For years, roast chicken occupied a “throwaway” spot on menus nationwide, serving a perfunctory role as a middle-of-the-road dish that the least adventurous diners could order and be satisfied with. But times have changed, and some restaurants are finally giving chicken the respect it deserves. These 10 spots are serving what very well might be the country’s absolute best roast chickens.
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Chef Jonathan Waxman’s roast chicken is the flagship dish at his long-running Barbuto, and you’ll find an order on just about every table. To make the deceptively simple dish, organic chicken halves are roasted in a ripping-hot oven. Before serving, they’re cut into sections and topped with a flavorful salsa verde made with an assortment of ingredients that include garlic, parsley, capers, anchovies, arugula, and a wide variety of herbs.
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This Venice mainstay is home to two major crowd-pleasers: a lush patio and a perfect half roast chicken, a departure from its standard menu of small plates. The organic chicken is roasted until its skin is perfectly golden brown and crispy, and the juicy and flavorful bird is served atop a flavorful sauce with kale and cipollini onions.
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Few American restaurants devote so much attention (or menu space) to poultry as this Flatiron newcomer, where five different breeds of whole chicken are on offer, each alongside the (exorbitant) price and their age at slaughter. There’s Brune Landaise (110 days, $96), Plymouth Barred Rock (90 days, $98), New Hampshire (90 days, $94), Cornish (90 days, $95), and Catskill Guinea Fowl (130 days, $96). For reference, most chickens are slaughtered at 40 days. Bronzed, juicy, tender, and intensely flavorful, one bite will have you saying, “So this is what chicken is supposed to taste like!”
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This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Oahu food stand with an outdoor grill and seating area is serving some of the best chicken on earth. The chickens are butterflied, brined in Hawaiian sea salt and lemon juice, and rubbed with salt, paprika, cumin, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, onion, and cayenne. They’re then latched onto a custom-made horizontal wood-fired rotisserie and spun over Hawaiian mesquite wood for about 40 minutes. The resulting chicken is so tender and juicy that it’s almost falling apart, with crispy skin and a light smokiness.
This Spanish newcomer from two Mozza alums is already making waves thanks to its impressive roster of snacks (called morunos) and its rotisserie chicken, which is served by the half ($16) or whole ($28). Seasoned with a heavy dose of Moroccan ral el hanout before spending just the right amount of time spinning in the rotisserie, the end result is juicy, flavorful, and irresistibly delicious.
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Peruvian-style “pollo a la brasa” is one of the best chicken preparations on earth, and nobody in America does it better than Pio Pio, which got its start in Queens in 1994 and today has a handful of locations throughout the city. The chicken is marinated in a top-secret blend before being slowly cooked in a rotisserie, and then it’s served with a green aji sauce that’s achieved legendary status.
Chef Tony Mantuano is already a Chicago legend thanks to his trailblazing Spiaggia, but he’s never been one to rest on his laurels. Case in point: River Roast, which opened in 2014 and is focused, as the name might imply, on roast meats, carved tableside. Fish, roast beef, and rack of pork are all on offer, but it’s the chicken you should seek out. It’s cold-smoked before being roasted over high heat in a steam-injecting oven, which keeps the meat moist and the skin crackling-crisp. It’s served with dramatic flair, upright on a cast iron dish atop a mound of double-cooked, super-crisp potatoes. It tastes exactly as good as it looks.
The centerpiece of the kitchen at this sophisticated French restaurant is, as can be expected from the name, its two rotisseries, and the golden-brown chickens you’ll find happily spinning away on them. Zimmerman Farm chickens are rubbed with coriander and herbes de Provence before being slow-roasted and served with your choice of four sauces. At $26 for a half-chicken, it’s surprisingly inexpensive; use the extra budget to invest in some crisp rotisserie potatoes.
Possibly the most famous and celebrated roast chicken in America right now, this dish is the only one on The NoMad’s menu that hasn’t changed since the restaurant’s 2012 opening. To prepare the chicken, chef Daniel Humm (also chef at the renowned Eleven Madison Park) carefully preps an Amish chicken to make sure that the skin isn’t torn, because it’s pried away from the breast and stuffed with a mixture of brioche, truffles, and foie gras. The cavity is filled with lemon and rosemary, and the chicken is trussed and allowed to chill in order to prevent the foie gras from melting. It’s then brushed with butter and roasted at 450 degrees F. The resulting deep-brown chicken is presented tableside before being carved up in the kitchen. The breasts are served as-is, and the dark meat is served in a separate dish after being tossed with butter, shallots, and seasonal vegetables and topped with whipped hollandaise. At $89, it’s as delicious as it is expensive.
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The late chef Judy Rodgers made waves in San Francisco when she introduced roast chicken to the menu after taking over Zuni Café in 1987. Her chicken (which is still the restaurant’s top seller) starts with a dry brine before being dried, seasoned, and cooked in a very hot oven. It’s served over a warm salad of arugula and chunks of bread, and there’s still no other dish quite like it.