Best Hot Chicken

Photo: Eric England

Literally one of the most heated debates in town is over who makes the best Nashville hot chicken, and it’s a bit of a two-party system — you’d probably see most of the votes come down for either Prince’s or Hattie B’s. But if you delve deeper into preferences outside of the media frenzy, no piquant poultry purveyor is more beloved than Aqui Hines of 400 Degrees. Hines started out in a tiny spot near Metro Center where there was really only room to order carry-out. She was a pioneer to bring hot chicken to downtown when she moved to her small food-court operation at Peabody Place. For the first time, downtown workers were able to scratch their hot-chicken itch with the expectation of actually returning to work within a reasonable allotted time. Corporate cogs even began to fashion their own 400 Degrees T-shirts to wear over their work duds to protect their ties and demonstrate their allegiance with Sharpied-on designations of their preferred heat levels. (I’m a 200-degree man, myself. Call me a wuss if you must.)

When Hines had to close that location abruptly during her pregnancy, fans pitched in, contributing to a crowdfunding campaign to help buy her a food truck, which still bears the crowdfunders’ names on the side. Finally reopening her bricks-and-mortar operation on Clarksville Pike close to where she started out, Hines welcomed her legion of loyal fans, who follow her with devotion because they know she has a hand in every piece of chicken the restaurant serves.

Hines grew up eating at Prince’s, and her reverence for the original flavor profile is evident in her heat levels, which range from 100 degrees (excellent fried chicken in its own right) to a secret 800-degree level that you’ll have to earn the right to try after multiple visits so Hines can get to know you. Thick-cut pork chops and crinkle-cut french fries also benefit from a dash of Hines’ hot seasoning powder, but it’s her smile and infectious positive attitude that add extra zest to the experience. CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

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