Though it's been slow to come, Denver has been getting into the Nashville hot chicken trend as more and more places have started serving up this spicy Southern staple. Given the dish's natural heat, it's not surprising that Coloradans are taking to the dish. We do, after all, love a bit of spice in our food.
But what makes hot chicken different from a piece of fried bird slathered with hot sauce, or spicy Buffalo-style wings? To start with, the origins of the creation, which dates back to the 1930s and hails from Tennessee. Most food historians agree that Andre Prince Jeffries, owner of Prince's Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, popularized the dish at her now-famous chicken joint in the 1980s, and today you can find hot chicken all over Tennessee and beyond. Traditionally the main heat comes from a generous dose of cayenne pepper that's made into a paste and slathered on the freshly fried wings, thighs, legs and breasts. It should have somewhat of a saucy quality, and enough heat that you will want the usual pairing of sour pickle slices and Texas toast to help dull the pain.
Although not every Denver rendition proves true to form, these eight places (listed in alphabetical order) are serving up spicy chicken dishes that pay homage to the Nashville great.
Esters Neighborhood Pub
1950 South Holly Street
Although this Virginia Village joint specializes in pizza, you can also find a super-spicy Nashville hot chicken during brunch. Each $14 plate comes with a couple of pieces of the crispy bird, slices of white bread, pickles and a side of braised collard greens. With a deep heat penetrating the sizzling skin, this option is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. You'll need those pickles to cool the spice. And since the dish is only offered during weekend brunch, make sure you get to this hopping neighborhood eatery early to snag a seat.
Fire on the Mountain
3801 West 32nd Avenue
If you want a little fire on your tongue, Micah's Nashville Hot Chicken will satisfy anyone looking for a spicy sandwich. This boneless version comes as a soft brioche bun stuffed with a house-breaded, country-style chicken breast with the restaurant's signature Nashville-style hot sauce coating each bite. Cool the heat with slightly sweet housemade pickles piled on top. The sandwich packs a flavor that would make any homesick Southerner craving a hot chicken fix happy. Take your bird to go, or plop down in this laid-back Highland hideaway and order a good craft beer to wash it all down.
Lou's Hot Naked
Downtown Denver, coming soon
Unfortunately this place isn't yet open, or really even built. But for fans of Lou's who miss the recently closed Sunnyside restaurant, you can get excited about Frank Bonanno's upcoming project, Lou's Hot Naked. "I want to focus on what we did at Lou's with the chicken," says Bonanno. " I think our recipe was pretty killer, and it was the most popular dish." The restaurateur says there will be an amazing chicken sandwich, fried chicken by the piece, whole and half chickens, and rotisserie chicken as well. Of course, given the name of the new joint, you can also expect hot chicken just like Lou's used to serve. Bonanno says guests can expect spicy things to come this November.
The Post Chicken and Beer
2200 Broadway, 720-466-5699
1258 South Hover Road, Longmont, 720-588-2883
Of all the hot chicken Denver has to offer, chef Brett Smith's might be the truest to Nashville form. It's crispy, saucy, and hot enough to warrant an extra biscuit or two to help tame the heat. True, it's not as fiery as you might find in Tennessee, but that's okay — because the flavor rings true and you can actually taste both the juicy meat and the spices used to adorn the dish. Get it in half-chicken form, as a ten-piece platter of mixed parts, or the whole bird. You can also sample the hot chicken inside the Post's fried chicken banh mi, a fun Southern take on the Vietnamese sandwich. As a bonus, all the fried chicken is gluten-free.
Keep reading for more hot chicken options.
3200 Pecos Street
Chef Kevin Grossi's hot chicken sandwich at the the Regional — inside Avanti Food & Beverage — adheres to the standard set in Nashville. You have a buttermilk-marinated chicken thigh that gets a little heat from added cayenne and paprika. That same piece of poultry then gets deep-fried and coated with a cayenne pepper oil blended with Crystal hot sauce, a Louisiana favorite. Get your hot chicken gluten-free with a side of "truck stop" dill pickles that the chef makes in house; or have it sandwich-style on a hamburger bun and served with said cukes. Either way, this Southern staple will run you $8, or only $5 during happy hour, 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday.
7355 Ralston Road, Arvada, 303-830-0096
523 East 17th Avenue, 303-830-1001
About six months ago the Steuben's team decided to add to its already popular fried-chicken menu by including a spicy option. "This dish was inspired by the the classic 'hot chicken' that is ubiquitous in Nashville at restaurants such as Prince's and Hattie B's," says executive chef Dave Jabour. "Our version is first brined in buttermilk and hot sauce, then dredged in seasoned flour." That coating also gets a hearty dose of cayenne pepper, and, as if that wasn't enough, the bird finishes with a basting of cayenne, chili powder, brown sugar and pickle juice. It's darn good and one of the hot chicken dishes found in Denver that tastes like it could have been made in the South.
2501 Dallas Street
When something is named the Barn Burner, you can bet it comes packing heat. And when the team at Yellowbelly decided to create an ode to the Nashville-style hot chicken fad, they did it in their own, Colorado way. "The true north for our brand is better food, so we are going for a better version of fried chicken," says Michael Friedberg, co-owner of the three-location chicken shop (Aurora, Vail and Boulder). "We put a bunch of hot-pepper vinegar sauce in a bowl and toss it with the chicken tenders; that way, we're able to get the same heat and flavor from it without using the traditional old fryer oil spiced with chiles." Friedberg says the vinegar-based sauce is made using fresh habaneros, jalapeños, onions and herbs. "It's about a six out of ten on the spice meter," he adds, "and it's absolutely delicious." To help cut the heat, you can get the sandwich with a dollop of green ranch sauce and crisp lettuce, all between halves of a brioche bun.
Zeps Epiq Sandwiches
Grab a stack of napkins and have at the Red Rocks Hot Chicken, a gooey, spicy and hearty sandwich found gracing the menu at this one-up concept by the Quiznos empire, located in the Golden Triangle. For $9 you get a large sandwich comprising a fluffy brioche bun stuffed with a buttermilk fried chicken breast that gets doused in the restaurant's version of Nashville hot sauce. It's spicy, but not with that burn-your-mouth or reach-for-the-Tums sort of heat. It helps that the sandwich also comes with a pile of apple-jalapeño slaw, slices of pickle and a slathering of mayonnaise.