules for defining the best chicken sandwich are basic: it must be from Phoenix, it must be listed on the menu as a chicken sandwich, and it must be gloriously fried. Apologies to grilled chicken sandwich lovers.
My baseline for understanding the fried chicken sandwich begins at Mesa Community College. Fortunately for me, it took off from there.
The hockey puck of poultry smashed between two buns was born in a factory and left to bake under a heat-lamp to think about what it had done to deserve such a cruel existence. My taste buds owe Henry John Heinz a debt of gratitude and the pickle deserves a Nobel Prize for humanitarian efforts for keeping me alive. The kitchen staff are too nice and deserving to dish out what the college is offering. I wish them nothing but the best.
At the next stop on my odyssey, I travel down Dobson to reignite old feuds. I pull into the grimy drive-thru and order the number eight, a Popeye’s chicken sandwich. Once in hand, I quickly look over my shoulder and find a place to settle, because the tone of Popeye’s makes me feel like I’m doing something very illegal.
However, the first bite had me hooked. It’s crispy and delicious, and it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still just fast-food. There isn’t anything spectacular about it. I’m left confused about the recent rivalry with Chick-fil-a.
That is until I arrive at the sparkly and welcoming Chick-fil-a. The sandwich from this joint has Popeyes on the run, but it’s too nice and not edgy enough to hurt anyone.
Greens like lettuce makes everything stand out in the sandwich, but the Deluxe blends in. The sandwich was good, but the experience of customer service also determines how the food will taste, so the robotic happy way I was served made me miss the excitement of Popeyes.
As for the feud between the two restaurants, I must hand this one to Popeyes. I had a fun time in a dodgy drive-thru and the sandwich was very tasty.
In a brief, Raising Cane’s chicken sandwich doesn’t feel like one. Their tenders are disguised as a sandwich and is slathered in their signature overpowering Cane’s sauce. Get it to satisfy the hunger, but be warned that it too is nothing special.
The aesthetic of Peoria questionable. Witness strip mall after strip mall mixed with bland plazas as far as the eye can see, but hidden in the labyrinth of avenues are culinary geniuses toiling away at perfecting fried chicken sandwiches.
Rocket Burger and Subs have a great chicken sandwich. It’s different because it’s spicy and fresh, and the service feels authentic. Plus, Rocket’s is the only place I know that serves Hires brand root beer.
What makes the sandwich great is how the chicken rests upon a bed of flavorful coleslaw. I will say it’s different than most coleslaws. It’s not sweet like I expected, but it jolted my taste-buds alive. It’s difficult to describe, but like an abductee of a UFO recently returned to earth, confused and discombobulated, I know what I saw—or tasted.
I will be going back soon because I miss the sketchy fluorescent flicker of the hole-in-the-wall hangout. It’s local and delicious.
However, my journey begins and ends with Crazi’s Hot Chicken. Crazi’s is the lovechild of Steven and Sarah Carrizoza. They work full-time jobs, so cooking chicken is their side gig. When I found that out, I was floored.
The chicken sandwich had me fooled into thinking I was in the presence of a master chef. I cannot forget it, and it drives me crazy just thinking about the mouthwatering goodness that is Crazi’s. I was welcomed by the small team of four like I was part of a secret club—which technically I am, because their following is so small—but it was a warm welcome and a genuine interaction only a local place could achieve. I feel like a creep for stalking their Instagram, because I cannot wait for their next announcement. I hereby declare Crazi’s the reigning Valley champions of fried chicken sandwiches.
When all is said and done and I’ve had the last bite, I look back at how much fun I had. The feeling of shady sandwich dealings and fried tastiness will forever be remembered, and eating the best chicken sandwich is now a cherished memory. I owe a lot to the humble comfort food; I owe a lot to fried chicken sandwiches.