Chicken Sandwich Champions
The metro’s best birds on buns
One of the questions that dominated social media for a month or so in 2020 – unbelievably – was which fast-food chain that uses factory-farm-raised chickens, flavorless buns and questionable condiments had the “best” chicken sandwich. In a year dominated by COVID, it made a perverse sort of sense. With hope for a better 2021, we think the more apposite question is: Which local joint that uses responsibly raised chickens, fresh ingredients and buns that taste like, well, actual bread, has the best chicken sandwich?
Perhaps, too, we can stop talking about which thing is the “best” and just find a bunch of things that are all delicious in their own ways. In that spirit, we built a list of chicken sandwiches to get you started on your quest, beginning with what one critic called a “chicken meatball sandwich.” (Sometimes criticism is praise in disguise.)
Tori Tori! at 1634 N Blackwelder is the latest concept from Rachel Cope’s 84 Hospitality, and it’s built around chicken. (Tori is the Japanese word for “bird” or loosely, chicken.) Chef Jeff Chanchaleune took the concept for his chicken sandwiches from the meatballs at Goro.
“People love the tsukune-style meatballs we do at Goro, and formerly Gun, so I thought it would be fun to make a chicken sandwich using ground chicken,” Chanchaleune says. “I like the texture, and it’s more interesting than a brined breast.”
The ground chicken does make it possible to intensify flavors more easily and consistently than using breasts, or even thighs, and the texture is burger-like and very satisfying. The patties are crunchy thanks to the panko breading, and they’re finished with charred negi (onion) mayo, red cabbage, mustard vinaigrette and pickled cucumbers. There is a spicy version, too, that is legitimately spicy.
Ponyboy has rolled out their new menu created by Chef Landon Hawpe. The options successfully straddle the line between bar food and American bistro. Hawpe opted for a katsu chicken sandwich, as well, and the use of thigh meat creates a juicy, flavorful bite made spicy with his housemade sauce.
Palo Santo (1203 SW 2; see page xx) uses panko for the breading, too, on its katsu chicken sandwich. It’s a simple, delicious approach with a brined breast, house pickles and Kewpie mayo mixed with sriracha.
In the category of “over-the-top,” the Nashvillain at Marc Dunham’s Nashbird (locations in downtown OKC, Edmond and Norman) is hot chicken on a bun with mac ‘n’ cheese, bacon, onion rings and ranch dressing. You can choose the heat level, or opt for southern fried or buttermilk ranch style. The brioche bun holds up nicely, and it’s enough food for two once you add the side.
As for split-able sandwiches, the monster at Burger Punk (3012 N Walker) is definitely a meal for two … but maybe get the loaded fries just to be sure. Chef Chris McCabe dreamed this up in some shiny, sunny corner of his brain, so it features a pterodactyl-sized breast, house-made pickles, lettuce and punk sauce. It’s a beautiful, delicious mess.
Back to the chicken thigh variation for a moment. Thighs really do have more flavor than breasts; it’s not even controversial. R&J Lounge and Supper Club at 320 NW 10, in an homage to Bobo’s Chicken on the northeast side, uses Eastside chicken to make its sandwich. The thighs are smoked, deboned and fried, so they’re very flavorful. There’s some heat from the sriracha aioli, but it’s a pleasant, warming heat, not biting.
Finally, Jimmy B’s opened at 1225 N Broadway on Automobile Alley in 2020, and was one of the best things to happen last year. Its chicken sandwich features a brined breast with buttermilk wash, a touch of arbol chili, a hint of cayenne and seasoned flour. With fresh tomatoes and cole slaw that should win awards, it’s a traditional chicken sandwich that has just enough flavor tweaks to make it deliciously distinctive.