Fried chicken is decadent enough as it is, right? Well, yes and no. We'd never turn our nose up at a plate of this crispy staple. But these days it's just as hard to say no to the wonderful, weird and, yes, somewhat wicked things Washington-area restaurants are doing with their fried chicken sandwiches. Served on buttery brioche buns, flaky biscuits or pillowy doughnuts, and layered with the likes of bacon, pickles and ranch dressing, these you're-gonna-need-a-napkin creations are some of our favorite riffs on the classic chicken platter.
Bonchon: Bonchon’s chicken strips are pretty great on their own – double-fried, crispy but not greasy and glazed with the Korean-style chain's spicy or soy-garlic sauces. But if you can at least contemplate that they could be riffed on, we suggest an order of the crispy chicken sliders, stat. For the trio of mini sandwiches, the boneless white meat strips are combined with coleslaw, cucumbers and red onion. You can choose your sauces here, too – get all three the same or split your order. Bonchon Navy Yard franchise owner Paul Choi said some people order the sliders as a group appetizer, but don't feel obligated to share these delectable bites. We didn't. 1015 Half St. SE, plus other area locations. 202-488-4000. bonchon.com. $11 for three sliders. -- Becky Krystal
Convivial: Chef Cedric Maupillier had heard of Chick-fil-A, and he had seen the lines outside the 14th Street store. But when he tried one, “I was disappointed by what people thought to be a very good fried chicken sandwich,” he said. “Since I don’t like it, and I’m a professional chef, my job is to improve it.” So he added a fried chicken sandwich to Convivial's happy hour menu. Maupillier brines his chicken for 24 hours and double-fries it for extra crunch; it's stacked on an olive oil bun with a house-made ranch dressing, pickled shallots and a roulade of pickle and lettuce, which assures a proper distribution of flavors. Professional duty isn’t the only reason he wanted to make it: “I like to eat one sometimes. I wanted to add one so I could enjoy it for myself.” 801 O St. NW, 202-525-2870, convivialdc.com. $11. -- Maura Judkis
Pepe: One of Washington's most celebrated chefs starting a food truck? It seems almost unfair to the competition. But that's what Jose Andres did in spring of 2012 when he launched Pepe, peddling "mobile sandwiches" and other lunchtime staples. Andres has tweaked the Pollo Frito, his fried chicken sandwich, since then, switching from a crusty flauta roll to a softer, flatter bread more reminicsent of a ciabatta. In between those warm, slender slices, the fried chicken breast is topped with a tomato brava sauce and green piparra peppers that add tang and a touch of heat. The sandwich comes wrapped in a paper cone for on-the-go eating, but it's still a messy, multiple-napkin affair. pepefoodtruck.com. $11. -- John Taylor
Pineapple and Pearls: Sous chef Bin Lu is tight-lipped about the ingredients for the secret sauce on Pineapple and Pearls' spicy fried chicken sandwich, though he did admit there are a lot of Yemeni-inspired spices in the aioli-like condiment. “We go for not only a spicy sauce, but one that's heavily spiced,” he says. What results is a deep heat that lingers long after you’ve taken the last bite -- even licking your lips leaves a pleasant little sting. The chicken is first brined to achieve a sweet and herbal flavor profile, similar to pickles. It’s then coated with buttermilk and padded with flour. “We force the flour onto it verses just dredging it,” Lu says. “It creates that classic Popeyes chicken with all those little bits of shag.” The crispy bird is served on a soft roll with a large crumb. “We wanted something that you could hold in your hand and mop up all the juices,” Lu says. 715 Eighth St. SE, 202-595-7375. pineappleandpearls.com. $9. -- Holley Simmons
Chick-fil-A: "I don't get it. It's just a plain chicken sandwich," you assure yourself, foolishly. "And they don't even put any cheese or bacon on it? Pass." Look, there are legitimate reasons not to eat Chick-fil-A, but simplicity and a lack of showstopper toppings are not among them. There's a hard-to-articulate perfection in the bare-bones presentation of the sandwich chain's signature item, which is just a chicken breast -- grilled or finely breaded -- and pickles on a bun. Not convinced by that description? It's easy to see why. And yet one single bite provides the only rebuttal that's needed. Multiple area locations, chick-fil-a.com. $3.49. -- Alex Baldinger
Right Proper Brew Pub: Everything you need to know about Right Proper's signature sandwich is in the name: The Southern Fried Chick-Fillet is a "fancy" version of Chik-Fil-A's seminal chicken sandwich, with crispy, well-seasoned fried chicken, bread-and-butter pickles, lettuce and tomato on a brioche bun. The secret weapon is savory herbal flavors from Boursin cheese. It's a rich, filling sandwich, but here's the real advantage Right Proper has over Chik-Fil-A: You can pair your meal with a pint of house-brewed beer. Right Proper owner Thor Cheston recommends Ornette, a spicy, rustic grisette, with flavors "that don't overwhelm" the batter or pickles. 624 T St. NW. 202-607-2337. rightproperbrewing.com. $12. -- Fritz Hahn
Stomping Ground: When Nicole Jones opened Stomping Ground, her Southern restaurant/biscuit house in Del Ray last year, she put not one, but two, fried chicken biscuits on her menu. The Classic, with pimento cheese and pickles, is her take on the sandwiches she’d eat at gas stations during her teen years in Georgia. “I wanted to do one that was outside the norm,” too, she said, which is how she arrived at the Not So Classic, a Middle Eastern-inspired creation with za’atar, honey, hot sauce, red onion and a benne (sesame) seed tahini. Jones said “it’s the best quality of having spicy, bitter and sour in one delicious bite” – not to mention buttery, once the whole lot is piled onto one of her massive, delicate biscuits. Another key to its success, which has made the Not So Classic one of the restaurant’s top sellers? The 24-hour marinated chicken breasts, following a dredge in a spice-heavy flour mix, are fried in pork lard. “It is the secret,” Jones said. 2309 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. 703-364-8912. stompdelray.com. $9. -- Becky Krystal
Shake Shack: So, it turns out that one of the best fast-casual burger places is pretty good at chicken, too. Shake Shack introduced the Chick'n Shack in January. Food writers had been clucking about it ever since founder Danny Meyer filed a trademark application last May. It's lightly spiced and crispy fried, with lettuce, pickles and a buttermilk herb mayonnaise. Basically, it’s what would happen if you took a McChicken and gave it a high-class, antibiotic-free makeover. It might make you forget that Shake Shack is a burger place, too. Multiple area locations, shakeshack.com. $6.29. -- Maura Judkis
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken: Once reserved for fruits of the sea, Old Bay has become catnip for chefs, distillers, chocolatiers, and brewers who wish to infuse their wares with the memory of last summer’s crab boil. About two years ago, the crew at Astro Doughnuts decided to serve a fried chicken breast between savory, Old Bay-dusted doughnuts, essentially planting a Bawlmer wet one on that good-and-greasy bird. It seemed like a gimmick at the time, but the sandwich has inched its way toward lofty territory: a signature dish. I love the light sting it leaves on my lips; the dish is like Buffalo wings as reimagined by a kindly Baltimore bakery. 1308 G St. NW, 202-809-5565; 7511 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-356-0800; astrodoughnuts.com. $7.75. -- Tim Carman
Crisp: Nashville hot chicken is – forgive us – so hot right now. But nowhere is the spicy fried chicken prepared as masterfully as at Crisp, the basement Bloomingdale restaurant with bird all over the menu. The OG Chicken Sandwich, deep fried in an oil blend that includes lard, has enough cayenne pepper to make your lips tingle, but it’s not so over-hot that you can’t taste the pickles and garlic mayo on top. True to the restaurant’s name, it was one of the crunchiest we sampled. 1837 First St. NW, crispdc.com -- Maura Judkis
Woodward Takeout Food: Fresh from a frying pan, a crispy strip of bacon is one of life’s great pleasures, all rendered, salty and rich. But often when draped across a sandwich, bacon is that dude who orders two more rounds when you already have a nice buzz on. His motto? Excess is never enough. When I first saw the bacon on my Chick Chick from Woodward Takeout Food, I almost did a WTF double-take. Jeffrey Buben is not a chef who usually trades on excess. One bite of the fried chicken sandwich, and I realized he wasn’t. Buben treats the bacon as a supporting player, not a scenery chewer looking to hog the spotlight. The sweet-tea-brined breast, moist and crispy, remains the star, surrounded by a complementary cast of mayo, cranberry relish, lettuce, pickles and, yes, two strips of bacon. The thing is a Thanksgiving club sandwich, good any time of the year. 1426 H St. NW, 202-347-5355. woodwardtable.com. $10.75. -- Tim Carman
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly rendered the name of Shake Shack's fried chicken sandwich. It's the Chick'n Shack, not the Chicken Shack.