Hot Chicken: Where to Find It and How to Eat It

Lately even upscale restaurants are cashing in on our Nashville hot chicken tradition.

The deep roots of hot chicken, however, are tied to the overindulgent drinker, the night-shift worker and those rolling out of jazz clubs in the wee hours. Legend has it that it was originated by a vengeful wife who heavily peppered her husband’s chicken to punish him for his carousing. To her chagrin, he loved it and asked her to make it again.

Hot chicken and french fries from Fannie Mae's.
Fannie Mae’s. The closest hotspot to the Honky Tonk District.

Among the most popular joints specializing in hot chicken:

Within 3 miles of downtown

Fannie Mae’s. Located in SoBro, it’s the closest hot chicken purveyor to downtown and the Music City Center.

Party Fowl. A few blocks south of MCC. A little trendier than my traditional taste buds favor. Unlike most joints, they’ve got a full bar.

Bolton’s Spicy Fish and Chicken. Also very old-school with locations in East Nashville and Melrose.

Hattie B’s. Probably the best publicized and most popular (though not my favorite). Three locations: Midtown, Melrose and beyond in the Sylvan Park/Nations area.

Helen’s. About a mile west of the Bicentennial Mall/Farmer’s Market/Sounds Stadium. Close to both Fisk and Meharry universities. Also in Madison and Hendersonville. (Top photo.)

Beyond 3 miles

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. It’s the oldest of the bunch, most legendary and still uses cast iron skillets to cook the bird. The mothership is off Dickerson Pike north of town and a satellite location opened near the intersection of Old Hickory Blvd. and Nolensville Rd.

Pepperfire. A personal favorite in East Nashville. Try the Tender Royale, a mash-up of hot chicken and a grilled cheese sandwich.

400 Degrees. The 200° version made my lips numb so beware. In Bordeaux.

Gordon’s. Upscale vibe with a full bar, a bunch of TVs and both hot chicken and hot fish in Melrose. Tip: If there’s a cake coming out of the oven, eat dessert first.

As mentioned, hot chicken is on the menu at a growing number of eateries (including those in larger hotels). Honorable mention: if you want to go more upscale, try the Hot Chicken Salad at Green Hills Grille.

As a convenience for flyers, it’s on the menu at Gibson Cafe’ near Gate C-20 at the Nashville Airport.

→What if you want hot chicken and your friends don’t? Two simple solutions here.←

Hot tips for eating hot chicken

Camouflage your rookie status by employing these tactics. We laugh at people who cry out “Ohh, that’s hot!” Umm, that’s why it’s called hot chicken.

Ordering

  • Know your limits. Hot chicken ranges from mildly spicy to a bird that’s nearly radioactive. For your maiden voyage, lean toward the conservative side.
  • Most places these days offer chicken tenders in addition to bone-in pieces. Ask if you can get a tender in each level of heat.
  • Get over the unnatural color. Paprika and granulated peppers have that effect on poultry.
  • If you want a reprieve from the spice, try neutralizing sides such as mayo-based cole slaw, potato salad, mac’n’cheese or even unseasoned fries.
  • Choose your drink wisely. The acid in sodas will not relieve the heat. Water and milk are better options. Yes, beer works but it won’t put out the fire like milk.

Cooking and delivery

  • Be patient. It takes 15-30 minutes to receive your order because most purveyors fry upon demand. Purists prefer the old-school method using a cast-iron skillet but these days many restaurants go with the shorter cook-time of a deep fryer.
  • White bread. A slice is placed under your chicken to soak up the grease and additional seasoning. Don’t embarrass yourself by asking for wheat bread or a roll.

Rescue and recovery

  • If you need an escape hatch, some restaurants offer a variety of salad dressings ala carte. Ranch or bleu cheese are cool complements.
  • Banana pudding is probably the dessert front-runner but a slice of pie makes a nice balm to the napalm.

Veggie plate at Copper Kettle in Green Hills

Taste-test our OTHER unique downhome dining experience–the Meat-and-Three restaurant.

Even airport dining leans toward local operations where you can order everything from hot chicken and barbecue to meat-and-three options. Good deli and burrito on-site too. Take a chance. Our airport restaurants are worth a visit.

For a different kind of hot, visit my Complete Guide to Broadway Honky Tonks.

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