Sporting events. Catered parties. Dive bars. Late night snack attacks at home. At any of these locales, the odds of sampling some kind of chicken wing are pretty good. This popular American snack staple is rampant across Northwest Arkansas – but how do you know where to go for the best ones?
With Wingfest fast approaching, we at the Fayetteville Flyer took it upon ourselves to conduct the search for Fayetteville’s best chicken wing. Our goal? To seek out Fayetteville’s best known wing spots and provide our dear readers with a list of locations where they’re sure to find great wings.
With so many places offering wings these days, we had to limit the number of restaurants to 10, which was no easy feat. We tried to concentrate on restaurants that featured wings – or chicken – as one of their signature items. Once the 10 were established, a scorecard was drawn up for each restaurant, judging the wings on appearance, texture and flavor, 1 being “ho-hum” and 3 being “hallelujah”. The judges were encouraged to not only rate the wing numerically, but to expound upon their rating as they so chose. The judges were also provided an “additional comments” section, where they could comment freely on anything they wanted – from the beer to the atmosphere to the staff, or to go into more detail about the wings.
Ten restaurants, nine hours and countless wings (and beers) later, we all considered ourselves well-versed in the realm of Fayetteville’s wing options. The results are listed here. Enjoy!
“What the… What happened, Bee-Dub-Dub?”, fussed one miffed judge. An established go-to for wings for several of our judges, Buffalo Wild Wings didn’t quite live up to its name this time around, and instead failed to tame our tasters’ tongues. One judge found the wings “boring and sloppy”, while another found them “soggy, slimy and fatty”. “Just didn’t live up to my expectations,” one saddened judge offered, “I really thought it’d be my fave!” The texture of the skin was rubbery, and several judges also felt that the medium sauce wasn’t spicy or vinegary enough. Unfortunately, the wings were not the only problem; some judges complained about the service. “Helloooo, does anyone even work here?” wondered one thirsty judge. “Wait staff took so long, I lost my buzz.” said another. So, BWW? Maybe you should turn off the TVs and get to cookin’.
It’s a sad day when a fast food joint beats out a place that is known for its wings, but according to our judges, Zaxby’s was able to pull through. It must be said that some of the judges went into Zaxby’s with less than high expectations. “Um, this is fast food,” shrugged one judge. Here again, the rubbery texture of the skin hurt the overall score, as well as the “glowing” appearance of the sauce. And while the wings were “hot and fresh”, the plastic plates and packaged sauce were a turnoff for the judges. One of the better comments about Zaxby’s? “Not nearly as bad as I expected.” Oh, well. Zorry, Zaxby’s.
This was the first time I’d ever eaten at Slim Chicken’s – I know, I know, shock and awe abound. I hear the chicken tenders are delicious, but we found the chicken wings lacking. “Not crispy enough,” commented one judge. “Average, and a little slimy,” another judge added. The thing all the judges were surprised by was the speed at which the wings came out. “Somehow they came out in less than three minutes,” one judge allowed. “Super speedy – maybe too speedy?” said another. While the judges were less impressed with the wings than they anticipated, they were very impressed by the friendly service. “Really nice staff!” exclaimed one pleased judge. “Staff helped when a fellow judge poured water on my head!” another satisfied – although drenched – judge offered. Slim’s, you will always be loved for your tenders. That remains a fact. Moving on.
Granted, Louie’s was the first stop of the day, so we didn’t have much to compare it to. That aside, the wings left us wanting. We were thrown off by the presentation: the sauce was on the side, rather than tossed with the wings. “Would be more consistent if they were already sauced,” said one judge. To some, the “super crisp skin and lots of meat” was a plus. “The buffalo sauce is too mild, but the barbeque sauce is delish,” offered one happy judge. The dry carrots and floppy celery served alongside were a disappointment, but the atmosphere made up for it according to one optimistic judge, who noted, “I like the light in here.” So keep the lighting, Louie’s, and we may be back.
By the time we got to Foghorn’s, we were five restaurants in and still hadn’t found anything mind-blowing or life changing. We were hoping Foghorn’s would be our first breakout contender. Sitting on the street side patio (on College Avenue) turned out to be a less than optimal location, but we ordered the Buffalo wings and decided to also try their most popular flavor, Cayenne Ranch. Alas, the spicy-sweet, marinara-meets-mayonnaise flavor wasn’t a favorite among the judges. “Buffalo is alright, cayenne ranch is a ‘huh?!’”, commented one judge. Aside from the Cayenne Ranch’s surprisingly low score, the judges were pleased, though not star struck, by the Buffalo wings. “Good sauce, but slimy,” said one judge. “Too conservative with the tasty buffalo sauce, Mr. Foghorn,” claimed another. So, while the texture of wings had the judges split, the yummy Buffalo sauce helped land Foghorn’s at #6.
After a quick peek in Rock Bottom Comics and an impromptu laundry mat photo shoot, we made it to Lucky Luke’s, our eighth stop of the day. As we walked in, one judge warned right off the bat, “Disclaimer: I love this place no matter what.” Fair enough, judge, fair enough. But Luke’s would need a little more than luck for their wings to impress our tough judges. “No vinegar in this sauce… Is that ketchup I taste?” inquired one judge, but other judges were impressed with the smoky, peppery flavor. “Love the black pepper!” exclaimed one judge. “Crispy, smoked and peppery,” added another. While the dark wood paneling hurt the atmosphere for a few of the judges, others claimed that the campy, ironic décor heightened the experience: “unicorn velvet painting makes the wings even better!” one kitch-loving judge said. In the end, the flavors and atmosphere combined to put Luke’s right smack dab in the middle of the pack.
At Wing Stop, tucked away in a shopping center on the corner of Mission and Crossover, the wings pleased most of the judges in spite of the wings’ size. “Small wings, but flavorful!” said one judge. “Good meat, but are these from baby chickens?” wondered another. The amount of fresh, tasty meat on the wings made up for their small stature, and the sauces – we tried buffalo and barbeque – were better than most. “Buffalo is nice and vinegary,” one judge allowed. “BBQ rocked my face off!” exclaimed another. And for the lady judges, an extra perk: the bathroom smelled like an ice cream parlor. Nice work, Wing Stop!
Labeled “the dark horse of the competition” by one judge, Boar’s Nest provided the judges with big smoky wings, big beers and big flavor. In return, the judges gave Boar’s Nest a big thumbs up. “Oh my god, these are huge!” cried one judge. “A very meaty, very tasty full wing – not for the faint of heart!” exclaimed another. The wings’ crispy skin, tender meat and smoky flavor were all signs of a fresh – not frozen – wing, and the flavor was complimented by an array of sauces provided at the table – although some judges wished for a spicier sauce. While the wings at this West Fayetteville establishment aren’t your typical buffalo-style wings, after one bite, you won’t really care. To top it all off, one judge gave Boar’s Nest an extra point “just for playing Bon Jovi”. Way to work it, Boar’s Nest! We’ll be back, for sure.
As the last stop of the day – and even after countless wings – Hog Haus still managed to wow the judges with their crispy, “spicy as hay-ell” wings. The wings came out hot and fresh from the fryer, with a drizzle of spicy buffalo sauce over top. “The way a wing should be!” one pleased judge allowed. “I love how the batter IS the seasoning!” said another. What this judge meant is that the batter itself was seasoned and spicy, as evidenced by the red pepper flakes strewn throughout. No judge had a negative word to say about this Dickson Street staple’s “super crispy and super meaty” wings, other than their belly hurt from the seven grueling hours prior. With celebratory drinks alongside, these “shockingly good” wings brought our long day to a tasty end. Hog Haus, you rocked it!
“Where ARE we?” asked one apparently lost judge. Only a few judges had visited this West Fayetteville establishment prior to Wing-a-thon, and now we’re wondering why we didn’t make it sooner. JJ’s junkyard décor, inviting, breezy patio and free outdoor Baggo are just a few of the things that we loved about this place. But the best part? The wings. “Really good! Like, REALLY good!” offered one pleased judge. JJ’s “pretty freakin’ tasty” wings had fresh-tasting flavor, a pleasant, crispy texture and the perfect amount of heat. Not only that, but the presentation was one of the best we saw all day. As one judge put it, “Beautiful presentation! Like a Mozart painting, if he ever switched to painting.” It must be noted that at JJ’s, every judge wanted seconds, which was a rarity. It must also be noted that JJ’s has a $1.99 margarita special, which made one judge’s day: “Cheap margs, free baggo, perfect wings = WIN!” While the female judges weren’t big fans of the staff’s uniform, we managed to look beyond it, finding the girls at JJ’s friendly, outgoing, professional and interested in our competition. To that, we at the Fayetteville Flyer say, “Great job, JJ’s – you’re number one!”
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all of the photos individually on our Flickr page.