FRIED CHICKEN is a sentimental favorite among Hoosiers who grew up on the comforting staple featured on diner menus, prayed over at family sit-downs, and packed into race-day box lunches. Food trends come and go, but fried chicken is both adaptable (as witnessed by Indy’s recent wave of Nashville hot spots) and timeless—its signature crackle was ASMR before ASMR was cool. In honor of Indiana’s other state bird, we rounded up the best places around town to get your chomp on. So grab some napkins. It’s crunch time.
TRADITION RULES at this northside special-occasion landmark with a serious grandma’s-house vibe. The whole stately operation got underway in 1928 when V.D. Vincent and his wife began graciously welcoming guests into their (at the time) country cottage for mannerly and memorable repasts, eventually christening the restaurant in honor of the vibrant flowers that bloomed in abundance on the property. Family-style dining is still the modus operandi, to the tune of more than 1,000 dinners served each week. The hormone-free, humanely raised chicken is dusted in organic flour and fried the old-fashioned way in lard. In a calculated move, breasts are sliced in half crosswise for even cooking.
Plan to loosen your belt a few notches as servers present endless platters of chicken along with salad doused in the signature sweet vinaigrette, pickled beets, cottage cheese, biscuits with apple butter, and bowls brimming with sweet corn, ham hock–studded green beans, and whipped potatoes. (Don’t even think about skipping the homemade gravy.) Just when you think you couldn’t possibly take another bite, out comes a scoop of ice cream for dessert. 8110 N.
College Ave., 317-251-2294, hollyhockhill.com
OWNER JAY WILSON explains that the fried chicken at his den of comfort food on the edge of Broad Ripple is not brined (a step he declares “overrated”), only pan-fried in vegetable oil. Each wing, thigh, drumstick, and breast is coated in flour with an ensemble of spices that Wilson is reluctant to name. It’s easy to forgive the secrecy after tasting the results: savory, plump pieces of yard bird with an airy, crispy exterior. Don’t fret if you order too much. It’s still delectable reheated in an air fryer the next day.
Serving top-tier fried chicken since 1999, Mississippi Belle exists on the soulful end of the Southern food spectrum. For $24, you get three big pieces of chicken—two dark, one white. They throw in four sides of your choice (the collard greens and mac and cheese are no-brainers), plus a beverage, sliced tomatoes and onions, and some golden-fried hot-water cornbread for good measure. 2170 E. 54th St., 317-466-0522
Shani’s Secret Chicken
IF YOU KNOW, you know. This catch-it-when-you-can chicken venture operates as a culinary speakeasy of sorts out of a Chapati ghost kitchen with limited hours and availability. After moving to America from Saudi Arabia, the owners had a hard time finding the kind of fried chicken they loved back home, finally deciding they’d just have to start making it themselves. It took a year to perfect the halal recipe, through lots of experimental seasoning. But once it finally rolled out in 2019, the distinctively delicious end result was hard to keep on the down-low. Offered in tandoori or spicy variations, the locally sourced, humanely raised and processed poultry swims in a pool of Pakistani and Indian spices for 24 hours before taking a dip in buttermilk and batter. Then, each serving is fried fresh to order. (Pro move: ask for double coating if you’re a fan of extra-crispy.) Sweet heat, spicy sweet heat, and spicy garlic mango sauces take the flavor to a whole other level, either drenching the chicken or served on the side with sliced cucumbers to help tame the burn. Make a meal of it with slabs of garlic cheese naan or a side of Malai Bombs, Chapati’s gut-busting, deep-fried balls of mozzarella and potato. 4930 Lafayette Rd., 317-405-9874, shanissecretchicken.com
Kopper Kettle Inn
TUCKING IN to one of the family-style chicken dinners at Morristown’s fanciful stop along Route 52 feels a little like dining in a museum, with every shelf, niche, nook, and cranny of the 164-seat Victorian property holding some form of treasure. The antique furniture, Chinese chests, Dresden dishes, and marble statuary turn a visit here into a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. (If the weather’s nice, ask for a table on the lovely shaded patio.)
Though the restaurant is approaching its 100th anniversary, not much has changed in the past century, right down to the blue cheese salad dressing. And that’s just the way its owners and customers want it. Sourced from longtime vendor McFarland Foods, the chicken is prepared as simply as the setting is extravagant, requiring little more than a dusting of salt, pepper, and flour before the pieces are fried in lard to let their true flavor shine through. Meals start with soup or salad before launching into a procession of whipped potatoes, green beans, corn, gravy, dinner rolls, and ice cream. Customers receive kettle corn—a rather on-the-nose finale—as a sweet parting gift. 135 W. Main St., Morristown, 765-763-6767, kopperkettle.com
Wilson Farm Market
HEAD NORTH out of Carmel on U.S. 31 and keep driving until you spot this sprawling red-roofed structure run by Bill and Judy Wilson. Described perfectly by one Yelp reviewer as a “country bodega,” this roadside gem for more than 40 years contains tidy shelves of jams, candy, and popcorn, freezers brimming with local meats and handmade pies, and a Wisconsin cheese selection that rivals any store deli. And if you call ahead, there will be a to-go order of sublime fried chicken waiting there for you. It’s packaged in a cute handled box to take home, but no one would blame you if you immediately gave in to the comfort-food gods and had a picnic right there in the parking lot beside the giant ear of corn. 1720 E. 256th St., Arcadia, 317-758-5734, wilsonfarmmarket.com
Gray Brothers Cafeteria
MOORESVILLE’S OG mega-cafeteria has been inspiring fried chicken pilgrimages from across the state since 1944. Look for the giant American flag waving over State Road 67. Park your car and get in line. You’ll have plenty of time to take in the whole soul-warming scene—the spacious dining rooms full of fireplaces and bric-a-brac of a certain age that are right on brand with the down-home food. The true star of the show, the chicken bathes in a marinade for 24 hours before taking a dunk in the same breading recipe the family has used for 40 years. Each week, more than two tons of bird pass through the brothers Gray’s dedicated fryers before hitting the service line. In addition to white and dark on-the-bone portions, the poultry makes respectable appearances in the form of chicken Parmesan and cozy-as-a-hug chicken and noodles. Narrowing down a reasonable number of accompaniments from choices like mashed potatoes with white or brown gravy, green beans, and buttered corn always proves difficult. The best advice? Go ahead and get one of each to share. 555 S. Indiana St., Mooresville, 317-790-2191, graybroscafeteria.com
Natural State Provisions
RESTAURATEUR ADAM SWEET made his reputation in Indianapolis by cooking up Neapolitan-style pizzas at downtown’s King Dough. But the Arkansas transplant, who could not ignore his culinary roots for long, opened a second venture last year, Natural State Provisions. Though Sweet (along with wife Alicia) serves everything from smashburgers to fried catfish to craft beer in the spacious former brewery decorated with cool vintage knick-knacks, the fried chicken is his darling. He serves it in three-piece arrangements, dusted with a kicky seasoning, in paper-lined baskets that you pick up at the front counter. His multi-day preparation is a little less straightforward. First, the pieces soak for 24 hours in a sweet-tea brine. Then they are breaded and left to sit in the cooler overnight so that the wet and dry ingredients have time to form that perfect bulletproof varnish. Finally, they’re dusted with flour one more time before Sweet throws them in the fryer. “It’s super-delicious,” he says. As you bite into that deep-golden sheath of fortified skin that seals in the meat’s juices, you have to agree. 414 Dorman St., 317-492-9887, naturalstateprovisions.com
Root & Bone
THIS POPULAR SoBro eatery whose ownership hails from Florida and Australia shows proper respect for the hallowed place fried chicken holds within the greater diaspora of Southern cuisine. Chef-owners and former Top Chef contestants Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth tweaked their recipe at the original Root & Bone spot in New York City before bringing their wares to Indy in 2020. With quality top of mind, the team sampled birds from six different purveyors before finally settling on Miller’s Amish Chicken for its tenderness and flavor. A 48-hour sweet-tea brine precedes a seasoned flour dredge just before pressure-frying. A quick dusting of house-made dried lemon powder puts an exclamation mark on the final presentation. Sweet hot honey sauce served on the side brings just enough sting to the party.
The half-bird order is the way to go during dinner service, but the chicken and waffles leads the pack at brunch on the weekends. Mac and cheese, corn soufflé, a jar of assorted pickles, and creamy grits with pimento cheese all prove themselves to be worthy Southern sides. Wash everything down with the house old fashioned made with bacon-washed bourbon and a dash of maple syrup. 4601 N. College Ave., 317-602-8672, rootnboneindy.com
The Iron Skillet
THE IRON SKILLET is both darkly atmospheric and quaintly cozy, serving up Southern hospitality alongside its abundant homestyle fare. On a recent visit, one server sweetly called patrons “y’all,” while another regaled the children of a lifelong customer with a story about their daddy eating here when he was their age. Indeed, the Skillet has operated in the same historic house since 1953. Built in 1870, its pre-poultry history includes a stint with the Army during World War II.
These days, dinner is served in rambling family-style courses (read: doggie bags are in your future), beginning with a savory onion soup or a chilled tomato juice, then advancing to housemade pickled beets, cottage cheese, and a lightly dressed iceberg wedge. The star of the show, four pieces of succulent dark and white meat magic, arrives with a fanfare of fluffy mashed potatoes, green beans tumbled with ham bits, buttery corn, warm baking-powder biscuits, and chicken gravy. The Iron Skillet offers an array of entrees besides its hand-turned fried chicken, but the bird is the thing here. Proprietor Ronald Torr explains the preparation: “Coated in flour and salt, then skillet-fried in lard.” That’s it. No brining. No spices. Yet that simple method of cookery yields marvelous chicken. 2489 W. 30th St., 317-923-6353, ironskillet.net
His Place Eatery
SOUL FOOD and barbecue are the house specialties at James Jones’s eastside staple, where the chef, inspired by his mother’s style of cooking, breads his signature chicken in flour seasoned with herbs and spices, deep fries it by the basketful, and serves it piping hot. On the side, order some chunky collard greens, extra-creamy macaroni and cheese, and yams cooked down to a candied sweetness with butter and cinnamon. If you’re feeling fancy, upgrade to the chicken and waffle option. But do the combination justice by eating in properly: tear off a hunk of the caramel-skinned chicken, place it atop a bite of fluffy waffle, and then drizzled on both hot sauce and syrup. The combination of spicy and sweet flavors is a revelation. 6916 E. 30th St., 317-545-4890, hisplaceeatery.com
ON WEDNESDAYS after 5 p.m., this vibrant Saint Joseph mainstay that was recently named one of the 32 Best Gay Bars in America by Esquire magazine features a weekly fried chicken dinner special that is worth the seven-day wait. The meat gets an overnight brine for optimal tenderization, and the crust is bronzed and rippled from a stint in the deep fryer that turns every crinkle of skin into a pocket of flavor that’s just salty enough. The hulking appendages get a good sprinkle of fresh herbs before they come out to the table arranged like abstract art on sturdy metal trays. For $16.99, you get half a chicken cut into four generous pieces, plus a scoop of skins-on mashed potatoes, a vegetable of the day, and a drink. Add a classic gin martini or a Betty White shot garnished with a sprig of Red Vines to make it a square meal. Just don’t drag your feet. By 8 p.m., the kitchen usually runs out of its weekly chicken supply, and you’ll be out of cluck. 944 N. Alabama St., 317-822-5070, englishivys.com
Fat Guy’s Pizza & Chicken
YOU WOULD miss it if you didn’t already know that this low-slung, counter-service restaurant wasn’t tucked deep into a westside business strip off of Highway 36. You might not even fully grasp the idea that, just beyond the colorful display case showing off the goods from sibling business Carl’s Donuts, there is a full kitchen frying up chicken all day long. The oversized pieces are broasted first—aggressively pressure-cooked to keep the meat moist and supple—and then seasoned and fried to achieve a smooth, light shatter of skin with delicate trapped air bubbles sizzled into the surface. You can order your chicken by the piece or as part of a family pack piled with thick, fluffy potato wedges. But one employee says that customers in the know order in bulk, stocking up on enough legs, thighs, wings, and breasts to get them through the week. 7481 E. U.S. Highway 36, Avon, 317-268-6522
Pa & Ma’s Backyard BBQ
A LONGTIME fixture in the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood, Monica and George Nelson Sr.’s corner carryout spot is one of Indy’s most reliable sources for fried chicken with that textbook deep russet burnish and peppery crackle. The meat underneath is juicy and lush enough to slip right off the bone when you bite into it. Order a la carte from the hot food counter that George constantly replenishes with fresh batches of bird made with love, and add a scoop of custardy baked macaroni and cheese with the crispy top bits mixed in. A notable endorsement: Indy recording artist Tevin Studdard (of Long’s Bakery fame) wrote a rap song about Pa & Ma’s, a Black-owned oasis of home-cooked meals in a food desert. 3469 N. College Ave., 317-835-1695
Chris Fried Chicken
THE FRIED CHICKEN at this tiny westside carryout counter doesn’t showboat. Its crust, devoid of any visible seasoning, might have tugged away from the flesh in spots where the server’s tongs dug into it. If you get a couple of pieces for lunch, the morsels will be plucked from their heated trays and unceremoniously packaged in a white Styro-foam clamshell. And if you go a little crazy at dinnertime and order the 20-piece family pack that comes with 12 potato wedges and two shareable sides for $26, you will need to muscle a foil steam-table pan out to your car before it collapses beneath its own weight.
Of course, none of this matters more than the fact that Chris Fried Chicken is a delightfully unapologetic indulgence, even by fried chicken standards. Uniformly sheathed in a tight, midweight crust that you’ll be tempted to pick off in sheets and eat chicharrón-style, every piece has the irresistibly unctuous essence of State Fair food and the power to grease through a stack of napkins. Wash it down with sweet swigs of pineapple Jarritos. If you’re lucky, there will be a pot of cornhusk tamales behind the counter to add to your order as a chaser. 3350 N. High School Rd., 317-295-8445
The Fountain Room
DRIPPING WITH Art Deco–inspired chandeliers and filled with plush clamshell booths, the lavish surroundings of Clancy’s Hospitality’s Mass Ave stunner, part of the massive Bottleworks District buildout, doesn’t come off as quaint or homey. Nor does it look like the kind of place where you would order fried chicken instead of Wagyu meatloaf or lobster bisque poured tableside. But executive chef Andrew Popp included his own interpretation of chicken and dumplings on this menu, replacing the time-honored pulled meat with four elaborately frizzled thighs. The crispy bird is the perfect foil for the other ingredients on the plate: cheddar Fresno biscuits under a granny-approved “gravy” of velouté studded with diced carrots and corn. If you’re going to mess with tradition, you had better come up with a winner, and this dazzling ensemble of crunch and starch does so in style. 830 Massachusetts Ave., 463-238-3800, thefountainroom.com
CUSTOMERS HUDDLE just inside the door of this no-frills source for takeout fried food. Many of those in line have come for the gizzards and livers, an underground delicacy that put Sunny’s on the fast-poultry map. Fried chicken seems like the less exotic choice, but it’s given equal love. Peek through the pickup window into the kitchen, and you can see the cook’s head bobbing around the stainless steel, frying up a constant supply of brittle-skinned pieces that don’t linger for long in the heated holding bins next to the cash register. The coating tears off easily, making Sunny’s a delicious go-to for people who like to eat their fried chicken in two courses: skin first and then the meat. Add on a container of honey mustard for dipping. 1030 U.S. Highway 31 S., Greenwood, 317-882-2442, sunnys-chicken.com