The Fried Chicken Sandwich Showdown

Zev Green

In these trying times, one industry that has been crushed by social distancing measures is the restaurant industry.  Restaurants around the world have been forced to lay off staff and now rely on takeout or delivery orders as their only source of income. 

If we want our favorite restaurants to still be there when the world re-opens for business, we need to support them during this incredibly difficult time.  An order or two of your favorite comfort food can really make a difference.

One of my favorite comfort foods is fried chicken, which I think we can all agree is one of the most delicious dishes that humans have ever conceived.  

Everywhere from the American South (home of buttermilk, Nashville, Cajun, and more styles) to Japan (home of karaage, bite-sized pieces of chicken marinated in a blend of soy sauce and ginger and then deep-fried) sings the praises of fried chicken.

But whoever had the idea to stick a piece of fried chicken in a sandwich – hats off to you, unknown innovator.  I decided to take two fried chicken sandwiches from two of my favorite restaurants and see how they compared.

Andy Ricker’s Thai restaurant empire is one of the jewels of the Portland food scene.  The two-time James Beard Award (the culinary equivalent of an Oscar) winner is the chef and owner of many Pok Pok restaurants and their affiliates in the Portland area.

Pok Pok’s fish-sauce chicken wings are, in my opinion, one of the best dishes Portland has to offer.  But a hidden gem at Pok Pok Wing (a twist on the original Pok Pok with a smaller menu and a more fast-food style atmosphere) is their Spicy Chicken sandwich.

This sandwich is the lovechild of Southern and Thai cuisine.  An astoundingly crispy fried chicken breast is topped with a trifecta of pickled veggies – carrots, radish, and serrano peppers.  A sprinkle of cilantro and a generous smear of a house sauce called ‘SriRancha’ (guess what’s in it) rounds out a uniquely Thai flavor profile.

The Fried Chicken Sandwich from Pok Pok Wing

Surprisingly, the bread really stood out to me.  With a sandwich like this, the bread too often becomes a soggy mess.  However, this bread is toasted after being baked, giving it a more resilient texture and allowing it to keep its shape.

Squaring up with Pok Pok Wing in this article is a fantastic sandwich shop that goes by the name of Lardo.  They have two locations in downtown Portland, with another one slated to open here in LO next year.

Their fried chicken sandwich is done in the style known as Nashville Hot Chicken.  In Nashville, Tennesee, their chicken is dunked in buttermilk and flour before frying – par for the course for the South.  But there’s a twist.

Nashvillians drench their chicken in hot sauce as well as buttermilk and then brush it with spicy oil and top with pickles.  Lardo, adding bacon, white onion, and hot honey.

I’ve never been to Nashville, but I can tell you that this is a damn good sandwich.  

The Nashville Chicken Sandwich from Lardo

Lardo’s Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich strikes an incredible balance between spicy, salty, and sweet.  The sweetness of the honey contrasts with the burn of the cayenne, and the saltiness of the bacon comes through with a truckload of umami.

So who wins the great fried-chicken sandwich showdown of 2020?  Pok Pok Wing made a fantastic sandwich, with variety in both flavor and texture.  But the sheer innovativeness of Lardo’s sandwich, especially with the addition of the hot honey, blew me away.

Lardo wins this battle, but it was a close fight that went down to the wire.  

Regardless of who won in my opinion, I urge you to support these iconic staples of Portland’s restaurant scene.  All of Pok Pok Wing’s locations are open for either delivery or takeout, and both of Lardo’s locations will happily prepare takeout orders.