On December 31, 2015, I stood in a friend’s living room surrounded by bodies twirling, swaying, and dutty wining to usher in the new year. It was a beautiful tableau of sweat and joy. At some point in the evening, someone buzzed up to the apartment and walked in with a plastic bag, which drew people’s eyes slowly toward it in unadulterated lust. The bag was holding Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen fried chicken (and biscuits).
News of the chicken’s arrival spread throughout the apartment, and people visited to pay their respects. There was not enough for more than a few people, but I scored a small piece and was transported. The short but powerful crunch begat an almost sensual salty-sweetness on my tongue. (NSFW: The chicken had rubbed against the biscuits in the box.)
As Nicki Minaj’s verse on Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo” played in the background, I felt at peace. It was beautiful.
Ass fat, yeah I know / You just got cash? / Blow sum mo', blow sum mo', blow sum mo'... Indeed.
What is it?
According to its website, Popeyes was founded in 1972 by Alvin C. Copeland Sr. as “Chicken on the Run” in New Orleans. There are more than 2,000 Popeyes locations worldwide. The chain, naturally, is most famous for its fried chicken, but it also sells sandwiches with chicken, wraps with chicken, chicken tenders, and other delicious products — some of which do not involve chicken at all, but why would you even go there if you’re not getting chicken?
Why is it the gold standard?
If fried chicken is fine art, Popeyes is Kehinde Wiley. The first bite is always rich in texture. As the chicken moves closer to your face, its buttery aroma fills your nostrils like an intoxicating perfume. Popeyes has mastered the tricky balance of a savory, flaky, crispy skin with meat that isn’t too tough or dry. Fancy your chicken spicy? Their Louisiana spices will tickle your taste buds. Not bothered by grease? Neither is Popeyes.
The chain also consistently tops taste tests when stacked up against franchises that are comparable in scale, like Church’s and KFC. Effective seasoning is the key to a good fried chicken meal, and in my humble opinion — based on pretty extensive research at chicken spots in New York, Georgia, North Carolina (shoutout to Bojangles), California, Canada, Jamaica, and London — Popeyes is the tried and true best across the worldwide locations that this writer has visited, dear reader.
The debate around which franchise has the best chicken is contentious, in part, because each one of the leading competitors is really quite good. Beyond the flavor, however, there are more inexplicable reasons why Popeyes reigns supreme. Perhaps it’s the design of the stores and food containers: The chicken comes in a welcoming, playful white and orange box that teases while it invites. Or maybe it’s the memeification of Popeyes: No one tweets quite as lovingly about competing chains, or at least not as much. Going there is like being in on a well-known secret.
Popeyes feels like a D’Angelo track — it’s desirable in a way that embarrasses you a little bit, but it makes you come back for more. You might shield your eyes before walking up to a Popeyes because it’s just too damn fine and oh my God, me? Is it really calling for… me? You look side to side and back at your girls and back at Popeyes and feel a reassuring wink in your direction. “Sup, shawty,” it seems to say to you as you ease up to the counter and order a three-piece combo with a side of mashed potatoes. You throw in a cinnamon apple pie because you’re feeling cute. Everything is going to be all right.
The #MCM of fast-food chicken joints is ubiquitous. Popeyes is love. Popeyes is patient. Popeyes is kind. And nothing compares to the moments when you come face to face with the choice, nay, the calling to good meat.