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photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image
8.5

Howlin' Ray's Pasadena

Fried ChickenSandwiches

Pasadena

$$$$Perfect For:Impressing Out of TownersLunchOutdoor/Patio SituationSerious Take-Out OperationWalk-Ins
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When Howlin’ Ray's opened its first brick-and-mortar space in 2015, it sparked LA’s borderline insatiable love for hot chicken. And though a million competitors have opened in the years since, there hasn’t been one yet that's done it better than Howlin’ Ray’s. Braving the infamous long lines and chaotic parking situation at their tiny shopping plaza location in Chinatown was simply part of the admission price for eating chicken this good.

Fortunately, the latest Howlin’s Ray’s outpost in Pasadena is a major upgrade. Although the lines haven’t gotten any shorter, it offers a far more comfortable dining experience while still delivering the same outstanding deep-fried, cayenne-coated poultry as the original.

Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

For starters, the spacious full-service location on South Arroyo Parkway has plenty of seating inside and out. There’s a huge lot around the back (plus tons of metered spots on the street) which makes parking a breeze. Plus you can order beer or wine with your food, making this a prime location for day drinking.

Wait times can be hours-long on weekends, but the friendly staff usually find a way to make you feel like a regular—whether it’s complimenting your shoe game or offering samples so you can see how high your spice tolerance goes. They’ll even send you updated wait times (which are also posted hourly on the restaurant’s IG story) if you shoot them a text. Even if you’re morally opposed to standing in long lines like we are, these nice little features make waiting at Howlin’ Ray’s feel less like a circus and more like being at a well-run Trader Joe’s that strictly sells chicken.

Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

If it’s your first time at Howlin’ Ray’s, order the sando. The chile-crusted chicken breast contrasts beautifully with the buttery-soft brioche bun, while the crunchy pickles, peppery slaw, and creamy comeback sauce keep the whole package from becoming too dry. The six heat levels at Howlin’ Ray’s range from non-existent to totally disturbing, and for the most part, we prefer to land right in the middle. The medium level has the perfect punch of spice—anything hotter will overwhelm your senses and bring you to tears. We’re also huge fans of the Mario Fries, a secret menu item named after one of the restaurant’s original employees that is essentially Howlin’s Ray’s take on animal fries.

There’s still no better place to sweat, swell, and maybe even cry over hot chicken than at Howlin’ Ray’s, and that’s even more true in Pasadena. From the first bite of the extra crispy skin to the final paprika-dusted french fry, a meal here is like going on a great theme park ride as much as it is eating at a restaurant. Not only is Howlin’s Ray’s at the top of the hot chicken movement in LA, they've found a way to become even better as time progresses. So regardless of what other hot chicken chains are doing in five years, we’d bet a large sum this place will remain as relevant as ever.

Food Rundown

Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

The Sando

We’re not particularly religious, but if there’s any proof that a higher power exists and wants us to be happy, it would be the classic Howlin’ Ray’s sando on a toasted brioche bun. It is the absolute gold standard for hot chicken sandwiches in LA—we suggest ordering it at the medium heat level for the ideal balance of spice and flavor.

Luis-Style Sando

One of the many items on Howlin’ Ray’s not-so-secret secret menu, the Luis-style sando swaps in toasted white bread and melted American cheese for the brioche bun. But much like that questionable leather jacket you bought at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, this sandwich sounds like a better idea than it actually is—the crunchy toast with the crunchy chicken is a little too much, and the cheese distracts more than it adds. Not bad, but we’ll stick with the original sando.
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

Mario Fries

On those days when you wake up with a fever and the only prescription is loaded french fries, order a plate of these. This secret menu staple comes with chopped chunks of hot chicken, a healthy dose of creamy comeback sauce, melted cheese, vinegar slaw, and pickles, heaped on a bed of spice-dusted crinkle-cut fries. If you’re interested in dipping a tentative toe into the spicier heat levels here, this is a safe space to do it. The layers of sauce help cool things down.

Matt Fries

These fries covered in stewed collard greens are another one of our favorite items on the secret menu. They’re slathered with melted cheese and comeback sauce then topped off with chopped bacon and the smoky-salty braising liquid from the greens—they sort of remind us of poutine, but with more richness and flavor from the broth.
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

Tenders

Chicken tenders are easy to make, but hard to make well. Howlin’ Ray’s marinates theirs overnight in a secret seasoning blend and fries them in peanut oil until extra crisp. These are the pinnacle of tender-dom, and if you want to savor Howlin's recipe without any distractions, this is how to do it. An order comes with three thick boneless tenders that are a universe away from the dinky ones you find on kid’s menus. Consider an extra side of comeback sauce mandatory for dipping.
Howlin’ Ray's Pasadena image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Chicken and Waffles

If you guessed that hot chicken goes with waffles as perfectly as regular fried chicken does, you would be correct. This weekend-only special is a solid brunch choice if you're craving a crispy waffle, but we'd still take the sando over this any day. The butter and the waffles pair nicely with the fiery red chicken, but you’re probably going to need some extra maple syrup to keep each bite lubricated.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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