You don’t need to eat meat to find a crispy fried chicken sandwich in Philadelphia. Across the city, vegan versions come in all sorts of forms, from Nashville-style, dripping with hot sauce, to classic buttermilk, layered with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a tangy pickle crunch. And the “chicken” itself is equally diverse.
Soy? Seitan? Mushrooms? What makes the best vegan fried chicken?
Most chefs agree there’s no one “best” medium for faux chicken. What matters more is how you prepare it.
“I manufacture seitan so that’s what we use, but some of the best fried chicken-style sandwiches I’ve ever had were made out of mushrooms and even tofu,” says Mark Mebus, owner of all-vegan Blackbird Pizzeria and cofounder of Blackbird Foods, the seitan supplier for many restaurants in the area. “There are a lot of factors, but the components with the biggest impact are the crispiness of the protein and the spices going into it.”
From delicate mushrooms to chewy, wheat-gluten-based seitan, every platform has nuances in texture. And each requires different treatment to infuse flavor and create a crispy, not soggy, exterior. The seasoning, brining, and batter can all play a role.
“In the end, it comes down to creating something that fools your brain into thinking you’re eating chicken,” says Khyber Pass Pub chef Mark McKinney.
Of course, chefs do have favorites. “That belly feeling of a fried chicken sandwich — my vote would always go to seitan to replicate that,” says Matthew Rafferty, owner of Algorithm Restaurants.
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Want to try out some options for yourself? Here’s where to get a vegan fried chicken sandwich in Philadelphia.
Country Fried from Blackbird Pizzeria
For nearly two years, Mebus worked to create a seitan recipe that produced a less rubbery, more tender texture. Now available at grocery stores across the city, his Blackbird Foods soy-sauce-braised seitan gets dressed up traditionally in this chicken sandwich, complete with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle, and a cucumber ranch dressing. Each cut of seitan is breaded with a mix of spices, cornstarch, and cornmeal. It’s then fried to order and served on a crusty Italian roll.
Nashville Hot Chicken from Algorithm Restaurants
Launched last fall, Algorithm’s vegan food truck quickly grew a following for its signature Nashville Hot, featuring a thick, surprisingly tender cutlet made from Blackbird Foods seitan. The “chicken” is brined with oat milk, pickle juice, hot sauce, and a hint of mustard, then dredged in a dry batter seasoned with herbs and garlic. It goes into the deep fryer. Then comes a plunge into a buttery, cayenne-heavy bath that will light most mouths on fire. It’s sandwiched on a brioche-style Merzbacher’s sweet potato bun, along with grilled scallion slaw and pickles to help tame the heat.
Fried Chick’un Sandwich from Nourish
Last summer, when YouTuber JL Jupiter told viewers, “This is one of the best chicken sandwiches I’ve ever had — and it’s plant-based,” customers from across the country started showing up at Nourish. Local chefs, including many listed in this article, give the sandwich high praise, it’s largely because of the tender, pull-apart texture of its “chicken.” It’s derived from enoki mushrooms, naturally grown as thin, long-stemmed clusters that get double battered and fried in grapeseed oil. They create a patty that’s piled onto a mega-sized sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, pickles, red onion, and vegan ranch.
Fried Chicken Cutlet Sandwich from Monster Vegan
Monster Vegan’s fried chicken cutlet appears in four different sandwiches, all featuring Gardein chick’n, a soy-based product that gets marinated in-house and coated with panko bread crumbs. You can try it in the “Caesar,” topped with fried capers and creamy vegan dressing, “The Monstrosity,” loaded with garlic spinach and Impossible sausage gravy, or the “Banh Mi,” paired with pickled veggies. But owner Lauren Margaretta’s top pick is the original, featuring broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers, Follow Your Heart parmesan, and horseradish aioli on a French baguette.
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Fried Chicken Sandwiches from Redcrest Fried Chicken
All six of Redcrest’s fried chicken sandwiches come in vegetarian versions, four of which can be made vegan. At the base is a wheat-gluten-based patty that incorporates chickpeas, creating a tenderness not often achieved through seitan alone. The patties are double breaded in a seasoned dry and wet batter, fried, and then served on Merzbacher’s potato buns, slathered with condiments like Veganaise-based charred jalapeño mayo.
Vegan Fried Chicken Po-Boy from Khyber Pass Pub
Khyber Pass Pub’s fried chicken po-boy is a decade-old staple in the vegan community. It starts with Blackbird Foods seitan, poached for six hours in a sweet and savory water base swirled with agave syrup and seasonings like sage, black pepper, and garlic powder. The seitan is then cut and dredged to order in a mix of cornmeal and cajun spices, fried until crisp, and sandwiched between a Leidenheimer roll flown in from New Orleans. Lettuce, tomato, pickles, Vegenaise, and creole-style mustard finish it off.
Vegan Pickle Fried Chickn Sandwich from Tattooed Mom
Price: $15 (includes side of fries or tots)
Tattooed Mom offers its fried-pickle-topped fried chicken sandwich in both meat-free and meat-filled forms. But it’s the vegan one that remains the restaurant’s number one item, outselling the chicken version by two-to-one. “It happens more than we expect — people get the vegan one, and ask, ‘Are you sure you gave me the right one?’ ” says Tattooed Mom owner Robert Perry. The faux chicken is made from seitan, soy, and pea protein, forming a patty that’s brined in pickle juice, fried, and then sandwiched on a vegan brioche bun. As of a few months ago, it comes in a spicy, Nashville Hot version, too.
Crispy HipCity Ranch from HipCityVeg
You could argue this sandwich is why owner Nicole Marquis opened HipCityVeg nearly a decade ago. “It’s the first recipe I worked on, and it’s been our golden child from day one,” says Marquis, who wanted to recreate and share some of her favorite, familiar foods in vegan form. It features a battered chicken breast, made from soy and grains like kamut, millet, and wheat, along with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and a tangy peppercorn ranch. Tender, crispy, and a bit peppery, it’s a continuous best-seller.
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