Birmingham's Best Chicken
Birmingham has a taste for change. Longing to shed a sour history of bigotry and hate from decades ago, there is a new Birmingham with a new flavor. Many American cities are known for their regionally unique taste in culinary delights. Gumbo and jambalaya from New Orleans and Louisiana altogether has its own unique taste, distinguishable from other regions. There’s pizza, then there’s Chicago style pizza. There’s something about a Philly steak sandwich, actually made in Philly.
Birmingham doesn’t have a traditional dish, but it does have taste. In the south, football and barbeque are staples. But what about the wings? Birmingham can be a heaven for the foodie with an acquired taste. In a city and surrounding municipalities that was literally forged out of iron, steel, and coal, you can best believe that the area was built on the big appetite of the common man. Tucked away in areas from Trussville, Irondale, throughout Birmingham and all the way to Bessemer, whether they’re legacy mom & pop establishments or upscaled local traditional grilles, there is at least one restaurant that the chicken on the menu is seemingly seasoned and prepared just for you. Some are in plain view while others are hidden off the main strip. You just have to know where to go. There are seven basic tastes, and each one deserves some love from Birmingham. To neglect any one of them, would be culinarily criminal.
For starters, or if visiting Birmingham by plane minutes away from the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) or Atlantic Aviation East/West is Wings R King at the Tallapoosa St exit, directly across from Circle K Gas station. Just like their sister location in Irondale on Old Grant’s Mill Road, the menu has a host of flavors. According to Julia Siergiey Juarez, “The wings are big and the hot sauce is the best I’ve found”.
The Irondale location is also a favorite among locals such as Cena Davis. For visitors staying in the adjacent Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn hotels, Wings R King is a go to for local cuisine. From there, its to the next Magic City fan favorite, Green Acres downtown in the historic 4th Ave District.
Green Acres does have several satellite locations around the city, but the main location is in the heart of the 4th Avenue District, which at one time was ground zero during the Civil Rights Movement. The chicken was a reflection of this working-class town. A town where after a long hard day’s work, a man could grab his nourishment, his soul with a roll, wrapped in a brown paper bag.
To end the workday around the dinner table with family, well-seasoned spicy chicken made the day seem worth it. It has a legendary taste that gives the Magic city, its “magic.” According to Birmingham native Keino Marbury, “I have to have it. Wings and fries ‘all the way’ can’t be beat. The food creates nostalgia for me. It makes me remember the good times “.
Childhood friend to Marbury, Chris Webb who now lives out of state shares a similar sentiment. “I always make it a stop whenever I come to Birmingham.” Local resident and woman about town Mary Jean Baker LeMay shares the same sentiment about Birmingham’s affection of the fowl. ”The manager’s special with extra pepper, it's all about the fried green tomato on the top” says Baker-LeMay. But what makes chicken an intimate affair with one’s soul, via the palate?
There is in fact a difference between buffalo wings and hot wings. Buffalo wings are deep garlic powder, salt, fried but usually not breaded, then dipped in a variety of sauce. The sauce is traditionally made of a cayenne pepper-based hot sauce, butter, vinegar, and a host of seasonings. Buffalo wings are served with their traditional ranch or bleu cheese dressing and celery stick. Hot wings, however, often have chile peppers included in the sauce and come in a varying degree of heat and spiciness.
To test this definition, I recommend sojourning into the commercial heart and soul of Birmingham, the Southside. On the corner of University and 20th St is Wings Around The Clock. In just a little over 10 years, Wings Around The Clock has become a staple in the UAB medical district. Our signature wings are available in mild, hot, and smokin’ hot. Heat intensifies for the palate to savor based upon the customer’s preference. Additionally, our signature wings are also available in over 28 distinct flavors”, explains Jeff McCall the owner.
For those in the immediate area in Veteran’s Administration Hospital, UAB Administration Building, and overall UAB area, Wings around The Clock is the go-to place to eat. For out of town guests residing in the neighboring Marriott hotels, a visit to Wings Around The Clock is a must. Visiting the city from San Francisco, Madison H commented that, “My wings came out hot, fast and fresh! The menu is simple enough and the staff was on point. I ordered lemon pepper combo with ranch fries, everything came out great. This place definitely satisfied my chicken wing craving.”
The fact that the menu has 28 flavors increases the likelihood of a return customer base which translates into longevity. Over the past 25 years, of all of the previous
businesses that existed in the same location, Wings Around The Clock has occupied the same place the longest. “People love the location. And they love the variety of wings that we have. Plus, my wings are fresh. I don’t make them and let them sit all day. That's what people like most about Wings Around the Clock.” explains McCall. The longevity of Wings Around The Clock in its current is proof that his wings pack some serious punches.
About two miles away to the north of the city is yet another wing staple in the city, “Exotic Wings & Things”. Recently having occupied the old Rally’s in North Birmingham, Exotic Wings & Things with its several locations around town are a tradition in the city.
Just as with Wings Around The Clock, Exotic lives up to its name with a diverse menu of flavors. Perhaps one of the best flavors is the sweet chili. With locations in CenterPoint, Green Springs, and now North Birmingham, Exotic has blessed the taste buds of the Magic City for over two decades which is an indication of the staying power and savor of its menu.
Among the chain establishments, Hattie B’s and Gus’ are also fan favorites. Hattie B's Hot Chicken is an American restaurant chain based in Nashville, Tennessee, founded by father and son duo, Nick Bishop Sr and Jr. The company specializes in hot chicken, a fried chicken dish, and operates several restaurants in the Southern United States. Its flavors are: Southern, Mild, Medium, Hot, Damn Hot, and Shut The Cluck Up.
Hattie B’s Chicken Sandwich will also give Chik-Fil-A and Popeye’s some serious competition. Located in the Lakeview entertainment district, Hattie B’s offers a distinct flavor in chicken. The chicken has serious flavor and gives it soul, which makes the chicken alive. In 2017, it was ranked sixth on The Daily Meal's list of America's 75 Best Fried Chicken.
Several blocks away is yet another Tennessee born establishment, Gus’ World-Famous Fried Chicken. Based out of Memphis, it was voted the second-best fried chicken in America in 2018. It was in February of 2018, that on the way home from a victory against Ole Miss, Crimson Tide women’s basketball coaches even stopped the bus to eat at Gus’s before returning to Alabama. A year later, Gus’
opened in Birmingham, the only city in Alabama to have a location. Gus’ is located on the southside at The Battery. The compliments have been stellar and Gus’ signature taste will be a hometown hit for some time. According to Forbes Magazine writer Susannah Breslin, “At the moment I began to eat my fried chicken, I had an epiphany: This is quite simply The Best Fried Chicken I've Ever Had. It was like looking at a Picasso and not needing to see a lot of bad art in order to know you were standing in front of something great.” Writing for GQ Magazine is Lang Whitaker, a true southerner and
connoisseur of southern cuisine. “I take my fried chicken seriously. Which means I do not say this lightly: Gus’s World-Famous Fried Chicken might very well be the best fried chicken in the world.” he wrote.
The quest for the city’s best chicken extends beyond Birmingham’s 20th St dividing line. We venture west to J-Wings at the Crossplex. With over 30 flavors of wings, J-Wings was Voted best wings of the West. J-Wings is a favorite of Rose Wilson and Andre McShan.
Its Fultondale location boasts of the “Fultondale fire” which is favorite among patrons in that municipality.
It’s the flavor, spice, and heat that makes the chicken memorable. Plus, when you have sufficient meat on the bone that fills you up. However, with the right sauce, people will suck the bone after the meat is long gone and that’s how you know you’ve got a winner.
Jenn C. is a fan of Wings Plus. “Always good wings and even better service. The peach tea is amazing. I ordered a 6pc hot lemon pepper combo w/ Cheese fries. The chicken was cooked just the way I love it. Not wet but not fried too hard either.”, the Birmingham resident stated. At another location on Green Springs, Wings Plus 3, out of towners agree that this place has some of the best tasting wings in the city. Often, when out of towners give great reviews, they're usually very
complimentary. Shanelle W of Gainesville, Georgia had a delicious experience when visiting the Magic City in search of some good yard bird. "So it's my first time in Alabama and I'm here for 3 weeks on a business trip it's a must to find a wings place which wings plus 3 did the job since I've been here i went twice so far the wings are pretty decent and not to small and fried well . I will say i loved the fries fresh cheesy an raunchy with Cajun seasoning. The wait time is not bad even though I'm visiting at a bad time COVID19 which they definitely following 6ft rule just as only 5 people in at a time good job guys”. Solomon C. of New Orleans agrees with Shanelle when he commented that, “Best wings in Birmingham!!....came here a couple of times and each time was amazing.... they have some BBQ lemon wings that will have you drooling lol!”
Wing Out Express is another go to for great wings. In a statement from the near thirty-year-old establishment, “Since 1992 Wing Out Express has specialized in Buffalo Style Wings
covered in our homemade signature sauces. You can experience our own flavor spectrum of sauces such as Lava Que, Spicy Italian, Honey Ranch and Blackened Cajun just to name a few. We also serve other delicious items such as Fish, Philly Cheese Steaks, Polish Sausages, and Burgers. Our specialty drinks specialty drinks like Peach Passion,
Lemon Passion, and Tang Bang add a refreshing way to wash it all down.” Established in 1992, Wing Out started selling wings out of a concession trailer on the street corners in Birmingham. Since then Wing Out has grown and now provides Take Out, Dine In and Drive Thru service at all of its locations. Local diner Brittney W, had a fantastic experience.” My first time dining at this restaurant and I'm glad that I had the chance to experience the food especially with me liking wings. I ended up getting the 12 piece BBQ wings special that came with fries and a soda which the food didn't take not even 5 minutes to arrive at the table. Everything was hot from the fries to the wings and customer service was outstanding which I admired the manager taking the time to check on us thru out our lunch to make sure everything was fine. I'll definitely be coming back next time I'm on this side of town.” she stated.
Still not convinced who has the best wings in Birmingham ? Just ask Yo’ Mama. Visiting from out of town ? By popular demand, Yo’ Mama’s is a must visit.
Their signature dish is the chicken & waffles. With a gluten free menu, it has raised the bar of a very delectable dining experience. One customer choosing to identify herself as, “Mom to 3”, stated, “I would fly down to Birmingham just to eat breakfast at Yo Mama's, it is that good!! We have family members who are gluten-free/celiac and this place is the BEST for gluten-free fried chicken, waffles, French toast. We actually scheduled a flight from Chicago a day earlier than we need to just to be able to get breakfast here. The other menu items are unbelievable as well. Grits that are so decadent, a smoked sausage that is better than any I have had.”
This sentiment was shared by yet another out of town visitor who also chose not to share their actual name. “This was a dream-come-true. I was in town for only two days and got up early one of those days just to visit Yo' Mama's. I have to eat gluten-free. Unfortunately, this leads me to have low expectations but high hopes at every place with gluten-free options. Yo' Mama's delivers and more! I got chicken and waffles.
The waffle was fluffy and delicious. (Not at all grainy, which is what I've experienced with other gluten-free waffles.) The chicken was crispy and wonderfully seasoned. As noted by other folks, the syrup is what brings it all together. I also had eggs, which were great. I am still trying to figure out how they made them taste sweet. (Coconut oil?) This was absolutely a highlight of my trip. Everyone at the restaurant was so nice as well!”. A few miles away lies yet another up and coming Birmingham food tradition.
Just as with their signature burgers, The Paramount is home to some of the city’s best wings. Voted as a 2020 Visitor’s Choice destination. Located in the heart of downtown
Birmingham at a main artery and junction in the city, there you’ll get a visual taste of the heart and soul of the vintage working man’s Birmingham. Seated inside of a nostalgic American garage with those nostalgic memories from the past you can dine on what made America great, great food and family Classic neon signs, butcher block, a vintage mural, shop lights and a wall of car rims help create that garage meets arcade atmosphere. Seated among Norman Rockwell’s America, the wings are a fan favorite that describes the nitty gritty soul of Birmingham, that made Birmingham – Birmingham. The wings come flavored with barrio hot sauce, sweet BBQ and scallions, Jamaican jerk with habanero – mango dip, and lemon, rosemary, and pecorino flavor.
From there it's on to the north side to one of the most delicious “hole in the wall” restaurants in the city. In the black community, “hole in the wall” means down home, make shift, maybe even raggedy. But whatever the venue, be it a restaurant or a club, especially the Blues or southern fried hip-hop, hole in the wall means it is the best.
Eugene’s doesn’t have chicken on the menu. They have “bird”. Bird is a deep southern term for chicken so we know that the menu is expertly delicious like only Big Mama can make it. The “bird” comes in either chicken tenders, popcorn chicken, traditional wings, or buffalo wings in either drumettes or flats’. The flavors come in Lemon Pepper ~ Southern (no heat) ~ Mild (slight heat) ~ Hot (touch of burn) Hot Damn (not too smart, not too stupid) ~ Stupid Hot (for the bold & daring). It has been said that a person can claim to be atheist. But after Eugene’s chicken and waffles, you will call on Jesus. Biting into it, my lips felt as if I had
powdered seasoning on them stemming from the rub. However, my tongue was having a razzle dazzled delectable experience. Given the changes that the restaurant industry has now undergone due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, in this case its best to chicken out. What sells the establishment, which is brick and mortared behind the Birmingham Sheraton-Uptown Entertainment, is the Eugene’s Food Truck.
Eugene’s Food Truck was voted the best food truck three consecutive years; 2017, 2018, and 2019. The big bright red truck with the trademarked chicken logo on the side is hard to miss. Whether its at nearby Railroad Park, Lakeview, Highland Ave, Regions Baseball Park, or outdoor events and festivals, it is well sought after. When the nearby football stadium is completed and Uptown is operating at full capacity, Eugene’s will definitely be a go-to spot with staying power.
Known more so for their BBQ, Moe’s BBQ in Lakeview serves a
delicious plate of well sought after wings as well. Moe’s chicken comes in a couple of varieties; Smoked Chicken Wings and Half Chicken. The jumbo smoked wings are fried and lightly coated in a house made wing sauce served with celery and our creamy Alabama style white BBQ sauce for dipping. The hot smoked Half Chicken, is complemented by Moe’s house made sweet and tangy BBQ sauce, creamy Alabama style white BBQ sauce and pickles.
Birmingham is full of small gems of delicious chicken prepared and seasoned in a host of varieties. Such establishments that will be presented later such as Billy’s Sport Bar, Hickory Tavern, Otey’s Tavern, John’s City Diner, Slice Stone Pizza & Brew, and East West. Based on those polled in the city and those visiting, the city’s best wings are: 1. Saw’s, 2. Wings Around the Clock, 3. Yo’ Mama, 4. Eugene’s 5. Wing Out/Express, 6. Paramount Birmingham/ 7. Exotic Wings & Things, 8. Moe’s BBQ, 9. J-Wings, 10. Green Acres.