They are a simple food: A boneless piece of chicken, usually white meat, breaded and fried.
They come by many names: Chicken fingers, chicken tenders, chicken tendies or chicken goujons.
Their origins carry a bit of controversy, with the most common claim being that they were invented in 1974 in the kitchen of The Puritan Backroom in Manchester, N.H.
The most important question for hardcore fans of chicken tenders is this: Who makes the best ones? (And if they don’t come with a decent dipping sauce, forget about it.)
We ran an informal poll on Twitter, asking readers to tell us where they found their chicken tender fix. We then set out across the city, and beyond, to test those suggestions.
Here are our favorites, along with a list of reader favorites — including vegan tenders.
3390 S. State St #14, South Salt Lake.
This Korean BBQ place, located in the Chinatown Supermarket in South Salt Lake, doesn’t have traditional chicken tenders. Instead, they serve boneless (and bone-in) fried chicken. They come in three sizes: Small (9-10 pieces; $8.99), medium (12-14 pieces; $14.99) and large (22-24 pieces; $20.99), and you can choose your flavor of sauce to toss them in.
ChickQueen makes all their items ready to eat, so everything is fresh and crispy. It also provides a spin on what is traditionally considered a chicken tender. Paired with their special “drizzle fries,” it’s exactly what you want from chicken tenders: Well-cooked, delicious and — with their elevated selection of sauces — savory.
Mr. Charlie’s Chicken Fingers
554 W. 4500 South, Murray; and 592 E. 12300 South, Draper.
Mr. Charlie’s Chicken Fingers coins itself, on its website, as “Southern comfort at altitude” — and their menu includes such things as Po’ boys, sweet tea and Texas toast.
When it comes to the chicken fingers, there are options: Fried, grilled or half & half. The chicken itself is cooked thoroughly, and a shade of brown that may fool consumers into thinking the breading is burnt. It’s just well done.
The finger meals — three fingers for $8.49, five for $11.49, or a 25-finger “family meal” for $49.99 — come with fries and Texas Toast (which, when we tried it, wasn’t toasted enough) but the catch: Dipping sauces. Mr. Charlie’s offers a number of great sauce choices, including something called Charlie Sauce, and the traditional Utah favorite: Fry sauce. But how many sauces patrons get depends on the type of meal they order, and after that, they have to pay extra.
Cinemark at Jordan Landing
7301 S. Jordan Landing Blvd, West Jordan.
A movie theater isn’t the first place one might think of when it comes to getting good chicken tenders, but the Cinemark at Jordan Landing consistently serves good ones.
To a certain degree, the art of a good chicken tender rests on the quality of the breading. Is it flaky? Is it too moist? There’s a science to frying them correctly — for the right amount of time and at the right heat level — and it seems simple enough. Whatever the protocols are at Cinemark, the chicken tender and fries basket is always a good pick if you decide to skip the popcorn.
Raising Cane’s is Utah’s newest fast-food contender in the chicken tender game. Like Popeye’s before it, it hails from Louisiana, specifically Baton Rouge.
Similar to Mr. Charlie’s, they offer different meal options — combos start at $6.96 for three fingers — with Southern sides such as Texas Toast or coleslaw. But the chain’s real crowning jewel is its “Cane’s Sauce,” made from a secret recipe described on the company’s website as “tangy with a little bit of spice and full of flavor.”
For the well-trained Utahn, the sauce is akin to an elevated version of fry sauce.
The chicken itself, again, depends on how it’s fried. On two separate occasions, the chicken tenders were unimpressive, with soggy breading. If you’re in need of a quick fix — and because of their late hours — Raising Cane’s can hit the spot, but it’s not a first choice.
Blaze of Thunder
HallPass, 153 S Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City.
The name alludes to Nashville-style hot chicken, which uses cayenne in the breading and then gets dipped in a spicy sauce. True to this tradition, Blaze of Thunder serves up its chicken with pickles and white bread (to balance out the hot-hot-hot!). Unlike traditional Nashville hot chicken, though, Utahns can order it … well, not so hot.
Tenders and sandwiches can be ordered on a spectrum of spicy, starting with “Slow Ride” (one fire-breathing chicken head) to “After Burner” (five fire-breathing chicken heads, and a waiver required). The recommended spice level is “Real Quick,” which is what we tried for our order of four tendies, served with pickles and white bread ($10).
The breading was light but didn’t crumble off the chicken, and had a noticeable, but not overbearing, level of heat. The chicken itself was moist and flavorful. We tried dipping these tendies — which are enormous — into the ranch sauce, which definitely elevated the tenders, nicely balancing out the spicy coating.
Pretty Bird Chicken
146 S Regent St., Salt Lake City; 675 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City; and 7169 S. Bingham Junction Blvd., Midvale.
As former Utah Eats reporter Kathy Stephenson noted last year in her story on Pretty Bird’s new Sugar House location, chef-owner Viet Pham’s restaurant is the high water mark for fried chicken in Salt Lake. Though Pretty Bird’s specialty is also Nashville hot chicken, Pham’s version is all his own — spicy but complex, and about more than just the heat.
Just like their sandwiches, the three-piece jumbo tenders ($11) can be ordered as mild, medium, hot or hot behind (“behind” is what cooks yell when they’re walking behind you with a plate of scalding hot food), and comes with a fluffy piece of white bread and a crisp stack of pickles.
We ordered mild, which was still plenty spicy, with a side of Pretty Bird sauce (their version of fry sauce). Other sauces are white BBQ and salted honey. And note that the word “jumbo” in the name of the dish is not an understatement; you may want to order these to share.
Check Instagram for current location.
There’s something to be said for doing fewer things well. Or doing one thing spectacularly, as the case may be. Cluck Truck has mastered the art of fried chicken, whether it’s wrapped in a tortilla or just served up plain with fries.
An order of chicken tenders ($11) includes two pieces of white breast meat, breaded with the house coating — no spice level choice here, unfortunately — but it’s still plenty flavorful, as Cluck Truck’s chicken is brined before being rolled in a coating made of corn cereal, sesame seeds and spices.
Tenders are served over plain fries, though you can also order garlic-parmesan, sweet potato or Cajun fries for a dollar more. Dipping sauces include fry sauce (great with both the tenders and the fries) or ranch.
5385 W. 15200 North, Riverside.
This gas station sparked our chicken quest after a Tremonton resident posted a TikTok video claiming it serves the best chicken tenders in Utah. After a dive into Reddit, Yelp and TripAdvisor, it was clear Riverside Corner had a rep for tendies — so we filled the gas tank and headed to Tremonton. Along the way, we stopped at the wrong gas station (in Tremonton, not Riverside), and accidentally stumbled on a folk-art park called Marble Park.
Riverside Corners, like many rural gas stations, serves as a hub for more than just gas — it’s also a mini-diner where locals catch up with each other. The food counter, next to the cash register, features a huge menu, posted on a 1970s-era letterboard. You can order 17 different kinds of burgers, including a Riverside burger, a summit burger, a pastrami burger, and a J&L egg burger. There’s also fish ‘n’ chips, tots, burritos, eggrolls, corn dogs and BLTs. But what you’re here for are the “famous chicken strips” ($7.29 a pound) and a side of potato logs (3 for $1).
Because they’re cut, breaded and fried on a constant basis by different people, the tenders here aren’t standardized in size, shape or flavor like some of the fancier options we’ve already mentioned. Fresh out of the fryer, though, they totally earn the rep that has won them a statewide fan base. They’re served with ranch or fry sauce, which does double duty with the potato logs, are as large as the tenders, and are the perfect carby complement.
And when the weather’s fine, Marble Park isn’t the worst place in the world to sit and enjoy a basket of chicken tenders to go.
Chicken Express, multiple locations.
The Chicken Shack, multiple locations.
Ernie’s Truck Stop, 1035 N Main St., Beaver.
Harmon’s, multiple locations.
Kevin’s Fried Chicken (inside Exxon), 524 W. 4500 South, Murray.
Scaddy’s, 1557 W. 3500 South, West Valley City.
Sticky Bird, 504 Station Pkwy., Farmington.
Strippin Dippin Chicken food truck.
Texas Roadhouse, multiple locations.
Wasatch Wing Coop, 3971 Wasatch Blvd., Salt Lake City.
Zaxby’s, multiple locations.
Several readers asked for vegan alternatives to chicken tenders. One person admitted it wasn’t because they were vegan, but they just don’t like chicken tenders made from chicken.
Thanks to Jeremy Beckham of SLCVegFest, who let us know that Ian Brandt, founder of Vertical Diner (234 W. 900 South, Salt Lake City) also owns Cali’s Natural Foods, which manufactures seitan Tiger Wings. They are served at Vertical, as well as these local restaurants:
HandleBar, 751 N 300 W, Salt Lake City.
Lil Lotus, 2223 Highland Dr. E5, Salt Lake City.
Piper Down, 1492 S State St, Salt Lake City.
Trolley Wing Co., 600 S. 700 East, Salt Lake City (Trolley Square) and 736 W. Blue Vista Lane, Midvale.
The Pie Pizzeria, multiple locations.
A few Salt Lake City restaurants make their own wings in-house — or, in the case of Vegan Daddy, sell ready-to-cook plant-based proteins, including tenders:
Grid City Beer Works, 333 W. 2100 South, South Salt Lake.
Mark of the Beastro, 666 S. State St., Salt Lake City.
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This story has been corrected and updated.