Vancouver’s Juiciest Birds: A Fried Chicken Crawl Across the City

By Jordan Yeager

BeatRoute editor Jordan Yeager guides you on a fried chicken tour of Vancouver.

Vancouver is known for many things: being rainy and expensive are amongst its most commonly reputed traits. While Montreal and Toronto garner their reputations on burgeoning art and food scenes, Vancouver tends to fall by the wayside; the last kid picked in gym class for every game other than hiking, skiing and wakeboarding. But quietly, Vancouver’s food scene has been bulking up, hitting the gym after school. And lately, she’s been looking thicc.

It’s winter, and we need comfort food to make it through unscathed. Fried chicken is a go-to comfort food classic, and when it comes with sides like macaroni, potato salad, and fries, it doesn’t get juicier. Here’s a roundup of the best fried chicken Van City has to offer. You’re welcome.

Juke Fried Chicken
182 Keefer St.

When you think of fried chicken in Vancouver, you think of Juke. It’s the stalwart of the city’s scene – in 2016, co-owners Justin Tisdall and Cord Jarvie along with sous chef Bryan Satterford noticed a gap in the market and made it their mission to fill it. There were places to get fried chicken, sure. But they wanted to turn frying chicken into a craft. Since opening their flagship location in Chinatown, they’ve also recently expanded to include a second space on Davie Street, affectionately dubbed Little Juke.

Juke’s chicken stands out for several reasons – their chicken and many of their sides are gluten-free – but what really sets it apart is the level of knowledge and passion the team brings to the table. Tisdall and Satterford came to the venture from Chambar and Hawksworth respectively, and their cumulative years of experience in the fine dining world has translated beautifully to the world of comfort food. At Juke, expert craftsmanship is evident – each piece consistently boasts the signature crunchy skin and juicy meat you expect – nay, demand – from a quality breast or thigh.

“We wanted a place where you could just have really good food and have a good time, but not have to pay a ton of money,” says Tisdall. “Comfort food, especially in a city that rains a lot.”

The Juke menu is extensive, with obvious standouts being the spicy fried chicken and the sandwich (available at both locations), the nuoc cham ribs, and the mac and cheese poppers (both available at Little Juke). Whether you’re gluten-free or not, Juke is a must-try.

DownLow Chicken Shack
905 Commercial Dr.

DownLow is another example of restaurateurs with backgrounds in fine dining deciding to dedicate themselves to refining comfort food. Owners Doug Stephen and Lindsey Mann were the brains behind Merchants Workshop, which until recently was located a few blocks up Commercial Drive from where DL stands now. In June, they decided to focus entirely on the Nashville hot chicken they’d been serving as their Sunday special at Merchants, and DownLow Chicken Shack was born.

With spice levels including classic, mild, medium, hot, extra hot, and “side of milk,” it’s safe to say Stephen and Mann’s years of commitment to perfecting their recipe have paid off. Bite into a “keep it light” breast, a “take it easy” thigh or an “on a bun” sando (fried chicken breast on a potato bun with sweet and sour slaw, pickles, and special sauce – careful, she’s messy) and you’ll see why they often sell out of product entirely.

Sides are essential here. Go for the fries (there’s a secret menu version topped with chicken, slaw, and pickles), the corn bread, or the macaroni salad. They also offer weekly specials, like (beef) burgers on Mondays, tenders on Tuesdays, rib sandwiches on Thursdays, and chicken and waffles on weekends, plus a whole secret menu you’ll have to learn for yourself.

Phnom Penh
244 E Georgia St.

While Phnom Penh stands out on this list as being the only place that doesn’t specialize entirely in fried chicken, their deep-fried chicken wings simply cannot be excluded. If you’re embarking on a fried chicken crawl across the city, you would be remiss to skip out on the dish, which has gone on to make a questionable name for itself as “crack wings.” Some pieces boast more meat than others, but honestly, the heavily peppered, lemony, crispy batter would be enough to hold up on its own. Douse them in the accompanying lemon and black pepper dipping sauce and pile on some chillies and sautéed garlic bits, and you’ll entirely forget the lineup you just stood in for upwards of an hour.

The Frying Pan
505 Burrard St.
Not far from the intersection of Burrard and Pender Street is a smattering of food trucks, and amongst them, from 11:00 to 2:45 Monday through Friday, is The Frying Pan. Their best seller is the spicy chicken burger, which comes topped with pickles, slaw, and a mayo-based sauce on a soft, squished-looking bun that holds up to its task well. The chicken itself is perfectly cooked and towards the milder side in terms of spice – their standard is medium, but there is an option to go spicier, which you probably should. It’s well-seasoned and well-packaged, so it doesn’t get messy until the very end.

The Frying Pan also has the added task of making their sandwiches (which range from “no heat” to “feel the burn” and “fire starter”) easily portable, so if you’re in between meetings and need a quick bite, this is your best bet.

Church’s Chicken
2304 E Hastings St.

Walk into Church’s Chicken and you might not have the highest expectations for your forthcoming culinary experience. Open 24 hours a day at all of its Vancouver locations (save for two in Richmond), Church’s is the quintessential fast food fried chicken joint. It doesn’t try to dress itself up as anything other than what it is through décor, either. And you know what? It’s respectable that they let the food speak for itself. With options for regular or spicy thighs, wings and tenders, plus sides like macaroni, fries, onion rings and potato salad, it’s easy to fill up here without breaking the bank.

It’s not Vancouver’s best fried chicken, but it’s affordable and tasty, and when it’s 3:30 a.m. and the drunk munchies set in, there’s literally no better (and no other) option. Make sure you try the gravy.

, , , , , ,