It seems that every restaurant and their mother’s has wings on the menu. It’s a crazy common, simple menu item. But it can be elevated to glory by some detailed execution and finesse.
Or, quite simply, when fried and seasoned right.
This article has taken me over three months to complete. Every time I think I have a completed list, I turn around and stumble upon a solid plate of wings. F@#K!
These are the Twin Cities’ best wings gone haywire.
All of these wings are great, serotonin-inducing, and manage to remain familiar and comforting while doing something new. Sure, there is a best and of course, it’s at the top of the list.
Lets keep in mind that all of this is subject to Murphy’s Law, the occasional hung-over cook and/or just an ‘off day’ at a restaurant can take a claimed ‘Best Wing’ experience and throw it in the compost.
The following list is the criteria we take into consideration when devouring a basket of poultry wings. Whether we notice or not, these are the things that make our mouths happy and our senses alive. Its basically a grading system that our mind controls and makes you say “those are good, meh, or gross.”
Wing grading system:
Is the chicken skin rendered properly/enough? Or is the wing rubbery and flabby?
Is the wing meat tough or ‘fall off the bone’ tender?
Is the sauce good?
Is there enough sauce?
Is the wing properly seasoned or is it bland and needs salt?
What’s special about it?
Without further ado: The local wings that fly head and shoulders above the rest.
Hickory Hut: No sauce needed
This place doesn’t need me or anyone to tell them that they are the best at the ancient art of wingery. These wings are cooked and then seasoned with Art Song’s recipe seasoning. Hard to tell what’s all in this old school BBQ seasoning, but it has all the right things to make your mouth wanting more. Completely encompassed in rendered crispy skin while being moist and tender, these wings nail everything you could want in dry-seasoned wing. This is a purists place to Wing It. They have all of the sauces you could want, but do you?
Runyon’s: People’s Choice Award
This place wins the people choice award. These wings have been the same every time I’ve had them and almost everyone knows they make the best standard Buffalo wing. The first time I went in here for wings was around 2008 and the other day my senses were reminded as I crushed these meaty little bastards. Don’t forget to get sloppy on their house blue cheese sauce, which I’m convinced is spiked with Ranch.
Moto-i: Plum wings. That is all.
These little guys were a big surprise. The plum wings, with sweet and tangy plum sauce and cilantro, were incredibly addicting. The texture is so right as well: Light and tender, without being soggy or over sauced. Drink some sake for a little happy hour melody in your mouth.
Fitzgerald’s: An uncommon take
The most common way to cook wings: Make sure they are clean and dry and throw them in the fryer until done, then toss them with sauce and you’re finished. The sauce usually is strong enough to mask the small amount of unseasoned meat. Here’s something Chef Graham of Fitzgerald’s likes to do to step it up a notch: Before he fries his wings to order, he’ll prep them by seasoning them with salt and roasting them at a low temperature. This step does two things: It seasons the meat, and also starts to render the skin so you don’t end up with a chewy wing. It’s a super simple way to get a finished product that is just enough better than the next. Sauces include an awesome buttery buffalo, sweet dry rub, and an Asian inspired chili lime. Try any of these on his pork ribs (prepares a similar way as the wings) as well – I certainly did.
Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ: Pirate-style
Smalley’s has been going strong in an old brownstone off Main Street in historic Stillwater for some time now. Their blackened wings are tangy, saucy, meaty, spicy and so very herbaceous: a solid myriad of flavors that dances on your senses. If you’re looking for spice, the 666 wings will definitely tear up your ulcer and burn your… the next day. It’s really a two-day experience, but well worth it.
D-Spot: The chef’s wing
This chef-driven wingtopia is an oasis for flavor and texture combination. The chef and founder was once quoted as saying “the wing is my canvas,” and it’s clear he truly means it. There is more than one way to skin a cat, maybe, but as we see at the D-Spot, over 100 ways to prepare a wing, from sweet, savory, to spicy, to really spicy. Anything you could ever want a wing to be can be found here.
Handsome Hog: Southern-style
Coming either Tennesee hot, original, or smoked wings with a dry rub, all are super juicy and flavorful from a house brine they swim in before cooking and/or smoking. They’re enormous and satisfy in that way only Southern-style cooking can. Best original wing. Good for lunch, happy hour and late night across from Mear’s Park in Lowertown.
Chino Latino: Fusion wings
These happy hour wings are a surprising and delicious bargain; they might be cheap but you’re not sacrificing flavor or portion size. The Shanghai Wings are rendered nicely without being dry and covered in just the right amount of spicy, sticky and sweet hoisin sauce. When you’re out drinking sake, or having one of Chino’s excellent cocktails, these are the wings you want.
Serum’s: Mom’s favorite
These self-proclaimed legendary wings are my family’s favorite. There is really no bullshit here: Wings with sauce. And this historic, Main Street Anoka dive does both these things well. The wings are meaty, rendered nicely and the sauces are so legit. It’s not your glorified chef-driven restaurant, and that is perhaps exactly why they are so good. Let’s be real: You don’t need a Michelin-starred chef to do wings right. They know simply what tastes good. This place has it down and are packed tight every night with wing slayers.
Mac’s Industrial: The Ultimate Buffalo
When one talks wings, you can almost always assume a buffalo sauce is involved. This industry-favorite after-work bar has a nice little selection of wings sauces, but the best is the blackened Buffalo. Fried, then sauced, and then blackened. GTFO. For a lifelong Buffalo lover like myself, Mac’s is tops.
Lyn65: Shorty and Wag’s
There’s a few spots here in the TC that are keeping the “Shorty and Wag’s” wing seasoning alive. This place is one of those, but with something better: This tried and true seasoning is a fail safe for any cook or restaurant, but when paired with some house BBQ sauces it changes the game. Perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned. I’d eat these any day of the week, at any time of day. Bring it.
Thai Café: The simplest pleasure
Another restaurant that just snuck up on me and flew its way into a spot at the round table: Thai Cafe. I’m just casually enjoying my papaya salad when suddenly I see wings on the menu. And, in the name of good research, I have to try them. These wings are so basic, so very simple, it’s stupid that they are so incredibly good. It’s a chicken wing. Fried and juicy. How are they so good? Goddamn.
Gray Duck: The bold newcomer
This place draws a thick line in the sand between wings at a wing joint and those designer wings. Chef Don Gonzalez does comfort food from around the world here. It’s fun and playful, but also familiar. His tamarind wings with spicy tamarind sauce, fresno chilis, and shiso are absurd. The perfect sweet, sour, spicy, umami bomb with the sticky-icky goodness will drive anyone wild. (don’t go if you’re on a diet. You won’t be able to resist). They have the attention to detail and consistency you can taste in every bite. Get on these, now.
Ray-J’s: Purist’s delight
Ray-J’s is a wing-centric bar that boasts 9 different options for sauces and styles. It’s an American grill that does all things American. Like solid wings. The best part here is that you get the whole wing, not just a little drummie. People are sometimes weird about the wing and the drummie being connected, but those people are dumb (sorry, not sorry). Sure, you get a messy situation, but they’re wings. Made to eat with your hands. Not to mention you get a little better moisture retention, meat bits, and skin and crunchy bits when kept whole this way.
P.S. Boneless wings are just chicken nuggets.