A signed—and very dated—picture of Oprah Winfrey hangs on the wall at Seattle chain, Ezell's Famous Fried Chicken, like a blessing. In red ink, she writes, "I don't know what I like more— the chicken or the sweet potato pie. The food is something special." This fried chicken chain has gained fame from Oprah's desires: according to the shop, she has it flown in to her home whenever she has a craving for it.
But Seattle isn't exactly known for being a fried chicken town.
We rightfully have a reputation for our seafood: we're just a car ride from some of the best shellfish in the lower 48 and homeport to much of the Alaskan fishing fleet. But if you know where to look, you can actually find fried chicken that stands up to the best in the country.
Word of mouth will bring you to one of the (now) eleven local Ezell's Famous Chicken shops, but the original location on East Jefferson street—directly across from the legendary Garfield High School, where alumni like Jimi Hendrix, Macklemore, and Quincy Jones attended—is still the best. It's a no frills, take-out counter only experience. Eat your chicken sandwich in the parking lot or across the street in the schoolyard.
Wayne Rudd has managed the East Jefferson shop since it shop opened in 1981, and confirms the chicken ties with Oprah. According to Rudd, she still calls in orders, but they don't always know when it's for her.
Ezell's is one of the few local food institutions that expat Seattle natives have to hit up when they're back in town. Reilly and Caitlin McGibbon grew up on Ezell's and made it one of their last stops before heading back to their new home: Manhattan. "It's a mixture of quality and nostalgia that keeps us coming back here," Reilly told me while we waited in line next to each other.
With a nearly original menu and a tried-and-true frying system, (everything is hand-dipped in seasoned flour moments before hitting the fryer) the original Ezell's maintains its notoriety around town. Though you can eat Ezell's in many places these days, the other ten don't come close to this location. As of last year, you can even experience Oprah's favorite fried chicken at the newest Ezell's Famous Chicken franchise that opened in the United Arab Emirates.
But for Seattle natives, the original shop is still the greatest place to worship grease.