Last week we published a ranking of the area’s Harold’s Chicken Shacks by our resident food critic, Jeff Ruby. It was met with both great applause and disdain. OK, mostly disdain.
Some of you were irate that your favorite Harold’s wasn’t higher on the list. (We fully expected that. When it comes to Harold’s, passions run high.) Others were mystified why your favorite Harold’s wasn’t on the list at all. (For better or worse, we kept the list to the 20 authorized spots the company identifies on its website, ensuring we avoid knockoffs and those with severed ties.) One person even argued that we should be censured by the Society of Professional Journalists. (That dude needs to chill.)
One thing we kept hearing was this: You really need to talk to Larry Legend.
Larry Legend, it turns out, is Larry Trotter, a longtime South Sider and YouTube personality who has become one of Chicago’s foremost Harold’s-ologists. A couple years back, he posted a two-part online comedy sketch about his obsession with Chicago’s favorite chicken joint. And when the website Thrillist did a video on the wonders of mild sauce, it was Larry who accompanied the reporter to Harold’s to sample it.
“Some may say Iʼm Harold Pierce reincarnated,” said Larry, when we reached him. “I prefer ‘Larold’ because itʼs more appealing to the ears.”
So what does Larry think of our ranking? “I understand and respect the concept in which the list was made, but Iʼm a true South Sider, and we donʼt care about whatʼs an ‘official Haroldʼs’ and whatʼs not.”
Larry agreed to create his own list for us. But first, he had some general observations about Harold’s:
LARRY LEGEND’S HAROLD’S ETIQUETTE
- The customer service is not always going to be as great as the food. In fact, the meaner the cashier, the better the food. This is Haroldʼs science.
- I donʼt practice sexism, but I will say that Iʼm entirely skeptical of a Haroldʼs that has a male cashier.
- A true Haroldʼs typically has a bulletproof window in front of the cashier and almost never has WiFi. Sometimes I think the bulletproof glass is to protect the patrons from the not-so-friendly cashiers rather than the other way around. Those elderly ladies ainʼt nothing to mess with. Period. And if your Haroldʼs has WiFi, it is fraud to me. If it has Apple Pay, block me back!
- An important thing to remember: If you arenʼt a regular, donʼt bother calling in your order. They will not start preparing your food until you arrive.
- Never have them put your order in a plastic bag. You donʼt want the chicken to sweat. It loses its attractiveness.
- ALWAYS order the sauce on the chicken. Never on the side. The Haroldʼs experience is more about the combination of sauce and chicken than it is about the chicken itself.
LARRY LEGEND’S TOP 10 HAROLD’S CHICKEN SHACKS
10 2134 S. Michigan Ave.
This is the go-to Haroldʼs in the South Loop. The chicken is pretty good, but like Jeff Ruby alluded to in his ranking, the waiting room is smaller than a New York closet.
9 740 W. Garfield Blvd.
This particular location is known for its very affordable prices. They have me feeling like Iʼm back in the ’90s. Only thing missing is Bad Boyz Radio with Mike Love and the Diz in the background. The sauce is classic, and the chicken is fresh.
8 124 E. 35th St.
This Harold’s made the No. 1 spot on the Chicago magazine list. I simply disagree. It is a fairly decent establishment: The chicken is good, the sauce is classic, and the location is ideal for someone who doesnʼt want to go past 55th street for chicken. But sometimes it is worth going farther for gold. I can literally name seven better locations. As follows …
7 9151 S. Ashland Ave.
It would be ranked in the top five, but it is currently remodeling and under new management due to the loss of the previous owner, Laverne Burnett. It’s particularly great for late night food, and the sauce here is like no other. Hopefully when it reopens, it’ll still have the same taste and hours that made me fall in love in the first place.
6 100 W. 87th St.
As a young Chicagoan, I would get a ride to this Haroldʼs after a fun night of counting my jukes at the Rink. It’s known for its consistency and convenience, and most people would say that it’s the best Haroldʼs in the city. I beg to differ. The prices are fair and the sauce is good, but the chicken can be hit or miss depending on the time of day or night you visit. You could say that about all Haroldʼs, but Iʼm specifically saying it for this one because it really matters to me for my lunch breaks and drunken nights. UPDATE, AUGUST 2020: This location has closed.
5 917 W. 87th St.
When Iʼm on 87th, I prefer this location over the one closer to the Dan Ryan. My main reasoning? The chicken is always fresh, the size of the wings stays consistent, the customer service is surprisingly good, and the sauce is distinct. Not to forget, this spot stays open a little later. Be aware, they do not accept credit cards.
4 7348 S. Stony Island Ave.
When Iʼm “over east” doing hood-rat stuff with my friends and I get a taste for Harold’s, I love to frequent this location. It never fails me. They usually have your call-in order ready when you arrive. Thatʼs almost unheard of for a Haroldʼs. They stay with fresh chicken and decent prices, and even though I canʼt put my finger on it, there’s something special about their sauce.
3 10259 S. Halsted St.
This location is my home, my childhood, my life. When I was a kid, I would get my chicken here, then go across the street and get a vanilla shake from Checkers. I look at this location as the Cheers to my Norm. Itʼs that deep. The chicken is good and the sauce is not like any other location, but the prices are very steep. Bring your big boy wallet if you want to indulge in the greatness of “the 100s,” as bread cost 22 cent extra and sauce cost 50 cent. Sometimes good things cost. Think of this as the gourmet Haroldʼs so that you wonʼt go crazy at the prices. Understand that the customer service here is nowhere near Southern friendly. Instead of expecting “Haroldʼs, how may I help you?” think more “What you want?” and youʼll be all good.
2 Uncle Remus, 5611 W. Madison St.
Thatʼs right, the second best Haroldʼs Chicken Shack is no Haroldʼs at all. Itʼs Haroldʼs archrival, Uncle Remus. It’s like the Clyde Drexler to Haroldʼs Michael Jordan. If you know the history, you know Haroldʼs was established in 1950. Uncle Remus was established in 1963 (technically, 1969). Due to the location, itʼs always a war between South Side and West Side on whose chicken shack is better. Personally, I think the chicken here is fried well, and the sauce is sweeter than the zestier sauce from Haroldʼs. (Side note: I really wanted to use another word than “zesty,” but I couldnʼt find one.)
1 2237 W. 95th St.
I know this may catch a lot of people by surprise, but I have a great reason why this is the best Haroldʼs Chicken Shack. First and foremost, they have the original recipe. This is a very important factor because most of these Haroldʼs have their own ways of doing things. Some have different fry cuts, sauces, seasonings, etc. However, this location is true to the way of Harold Pierce. The chicken is fresh and fried to order, the sauce is classic and friendly, the menu is more extensive than other Haroldʼs, with options like shrimp and macaroni bites, and the price is more than reasonable. Oh, and did I mention that the owners are related to Sir Harold himself? All in all, this is the best.