One name that I wish would show up more often in the fried chicken conversation is Jollibee. The Filipino fast food chain has been steadily growing its presence in the U.S., and it’s aiming to double its number of worldwide locations within five years, which means this is a little bee with big ambitions. And I’m going to tell you: this chain’s fried chicken, aka Chickenjoy, kicks some serious ass.
In fact, Jollibee’s Chickenjoy is my second-favorite fast food fried chicken, just behind Popeyes. And when I say second-favorite, it’s a really close second. The breading is crisp and craggy (though not as dramatic as Popeyes), the meat is juicy, and your order comes with a side of gravy for dipping. And while the Chickenjoy might be the star of the show, the rest of Jollibee’s menu is well worth checking out, too; it includes some solid burgers, Filipino-style spaghetti (with very, very, sweet sauce), Palabok Fiesta (aka pancit palabok, a rice noodle dish with shrimp, ground meat, and eggs), peach mango pies, halo halo, and lots more.
But this is why I really made the journey: Jollibee has a fried chicken sandwich, which is separate from the Chickenjoy portion of the menu. There are three variations: Original, Spicy, and Deluxe, the latter of which comes with lettuce and tomato and can be ordered in original or spicy format. It’s been around for a little while now, and it seemed promising enough to rank among the other fast food chicken sandwiches we’ve tasted over the past two years. So I had to give it a shot.
But why now? I grew interested in trying this sandwich precisely because people weren’t talking much about it. A chicken sandwich at a restaurant that specializes in fried chicken should be involved in plenty of chatter, especially at a restaurant that commands huge lines each time a new location opens. My local Jollibee has been open since late 2016; when I visited for my review it was non-stop busy and showed no sign of slowing down after I got my food.
The Original Chicken Sandwich comes pretty plain; it’s just a fried chicken breast on a toasted brioche bun, with a ton of what the chain calls “umami mayo” on both the bottom and top bun. The breading on the chicken, thicker in some spots than others, has some really intense crunch, and that’s what gives this thing a solid foundation. The meat itself is a tiny bit on the dry side, but there’s nothing a little mayo (or a lot, in this case) can’t solve. It is indeed what I’d describe as umami.
What’s clear is that the focus of this sandwich is on the chicken itself. There are so many sandwiches out there with bells and whistles, like secret sauces, but when you neglect the chicken, you’re going to end up with something mediocre that just can’t be saved. The chicken breast here nails the basics, and more importantly, it does so at the right price point: $3.99, just like Popeyes. If you’re in the mood for a fried chicken sandwich, this will absolutely hit the spot.
The Spicy Chicken Sandwich (also priced at $3.99) is the same chicken breast filet, but dressed with a sriracha mayo, and instead of the same old pickles that so many other chains opt for, this sandwich features fresh slices of jalapeño. I won’t go so far as to say that the mayo is very spicy, but it does have more flavor with a tiny bit of a kick. This version wasn’t overdressed with mayo like the original—in fact, it could have used more—but all in all, this is still a good chicken sandwich. I’ll give this one the slight edge due to the extra flavor in the mayo.
What stands out to me is the fresh jalapeño. Sure, fresh slices of pepper don’t have the same vinegary sharpness as a pickle, but they bring a very welcome fresh and crisp texture with a little bit of added heat. Maybe I’m just jaded by all the chicken sandwiches floating around, but when the presence of a modest jalapeño seems novel, I think it just goes to show that simple but solid execution means everything.
The Spicy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich ($4.49) is my favorite out of the three, but that is only because my personal preference is for most sandwiches to include lettuce and tomato. I think it’s a mental thing; my brain is likely convinced that the vegetables make it a little healthier. There’s something about the cooling effect of lettuce and tomato on a chicken sandwich that tempers the brute force of a giant slab of fried poultry, you know?
Whether or not the extra $0.50 is worth it is up to you; I’ll happily pay, but in the end, it’s not a huge deal without the veggies. And as a testament to the sandwiches, after a night in the fridge, the edges untouched by mayo or lettuce and tomato stayed crispy on all three sandwiches. It’s a miracle!
So the question I ask myself when it comes to a fried chicken sandwich now is whether or not I would order it again, and when it comes to all three, the answer is a happy yes, on the basis of both flavor and cost. Overall I prefer bone-in fried chicken, and generally, that would be my order at Jollibee (that damn Chickenjoy is way too good to pass up). But if I’m in the car and can’t hose off the grease afterwards, then a chicken sandwich is absolutely the next best bet.