Graffiti adorns Bridgeport’s newest (and only) fried chicken restaurant, but don’t worry—it’s open. Situated just south of Archer and Halsted, the colorful storefront of Big Boss Spicy Fried Chicken is hard to miss. The interior follows a similar design, with spray-paint motifs and illustrations of cartoon chickens and ambiguous creatures (are they rabbits or dogs?) dressed like chickens.
Chef Jassy Lee says that the design is meant to make the restaurant friendly and accessible. “When people are [feeling] down, they don’t want to go to high-class restaurants.” She points to the restaurant’s name as proof of their values: “Just be yourself. Be your own boss.”
The restaurant started taking online orders a few months ago, and the Big Boss storefront officially opened in March. Lee says that Bridgeport’s proximity to downtown, UIC, and the University of Chicago was a major factor in choosing the neighborhood. “I think this is the center of Chicago,” she said.
Lee said that there’s a dearth of truly spicy fried chicken in the city. “We ordered spicy fried chicken from Popeyes, and, to us, it was very mild.”
All of the restaurant’s chicken, which comes in the traditional bone-in, tender, and wing forms, is flavored with seven types of peppers, with the combination of ingredients changing based on the heat level (“the higher you go, the more ghost pepper”). Lee always recommends “Crispy Fried,” which is mild and uses no sauce, for those starting out. She says that she gets customers all the time who order “X Hot” or “Big Boss Hot”—the two hottest levels on the five-tier spice level—only to struggle through the meal or leave food on the plate. For those patrons, she offers to exchange their dish for a less intense alternative.
The chicken lives up to Lee’s threats. On my first visit to Big Boss, I ordered the “personal-sized” chicken tenders (nine dollars), a surprisingly generous portion that yielded leftovers. I tested the medium spice level, and while the chicken was delicious and flavorful, I found myself needing to take occasional breaks. Admittedly, though, I only dabble in the dark art of spice.
After my second visit to Big Boss, I ordered the fried chicken sandwich (eight dollars) and a passion fruit tea (four dollars) to-go. Besides being Easter, it was a windy seventy degrees and ridiculously beautiful out, so I took my meal to nearby Palmisano Park, about a block away. The medium-hot sandwich contained a chicken breast so large it spilled out of the bun, as well as coleslaw to temper the heat. The passion fruit tea was refreshing, though not a substitute for the water that I also would’ve loved to have been drinking.
Despite being mobbed by dozens of children during my meal—to my horror, I accidentally sat in the middle of an Easter egg hunt—the combination of wonderful weather and deliciously spicy chicken made for a perfect afternoon. I hadn’t really known what to do with myself that day, far from family during a holiday I barely celebrate. But as I sat there, people-watching and reflecting on my unexpected good fortune that day, I very much felt like my own boss.
Big Boss Spicy Fried Chicken, 2520 S. Halsted St. Wednesday–Monday, 11am–10:30pm; closed Tuesday. $7–$13. (312) 877-5031. bigbossfriedchicken.com
Taylor Moore is a freelance writer covering culture and urban development in Chicago. She last wrote about two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses for the Weekly. She can be found on Twitter at @taylormundo.