Bargain, Balanced, Ballin': 9 Chicken & Waffles For All Budgets

By Sophie Steiner, August 20, 2021

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Bargain, Balanced, Ballin’ is where we take a deep dive into a certain dish or food fad, one by one, creating a guide for where to sample the best (and sometimes worst) of them, all around the city and for any and every budget.

Simply put, chicken and waffles is a dish hailing from the USA that combines two things – you guessed it – chicken and waffles. Everything else is just bonus. Some believe chicken should only be served on the bone, while others hold their hat on the need for some form of spice. Maple syrup is a non-negotiable, yet the balance between crispness of the waffle and thickness of the batter is up for debate. Butter is always a plus.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A major part of soul food culture, this unlikely combination of two seemingly unrelated foods dates back to the Pennsylvania Dutch colonies in the 1600s, according to some origin stories.

Yet, many others claim the right to the original recipe – jazz clubs in New York, popup shops in LA and numerous venues along the east coast, from Boston and Pennsylvania down to Tennessee and Florida. 

Others go as far as to say that the dish only exists because Thomas Jefferson brought back four waffle irons from Amsterdam in 1789, thus propelling this breakfast staple to its current level of popularity. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Throughout American history, alternate versions of the dish have had their heyday – fried catfish and waffles, broiled chicken and gravy atop waffles, or flapjacks and chicken – but the prevailing favorite that still exists today is breaded and deep-fried chicken perched atop a crispy, Belgian style waffle with a side of butter and maple syrup, thus acting as the ideal compromise between dinner and breakfast.

While the genesis of chicken and waffles, and its rise in popularity, is complex, there is one thing everybody can agree; when cooked right, it is deliciously irresistible. Despite being halfway across the globe from its source, Shanghai is dishing out some damn good renditions, honoring whatever shady origins there may or may not be. 

Bargain | RMB68-86

Mikkeller Xintiandi | RMB68

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Mikkeller Xintiandi's newly launched brunch menu (kicking off officially next week) is all about comfort eats, and Chicken & Waffles is just that. A half circle of fluffy waffle is adorned with both a perfectly sunny-side-up egg, and a fried-to-a-crisp chicken thigh.

The boneless meat is first brined, then bathed in buttermilk, before being battered in a blend of flour, semolina, cumin and chili powder, among other spices. If you're really feeling the brunch spirit, you can also order your chicken and waffles as a stacked sandwich, where the waffle wedges become the bun, and an added layer of crunch is served in the form of crispy bacon.

Bandit | RMB78

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Like an Eggs Benedict and Fried Chicken & Waffle hybrid, the portion at Bandit is topped with a poached egg and creamy sriracha hollandaise. The customary maple syrup is swapped out for Bandit slaw – a mix of cabbage, carrots and kale – slathered in more of that spicy mayo-based sauce.

The waffle is the lightest of the lot, puffy and airy rather than crunchy and dense. While the fried chicken batter lacks in the crumbly department, the lighter coating on the boneless chicken ‘nuggets’ is less heavy than any other on the list, making it easier to get back to work post-lunch, as this rendition of chicken and waffles is available all day, every day, not just for weekend brunch. 

Brut Eatery | RMB86

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A fusion spin on Brut Eatery’s Chicken & Waffle sees six-spiced fried chicken stacked high atop a Belgian-style circular waffle. Pickled pink watermelon radish adds both color and tang, a vinegary hit to cut through fat-dripping fried chicken. Jujube honey – made with Chinese red dates – is liberally drizzled across the plate, while a sprinkling of candied walnuts adds more of that saccharine, earthy crunch. 

Balanced | RMB98

Commune Reserve | RMB98

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The Chicken and Waffles at Commune Reserve is one of the largest portions of the bunch – a behemoth stack of Southern-style, buttermilk battered chicken served on top of a gigantic, round and deeply-grooved Belgian waffle.

An abundance of meat, batter, maple syrup and butter, all melting together, will satiate the fiercest Sunday morning appetites. There is also theater in the pouring of the syrup that, together with the size, makes diners feel that it is designed for group appreciation when ordered to share.

Heritage by Madison | RMB98

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Combining the Hong Kong famous bubble waffles and the flavors of the American South, Heritage by Madison’s Chicken HK Waffles flaunts a pleasantly grainy cornbread egg waffle bottom, nestling the crispiest chunk of fried chicken thigh.

Zippy pickled onions and a spicy heat from laoganma-infused honey butter linger on the back of the tongue, urging diners to take another bite. Ball out by adding seared foie gras for another RMB88. 

The Smokehouse x The Camel | RMB98

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Two monster-sized pieces of smoked then fried juicy AF chicken thighs – coated in a spicy honey maple glaze – are perched atop a dense buttermilk waffle and served with a side of maple syrup and bacon butter as the Smoked Fried Chicken & Waffles at The Smokehouse x The Camel. That extra step of smoking before frying adds a sultry, roasted aroma that balances perfectly with sticky syrup. 

Ballin’ | RMB108-188

Boxing Cat Brewery | RMB108

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Boxing Cat’s Best Damn Fried Chicken and Waffle actually delivers on its bold name. Half of a chicken is battered and fried, resulting in crispy yet non greasy pieces that reveal tender, juicy chicken meat, cooked evenly, from wing to breast to thigh.

The waffle can be divisive for some, in that the batter here is sweeter than normal, almost cake-like, for a crumblier rather than crunchier waffle. For dessert-a-holics like your truly, this is a major bonus, especially when slathered in more maple syrup.

The menu does advertise a corn salsa, but instead it’s a pico de gallo of sorts with chipotle, that doesn’t necessarily go with the sweet waffle, but provides the spice fiends with what they crave. 

The Bull & Claw | RMB126

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The Bull and Claw does brunch right again and again, this time with stellar Chicken & Waffles – fried chicken over homemade waffles with American-style bacon and fresh blueberry compote. The chicken breading is pleasantly spiced without deterring spice avoiders, while the crunchy waffle crisp gives way to a fluffy, buttermilk-forward interior, qualifying it as quite possibly our favorite waffle in the city. Classic and classy, this is one not to miss. 

Highline | RMB188

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The three-piece Chicken & Waffles at Highline has remained on the menu throughout numerous brunch iterations for one reason – it’s impeccable; it cannot be pecked. The brittle crust provides a pleasant textural contrast between the juicy flesh inside, while the Cajun-spiced waffle acts as the ideal vessel for scooping more maple bacon butter slathered meat into your face. You are paying a premium for that view, but it’s one we will happily dish out a few extra for time and again.

As a side note, if you’re not a purist, or if you just like pancakes more than anything else, The Cannery does offer a Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Pancake Short Stack (RMB158) that we would have loved to include in this list if said short stack was actually a waffle.

But, if one of the two key components is missing, we’d have to include every good waffle that comes without chicken, which eventually would devolve into a chaotic list of exceptions, ending in brunch burritos and jianbing.

We don’t need more lists of brunch food. Kidding, there’s never enough. We’ll see you next weekend for more brunch chat, k?

Click here for more Bargain, Balanced, Ballin’ 

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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