Chicken wings are just about the best thing to eat during the Super Bowl. With the game set for Sunday, The Baltimore Sun set out on an “Amazing Race”-style search for Baltimore’s best wings.
For our challenge we ordered up a few Buffalo-style orders, from iBar and Kisling’s Tavern, as well as more traditional fried options from American Wings & Pizza, the Corner Bistro & Wine Bar and also Royal Farms, Baltimore’s go-to for fast chicken. We also included two no-meat options, one from Johnny’s in Roland Park and another from Hampden’s Golden West Cafe.
We often think of chicken wings as being Buffalo-style, offspring of the version that originated in upstate New York — by many accounts, at the city’s Anchor Bar — red, spicy and served with blue cheese. That singular dish is said to have taken the humble chicken wing from a throwaway part of the bird to being one of its most sought after pieces, although John Young, another purported inventor of the Buffalo wing, has pointed out that black people have been eating wings for generations; the dish, he argues, has its roots in soul food.
This is by no means a comprehensive roundup; there are, after all, far more places to buy wings in Baltimore than there is room in our stomachs. That said, there are some true gems in the mix.
“Sorry, RoFo,” John-John Williams IV said aloud after biting into the first chicken wing he sampled from Royal Farms. Despite being appropriately breaded and fried, the greasy wings, from this ubiquitous (and beloved) outlet were our least favorite of the bunch, lacking punch and carrying with them the tell tale aftertaste of gas station food. Around $16 for 8.
440 Key Highway, Riverside, and 18 other locations in Baltimore. 410-387-4340. royalfarms.com.
Hampden’s Golden West is known for its vegan and vegetarian-friendly options such as these fried cauliflower wings, which get some kick from a spicy Korean barbecue sauce. Though we were impressed by the flavor (and the generous portion) of this dish, we were underwhelmed by the texture, which was more cauliflower than wing. An order with a side of vegan blue cheese dressing will set you back $10.22, including tax.
1105 W. 36th St., Hampden. 410-889-8891. goldenwestcafe.com
The battered and fried cauliflower wings at Johnny’s more closely resemble an actual Buffalo chicken wing than the Golden West version, and come with a decadent, chunky blue cheese dip that was the best we’ve tasted ($11.66 for an order including tax).
4800 Roland Ave., Roland Park. 410-773-0777. johnnysdownstairs.com
The Canton mainstay makes bold claims of greatness. Employees proudly wear shirts touting that they have Baltimore’s Best Wings. Their Buffalo wings, $13.77 for an order including tax, have a zing and vinegary flavor with hints of garlic and slight pepper. But the skin falls a little short-especially in comparison to the other wing spots on this list.
2100 Fleet St, Canton. 410-327-5477. baltimoresbestwings.com
The Corner Bistro & Wine Bar
This hidden gem in Ridgley’s Delight has sweet chili wings that are pretty close to being perfect. The wings ($11.95) are an ideal size — with just enough meat. But the crispy breading on the wing is absolutely unworldly. It has a crisp that holds up to the sauce and the travel time that it took to transport the wings to the office. The meat is juicy. And the flavor profile is through the roof. These wings are special.
213 Penn St., Ridgley’s Delight. 410-727-1155. cbwinebar.com
American Wings & Pizza
The chain — we picked the Charles Village location — has an array of flavors and cooking styles. [The mango habanero and lemon pepper are popular]. But its Southern-fried crispy style is tops. The seasoned breading on the wings is fried to perfection. And the meat is moist and juicy, which is a pretty hard feat to achieve. The Southern-fried style also allows you to dip these wings in your own sauce of choice, whether that be BBQ or Mambo, so it’s actually a good option for the masses. The wings, which come with blue cheese and celery, are sold in orders as small as six ($5.49) to as large as 96 ($76.99).
2400 Saint Paul St., Charles Village. 410-657-4895. americanwingspizza.com
This wing was far and above our favorite, and the one order we truly fought over. It also has one of the coolest back stories. iBar’s owner Jeffrey “Cheffrey” Holter actually uses the original recipe from Buffalo’s Anchor Bar, which he improves on with the addition of Parmesan cheese and garlic. It sounds like overkill, but the flavors come together amazingly well, with the cheese adding texture and interest to the existing Buffalo sauce for an addictive and scrumptious combination. Ordering for the Super Bowl? We recommend picking up twice as much as you think you’ll need. They’re that good. ($11.61 for an order of 8).