It always happens to us: Right around Super Bowl Sunday, we start to get cravings for all sorts of comfort-cum-sports bar foods, from chili to wings. Except lately, we’ve noticed wings have become more than just a dive bar staple. We certainly didn’t expect to find them being served as a special at Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch, or glazed in agave and a chile spice blend at Alta, a tapas joint in the West Village. Shall we dare call fried chicken wings a trend?
The Great Chicken Wing Debate
You might say Momofuku is a pioneer. After all, they’ve been serving Smoked Chicken Wings since they opened. And Danji, the popular Hell’s Kitchen Korean, has two tasty versions to choose from. There’s plenty more where that came from. So now more than ever, wing aficionados can heatedly debate what exactly makes for a great wing. For instance, what cuts of chicken meat can even constitute a wing? Can an order technically include drumettes, or even drumsticks? How about the breading? Do the best wings favor a southern-style, battered crunch, or are they fried without a coating for a Korean-style crispness? Finally, there’s the sauce. Wings can come with sauce on the side or dressed and ready to go. And what about all of the global takes? We thought we’d sample the spectrum and debate the Dish Du Jour: Chicken Wings.
Best Chicken Wings in New York
Houston Hall’s Hurricane Wings
We don’t usually get so excited about beer halls, but this isn’t just any beer hall. This former Soho garage has been converted into what is now pretty much a beer guy’s heaven on earth. In fact, anyone who appreciates beer will dig this ginormous space, outfitted with brick walls, wood beamed ceilings, a funky, white marble bar, and lots of long communal tables. As for their beer, much of it is made exclusively for Houston Hall in Greenpoint. What to eat with all that beer? There’s five, rather creative Grilled Cheese offerings to choose from. Or better yet, get an order of the Hurricane Wing, which favor sticky and saucy to crispy or crunchy with a sesame chili sauce. Given this beer hall can get a bit rowdy, you don’t have to feel bad about licking a little sauce off your fingers.
Pok Pok NY’s Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings
Pok Pok Wing drew hordes of foodies to the Lower East Side hungry for a taste of Andy Ricker’s legendary chicken wings until it closed to become Pok Pok Phat Thai. (They’re so famous we traveled to Portland to sample them years ago.) Thankfully, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings are still available at Pok Pok’s Brooklyn outpost on the Columbia Waterfront. What’s the secret to these bad boys? First, they’re marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar before taking a dip in a tempura mix and rice flour. After being fried not once but twice, they are finished with lashings of fish sauce caramel and garnished with fresh herbs. Don’t be intimidated by the exotic ingredients, the long waits for a table, or the bare bones setting. New York critics and diners alike have heartily welcomed this Portland chef with good reason—this man knows his way around the Southeast Asian pantry. Enough said.
Danji’s Garlic Honey Wings
You don’t come across a minimalist Korean bistro often, so you’d be wise to savor this Hell’s Kitchen joint from Chef Hooni Kim. The menu pays tribute to the chef’s Korean heritage, but benefits greatly from Kim’s stints at Daniel and Masa. The results is Korean flavors with some rather modern Japanese and French technique. More importantly, they’ve got two glorious kinds of chicken wings on the menu: Garlic Honey Wings spackled with Sesame Seeds and Spicy K. F. C. (Korean Fried Chicken) wings. Unlike other Korean wings, both versions are battered before being deep-fried, lending them a uniquely hearty crunch. Arrive early, squeeze into a communal table, and order the sesame wings along with an order of Kim’s K-Town nachos for a night of very nouveau bar food.
Old Town Bar’s Buffalo Wings
In existence since 1892, Old Town Bar is about as old school as it gets. Sepia-stained walls, wooden booths, dark lighting, and a no-nonsense menu add to the Prohibition-style vibe. And appropriately, the kitchen offers only wing, and that’s Buffalo. Like the Anchor Bar, the originator of Buffalo Wings, Old Town’s wings are bathed in nothing but sinus-clearing hot sauce and butter. Because their wings go directly from the fryer to the sauce, the flavor is absorbed, yet the skin stays supremely crisp. For the real wing traditionalist, Old Town Bar’s a very solid call.
Mono + Mono’s Fried Chicken
It ain’t often you come across a place with a good scene and just as good wings. How is that possible you may ask? Go check out Mono + Mono and see for yourself. This East Village spot regularly hosts live jazz and DJ’s playing from a 30,000-strong “library” of vinyl records. But enough about the scene, let’s get to the food, which is distinctly Korean. The Hot & Spicy Chicken is just that, and deliciously so. The chicken itself is left unbattered, so that nothing but a crisp crust and still-juicy meat resurfaces from the fryer. Each Fried Chicken Plate includes our beloved chicken wings, drumettes, and drumsticks — a choice that nods towards the Korean tradition of frying and serving the whole bird.
Mad For Chicken’s Mad For Wings
Don’t be put off by this K-Town spot’s second-floor location, its strange name, ominously dark stairway, or heavy karaoke advertising. The setting may be a bit, well, cheesy, but choose a black leather booth towards the back and remember why you’re here — Wings. (They’re worth going out of their way for!) Diners can build their own ratio of wings to drumettes, and choose between a hot and spicy or a soy garlic sauce. Mums the word on Mad For’s patented frying method, but it takes a minimum of eight minutes and gives these wings a superbly shattering crunch.
Old Town Bar
45 E 18th St., Btwn Broadway and Park Ave.
Mad For Chicken
314 5th Ave. 2nd Fl., Btwn 31st and 32nd Sts.
Mono + Mono
116 E 4th St., Btwn 1.st and 2nd Aves.
222 West Houston St., btwn Varick & 6th Aves.
Pok Pok NY
127 Columbia St., Btwn Kane and Degraw Sts.
346 W 52nd St., Btwn 8th and 9th Aves.