Philly's 12 Sauciest, Spiciest Wings

By Danya Henninger  |  January 28, 2014
Credit: Danya Henninger

Wings might just be America’s favorite bar snack, and it’s all thanks to Buffalo, NY. Though the details of the origin story are unclear, it was in New York State’s second-most populous city that someone first decided to toss fried chicken wings in mouth-tingling sauce before serving them with a cooling dip.

Since then, the dish has exploded in popularity, and Philadelphia chefs have devised all kinds of variations on the cayenne-and-butter original, weaving in flavors from all over the globe. Here’s where to get a dozen top versions in Philly. Ultimate wing crawl, anyone?

  • El Camino Real

    At this tequila-soaked Tex-Mex in Northern Liberties, the wings are first smoked before being tossed in spicy dressing, so you get a two-toned flavor punch that’s both satisfying and addictive ($8 or $15 for a double order; 215-925-1110).

  • Noir

    Chef Marco DeCotiis hails from Montreal (which isn’t all that far from Buffalo, NY), and his Canadian twist on wings at this East Passyunk bar includes dousing them in a sweet-and-hot, orange-infused chile sauce and sprinkling them with finely chopped scallions ($10 per dozen; 267-319-1678).

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Cheu Noodle Bar

    Chef Ben Puchowitz perfectly channels the American-meets-Asian theme of his 10th Street noodle house into wings - cornmeal-crusted, double-fried chicken pieces that are drizzled in black garlic sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds, cilantro and shishito peppers ($9; 267-639-4136).

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Federal Donuts

    Arrive close to noon if you want to score wings at either outpost of this cult-fave chicken and donut shop - they sell out even quicker than the regular fried chicken. Wings are given the same twice-fried treatment as the bigger bird parts, and then dusted with or dunked in the spice or glaze of your choice. A honey-dipped donut and Japanese pickles on the side complete the flavor-intense deal (six uncut wings for $9 or 12 for $17).

  • Tria Taproom

    At the new, oven-equipped sister to the pair of Tria wine-beer-cheese cafes, all the traditional accoutrements for hot wings are worked into the dish. Wings come tossed in a green chile sauce with bits of gorgonzola and celery clinging to each attractively sticky piece ($9; 215-557-8277).

  • Irish Pol

    Even if you don’t usually hang out at this Old City bar (aka if “Boobie Bingo” nights aren’t your thing), it’s worth a stop for the wings, which are fried and then soaked in hot mustard sauce. Your tongue will sing, your nostrils will sting, and you’ll come back for more ($9; 267-761-9532).

  • Moriarty’s

    Sometimes you want the original, and when you’re in the mood for the classic that made Buffalo famous, this Irish pub in Center City is your go-to choice. No one’s quite sure what elevates this bar bite above the rest, but most agree the wings are much more than mundane, even bordering on special (215-627-7676).

  • MilkBoy

    At this Jefferson area bar-cafe-music joint, chef Joel Mazigian smokes chicken wings to get flavor deep inside the meat, then rubs the outside with a spice mix to pique the tongue. Also available in traditional Buffalo sauce, wings come with a side of pickled green tomatoes ($10; 215-925-6455).

  • Barren Hill Tavern

    At this Lafayette Hill brewpub, chef Paul Trowbridge combines a high-end technique (using whole, still-connected wings) with classic bar flavors for his popular platter of wings. The black-pepper-ranch dressing on the side adds a novel twist to each bite ($11; 484-344-5438).

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Han Dynasty

    Make a late-night trip to the new Old City home for Han Chiang’s Sichuan restaurant to gain access to the special “street-food” menu. There you’ll find dry-pepper-style wings, triple flash-fried with both long hot and dry chile peppers for a crisp bite that you’ll enjoy even as it numbs your tongue (215-922-1888).

  • Slice

    When applied to wings, “South Philly-style” apparently means first baked with salt and pepper and then deep-fried and tossed with a hot-and-sweet sauce, according to the proprietors of this 10th and Federal pizzeria. Whatever style you call it, the result is worth biting into. NB: wings will be debuting at the Rittenhouse branch sometime this spring ($9; 215-463-0868).

  • Adobe Cafe

    Just about every vegan we know has offered praises up to the skies for the seitan wings at this freewheeling Mexican joint on East Passyunk. “Texas Ranchero” seitan wings have all the pucker and spice of regular Buffalo wings, with a texture that’s meaty and holds the flavor well ($8; 215-551-2243).