My dear friend Mimosa and her boyfriend Half White With Hot were in Chicago visiting us this weekend. Half White With Hot graduated from University of Chicago in 2005, so he naturally wanted to take us on a tour of his old haunts. After touring the ivy coated halls of the storied campus, we made the requisite dinner stop at Harold’s Chicken Shack.
Harold’s is both a famous South Side chain and a staple of HWWH’s college diet. We went to the location in a strip mall near his old apartment. In fact, his name in the entry refers to his favorite order: half of a chicken, white meat only, topped with Harold’s signature hot sauce, fries and two slices of white bread. This order, or some slight modification of it, is the classic option at Harold’s. Every franchise apparently arranges the plate a little differently; some put the bread on the bottom, others keep the sauce on the side. Following the advice of HWWH, I ordered the same. Empanada Boy tried the half “regular,” which mixes light and dark meat. Mimosa had the sweet barbecue sauce because the hot was too hot for her taste.
We ordered at the counter and then sat at a booth to wait for our chicken to be ready. The eating area is wallpapered with funny chicken print, and three large soda vending machines take up half of one wall. Harold’s will make your chicken, but it won’t fill up a cup with drinks. All are purchased from the vending machines. Thankfully bottled water was also an option as the steep caloric intake from the chicken hardly warranted any sugary supplements.
About twenty minutes later, our number was called and Half White With Hot went up to get it. He returned carrying paper-bagged bundles with our chicken inside. The chicken was excellent. Deliciously crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. I can only venture to guess what unnatural substances when into that fried coating. The sauces soaked into the exterior, gradually softening and flavoring it. The fries made a nice bed for soaking up more sauce and chicken juices, but they weren’t very good on their own. The white bread would have also been better if it had come underneath the chicken, but I didn’t have room to eat it anyway.
Perhaps the most hilarious element of Harold’s is that each diner only gets one paper napkin in a packet with the utensils. As we pulled apart the sauce-coated meat, we found ourselves wanting quite a few more. We tried to wash our hands and faces in the dingy little bathroom, but I still felt a little greasy when we left. Let’s just say, don’t go to Harold’s Chicken if you’re looking for clean. Do go there if you’re looking for some of the best fried chicken in the Chicagoland area.
Harold’s Chicken Shack
1208 E. 53rd St.
Chicago, IL 60615