It’s no secret that the United States is a fan of fried chicken in all of its forms. And one contender that’s coming up the ranks, and quickly, is Jollibee, the Filipino fast food chain known for its chicken, burgers, and Filipino classics like sweet spaghetti and Palabok Fiesta. I was a big fan of Jollibee’s fried chicken sandwich when I tried it earlier this year, and I was happy to hear when the chain announced a nationwide release of a spicy version of its popular Chickenjoy, aka bone-in fried chicken.
The Jollibee spicy chicken sandwich was my favorite of the two (versus the original version) for adding an additional layer of flavor to an otherwise already solid sandwich. But that got me thinking: Would a new version of bone-in spicy fried chicken be able to hold its own against what I consider my widely available favorite, Popeyes? Popeyes has long been my preference for flavor and texture, and for years, it’s been my default fast food fried chicken.
I decided to pit the two against each other in a taste test to see if the reigning champion, Popeyes, would still hold its spot on the mountaintop, or if this new contender, the jolly Jollibee, would sting the king.
I am happy to report that Jollibee’s spicy chicken is excellent for multiple reasons. It’s moist, first of all, and an order includes only dark meat. By default, Jollibee only serves thigh and leg. I am going to say right off the bat that thigh is my favorite cut of fried chicken, because it’s got more flavor than chicken breast, and it’s never quite as dry. For some, the lack of white meat might be unappealing, but hey, this is just me.
But what’s more important is the flavor. While not particularly spicy, Jollibee’s seasoning is bold, savory, and salty. The aftertaste has a distinctly umami taste without being overwhelming, and it keeps you coming back for more. Pair that with the cup of gravy that Jollibee includes with every order and the savoriness amps up to another level.
The outer texture of Jollibee’s fried chicken is solid, too, crunchy with a decent amount of cragginess to it. When you get a crunchy and meaty bite dunked in gravy, you’ll be in spicy fried chicken bliss. The legs are the perfect size for dipping in the gravy cup, too.
Where Popeyes wins is in texture, hands down. I wish I understood how Popeyes does this so consistently. Each outer bite is audibly crunchy and stays that way for hours, even cold. I’d eat a used sock if you fried it in Popeyes breading. Hell, I’d eat two of them.
But next to the Jollibee chicken, in terms of flavor, Popeyes spicy fried chicken seems almost... dull. It’s got a comfortable overall profile, but that’s just it—because Popeyes spicy chicken is so well-rounded, there’s not one single characteristic that really stands out.
One other thing that always sticks out to me: Popeyes seems to leave a waxy texture in my mouth after I eat it. It’s always been that way, but I never quite minded because, hey, fried chicken, but having a comparison on hand (the Jollibee) made it even more evident. Any of you ever notice this?
It feels blasphemous to say, but in my book, Jollibee’s spicy fried chicken tastes better than Popeyes’ version. Even when taking the slightly less crunchy crust into consideration. But at the same time, it’s not Popeyes. I can’t get a side of that signature red beans and rice with it. I can, however, get a boatload of spaghetti or a dessert of deep-fried peach mango pie (both of which are awesome).
Though it sounds like I’m taking the diplomatic route by saying you’ve got to be in the mood for either, I think that’s more of an indicator on your preferences for either restaurant as a whole. For now, however, if I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll definitely be stopping by Jollibee before I hit up Popeyes, for that spicy Chickenjoy.