The Old West Town Where You Can Pan for Gold – And Fried Poultry

The most famous bucket of chicken north of the 101.
The most famous bucket of chicken north of the 101. Jim Louvau
Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

20: The Fried Chicken at The Horny Toad

While the rest of Cave Creek seems to roar with passing motorcyclists and Black Sabbath cover bands, one historic eatery in this Old West town chimes with classic country favorites, festive chattering, and if you listen extra close, the sizzling of another fresh batch of fried chicken.

This place would be The Horny Toad, and the dish is found on the lunch and dinner menu under “Our Famous Fried Chicken” – followed by the annotation, “Plucked & Fresh NOT Frozen.” This order – either a half chicken for $12.95 or a whole chicken for $18.95 – comes with the house fries or mashed potatoes and (brown) gravy, and a generous cup of coleslaw.

You get a good variety of chicken with this order, as a crunchy, almost greasy but in the good way, layer of fried skin covers two breast, thighs, wings, and drums (divide for a half order, obviously).
The Horny Toad itself dates to 1976, and is said to be the “oldest, original restaurant in Cave Creek.” The atmosphere is not unlike many a hokey, Western-themed dining room, complete with frontier-heavy memorabilia on the walls, and maybe a live guitarist (who might sneak in a Gin Blossoms song just to see if you’re paying attention).

There’s a fantastic patio here, so just be sure to sit outside if you can – or more importantly, when you can – to enjoy your pan of chicken.

The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express.
34: Smoked Prime Rib at Texaz.
33: Steak Salad at Feeney's.
32: Tasting Menu at Kai Restaurant.
31: Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
30: Big Jim at Welcome Diner.
29: Sonoran Hot Dog at El Caprichoso.
28: Sashimi at Nobuo at Teeter House.
27: Oysters at Casey Moore's Oyster House.
26: Spring rolls at Da Vang.
25: Bruschetta and wine at Postino.
24: Hot green chili fry bread at Fry Bread House.
23: The Big One at The Chuckbox.
22: Cahuamanta Stew at Cahuamanta El Yaqui.
21: Dim Sum at Great Wall Cuisine.
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Lauren Cusimano was the Phoenix New Times food editor from 2018 to 2021. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.