Close your eyes and think about your favorite comfort food. Now, open them, and if your answer did not involve your hands grasping a warm brioche bun, a juicy piece of chicken and an addictive, mouth-numbing spice, close them again and rethink your answer.
Out of the many items in the food world, nothing embraces a sense of balance like the spicy chicken sandwich. It’s a food that can simultaneously light your mouth on fire while cooling it off with a creamy signature sauce, deliver a crisp crunch and a soft baked dough — and be eaten in both the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter.
A ranking of restaurants producing these bundles of pure deliciousness are long overdue. Hence, Chand’s Chicken Check-in was conceived to send one man in hopes of finding the best Nashville Spicy Chicken Sandwich.
Without discussion and miles ahead of second place, Chand’s chicken champ is undoubtedly Smashburger, located in Loehmann’s Plaza, attaining the title of best Nashville hot chicken sandwich. Although known for their cheeseburgers, the popular chain tried its luck serving up this spicy food fad and beat expectations with flying colors.
Depending on the time you go, Smashburger lines are reasonably long. However, the joint is notorious for its extremely fast service, bringing me my sandwich in less than 6 minutes with around seven orders in front of me.
With no elaborate presentation, the sandwich sits in a simplistic manner, with a sliver-grate tray, your sandwich and, in my case, a side of shoe-string fries.
The most notable difference between Smashburger and others was its use of chicken breast instead of tenderloin.
In this case, the flatter and wider breast shape eliminate the annoying situation where you are eating only bun. And, although the chicken is spicy, its balance between tongue-numbing spice and the overall flavor is spot on.
This is mainly due to two factors.
First, Smashburger coats the chicken in a regular batter, fries it and then coats it in a spiced batter and fries it again to finish it off—presenting a perfectly balanced level of spice and crunch.
Secondly, Smashburger finishes off the job by coating the burger in a spiced oil, pushing in an extra layer of kick and overall goodness. Put that chicken in between two great buns, a perfect sauce, and an adequate number of pickles, and you can call that a close-to-perfect Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich.
Carefully breaking down each supplemental element of the sandwich, the pillowy artisan bun conforms to your hand and is a perfect vessel to deliver the best bite you might ever experience. Additionally, the toasted bun keeps its structure to hold the signature Smash Sauce without getting soggy.
The sauce, although included in every bite, doesn’t override the star of the show, the chicken itself, as its simplistic nature of mainly mayonnaise, yellow mustard, dill pickle relish and lemon juice provides a tasteful punch.
With no contention, Smashburger flies its way over the other four Nashville chicken restaurants I ate at.
Heating up into third place, a locally-loved chicken shack fell short of expectations.
Upon arrival, Angry Chickz on Sunrise Boulevard boasted a packed house on a Wednesday night. And I don’t know if it was the rambunctious atmosphere of the three other chicken sandwiches hitting me all at once, but Angry Chickz felt weirdly overwhelming.
After standing in line for over 20 minutes, the kitchen on staff seemed undersized. Once received, the hot chicken sandwich, contradictory to its title, was decently cold.
And to sum up the meal, just like its temperature, Angry Chickz displays the most decent use of 20 bucks a person can buy.
The sandwich is topped with an unbuttered-brioche bun that crumbles under even the slightest bit of pressure.
A basic bun is complemented by basically bland sauce of what I hypothesize to be just a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup and most likely a touch of garlic powder.
By far, the weakest component of Angry Chickz Sandwich is the chicken itself, or should I say, lack thereof.
It’s extremely hard to rank Angry Chickz chicken when it comes with a single slender tender—providing a series of fake-outs where eyes are closed and you expect a mouth of hot chicken, but you’re met with nothing but a bun and a series of mediocre pickles and coleslaw.
However, two things kept me from throwing Angry Chickz straight into last place ]: the chicken’s flavor and its side of fries.
Angry Chickz chicken, although small, packs a punch! It’s double-fried batter insured the chicken held together and incorporated intense heat throughout each bite.
The chicken, even though not breath-taking, was not bad at all. The tender, cooked extremely well, melted in my mouth.
However, the fries were by far the best out of every restaurant on this list. Their crisp, flakey, well-seasoned nature encapsulated a soft inside that acted as an intermediary between each mouthful of sandwich.
Firing its way into last place as not only the worst spicy chicken sandwich but the worst waste of time and money is without contention, Roostarz. Although you should never visit their shop, Roostarz is located in El Dorado Hills with a shop emptier than my stomach after I ate the joke of a sandwich I ordered.
With no customers other than me at Roostarz, my sandwich took upwards of 20 minutes to arrive. Expectantly, I assumed the sandwich had to be shipped in from Nashville itself! But if Nashville cooks up mushy buns, unflavored chicken and terrible sides, I think I’ll stick to Sacramento.
At first glance, I noticed the dousing of sprinkled seasoning on top of my mac-n-cheese. You might not think this a big deal, but I specifically asked for the regular Mac to ensure comparisons to other restaurants were fair. Nevertheless, I was willing to try the side—a mistake I could never take back.
The mac-n-cheese was coated in an obviously artificial cheese, but that was the least of its problems. Each bite started off normal, but let the cheese sit in your mouth for a bit, and you are met with a disgusting, sour aftertaste. In reality, Rooastarz mac-n-cheese was the worst I’ve had in my 17 years of life.
Okay, the mac-n-cheese is terrible, so what? Aren’t we here for the chicken sandwich? Unfortunately, I should’ve left at that point.
Hoping for redemption, a bite into a stale bun shot down any hope. Upon the first bite, I realized the mistake I made, and decided to just give the chicken a try. Flaking off the tender, the seemingly plain, unspiced batter and chicken put the nail in the coffin. With no sauce to add the tiniest bit of flavor, Roostarz made me do the unthinkable, as my silver tray clanked along the trash bin, dumping not only half of my sandwich but my hopes, dreams and money.
— By Jacob Chand
Originally published in the Nov. 16 issue of The Octagon