My Quiet Life My Quiet Life

the best hot chicken in nashville

Posting this mostly for posterity and as a reference for when people ask me. For clarity, I am only listing restaurants that meet my (arbitrary) definition of “Hot Chicken Restaurant”, which is that they have to serve a leg quarter in varying levels of heat, and should at least nominally focused on hot chicken itself – that is, I’m not bothering to list the random restaurants that coat chicken fingers in cayenne and call it hot chicken (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Ranked in order from worst to best:

  1. Bolton's.

    The only reason Bolton's makes this list for me at all is because it's an institution in Nashville, and so people will inevitably ask "what about Bolton's?". Bolton's is part of the narrative of hot chicken history, as it originally split off from Prince's. And, it fits the aesthetic of what people want out of a hot chicken experience. The place is a cinderblock dump, but it's warm and cozy inside. The chicken, however, sucks. Sorry. I've tried it three times -- each time the leg quarter was overcooked (to the extent that the skin was burnt). I'm also not a fan of the dry-ish/er "saucing" they do there. The chicken on a stick is okay, insofar as a dried chicken finger on a stick is okay, but it's amateur hour for hot chicken aficionados. Go there if you're craving fish, or want to get chummy with your neighbors, but otherwise: skip it.

  2. Party Fowl.

    Party Fowl is a newer contender. Their hot chicken is not mindblowingly good or hot, but it's tasty. They also have a huge menu of Other Stuff, so it's a good option for dining with other people who don't care for the heat.

  3. Helen's.

    I haven't been to Helen's since they moved to Jefferson, but when I tried it at the food truck it was not great. The chicken was well-fried, but the sauce was clearly made with oil (possibly their frying oil), which is something you see cropping up in recipes recently. I do not approve. There wasn't a lot of spice, and it tasted like rancid oil. I'll probably give them another chance, though, now that they have an actual brick and mortar location. UPDATE: 12/21/2015 -- tried Helen's again now that they moved to Jefferson street. Possibly the move to a permanent location has improved quality. I got a leg quarter, "hella lot" (their hottest). It was pretty decently hot, maybe somewhere between Hattie B's Hot and PepperFire's Medium. I could be wrong but the sauce had a hint of tomato in it -- tasted a bit more like a more traditional tomato-ey hot wing sauce. Still not good enough to break the top 4, but good enough to best Party Fowl.

  4. 400 Degrees

    People are often down on 400 Degrees, and I'm not sure why. I've been eating there since it opened, and they've always been consistent. Their chicken is always a little bland (not sure why -- no brining? shitty/cheap chicken source?), but the crust and heat have always been spot-on for me. I know the owner had some health issues resulting in erratic hours, so maybe this also contributed to some quality control issues. I went a few weeks ago and it was great, though, so if you've counted them out, give it a whirl.

  5. Hattie B's

    It's hard to say enough good things about Hattie B's: they took hot chicken, perfected their own version of it, and added beer. What's not to like? My preferred heat level here is Shut the Cluck Up, but it's not for the faint of heart -- roughly about the same as Prince's Extra Hot in my experience. Only Pepperfire's XX Hot is hotter.

  6. Prince's

    Objectively speaking, Prince's is still king. They're the originals, they set the bar high, and it's still great. But this is my list, and I'd be lying if I said I went all the way over to Dickerson pike every time I wanted hot chicken. Which is why my favorite pick goes to:

  7. Pepperfire.

    That's right, Pepperfire. It's very possible I'm suffering from sample bias because Pepperfire is so close to my house, but it's my favorite. Pepperfire won my heart with their chicken, which originally was very lightly battered -- and I was able to convince myself made it healthier somehow. Although they have since backed away from this recipe to a more traditional battered chicken, the fantastic mix of flavor and heat hasn't changed. Their heat levels are not to be toyed with. They recently ratcheted up the heat (i think), and their XX Hot is a day-ruiner -- take my word for it. </li> </ol>