Spicy Chicken Sandwich Quest

McDonald’s? Popeyes? Royal Farms? Chick-fil-A? A Quill food critic goes in search of the ultimate fast food spicy chicken sandwich.


Photo by Devin Berko on Unsplash

Forget these fancy numbers. Where can you get the best fast food spicy chicken sandwich any time of day?

Emmet Neff-McGready, Contributor

Today, I set out to find the best fast food spicy chicken sandwich in Baltimore. After a quick Google search, I set my sights on four chains: McDonald’s, Popeyes, Royal Farms, and Chick-fil-A.

I decided, to keep the taste test fair, I would trying each sandwich with no toppings. No pickles, no cheese – just bun, chicken, and whatever sauce came with them. (This comparison could also be done looking for the best value, but I decided to judge the sandwiches just based on taste.)

The McDonald’s and Popeyes franchises I chose were right next to each other, but I decided to start with the former.


I have been going to McDonald’s and getting chicken nuggets and fries for as long as I can remember. So I was excited to finally try their spicy chicken sandwich.

When I pulled it out of the wrapper, the smell filled the air, exciting me even more. The part that most stood out was the yellowish sauce it was covered in. It made the bun a bit soggy, but made up for that with amazing flavor. 

When I took my first bite, I noticed that the chicken itself was not spicy; the sauce carried the spice. They used the perfect amount to create a nice balance between the taste of the fried chicken and the spice I desired.

The chicken itself was the most disappointing part, although still good. It was a bit soggy, and lacked the crunch that makes a chicken sandwich truly great. 

Overall, a very solid sandwich, although I would still prefer the chicken nuggets if I am going to McDonald’s. 7 out of 10


After McDonald’s, I headed next door to the drive thru line at Popeyes. Remembering the rush to get the Popeyes chicken sandwich a few years ago, I’d been curious about it for a while. I thought people who would wait hours for a sandwich were absolutely crazy. 

But after trying Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich, I understand. Those people were crazy: crazy about good food. And completely sane, in the sense that they wanted the best chicken sandwich in fast food, and were willing to do whatever it took to get it. 

Pulling the Popeyes sandwich out of its wrapper, I was surrounded by a similar smell to the McDonald’s one. But there were other noticeable differences. The chicken was much bigger and better looking. It reminded me of a chicken breast rather than a frozen patty.

The bun held up slightly better than the McDonald’s bun. It was solid, despite being slightly soggy. The sauce was very similar to McDonald’s, but the chicken was much better. 

Overall, Popeyes made a quality sandwich that will be hard to beat. If I were to describe it in one word, it would be crunchy. 10 out of 10

  Royal Farms

After Popeyes, I drove down York Road to Cold Spring, to the Royal Farms next to Loyola. Royal Farms is the only place I tried that is a more local chain, and I was curious to see how it stacked up against the nationwide competition. 

I have been getting Royal Farms fried chicken and chicken tenders frequently for quite a while, but I’ve never tried the actual chicken sandwich. When I unwrapped it, there was a noticeable difference from every other one: the smell of hot sauce. It was overpowering, and not in a good way. 

The first bite confirmed my suspicions. The sandwich was drowned in hot sauce. I like the heat of hot sauce, but it has a distinct taste that can take over anything you put it on.

Popeyes and McDonald’s had sauces that might have had hot sauce in them, but diluted with mayo and other ingredients. This made their sauces much thicker, allowing the buns to stay relatively dry.

The Royal Farms hot sauce was watery and soaked the bun, hurting the sandwich greatly. The chicken was fine, but I couldn’t really taste it through the hot sauce. 

Overall, this sandwich was the worst of the bunch. If you go to Royal Farms, I would absolutely recommend their regular chicken sandwich instead. 4 out of 10


After Royal Farms’ disappointing display, I had my longest drive yet: to the mall to get Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A is the only place whose spicy chicken sandwich I had already tried. I knew I liked it, but after trying the McDonald’s and Popeyes sandwiches, I was curious how it would compare. 

There was one main difference between Chick-fil-A’s sandwich and the competition: they use a spicy chicken patty and no sauce. This approach probably would have helped Royal Farms, but hurt Popeyes or McDonald’s, whose sauce had a better flavor than the spicy chicken patty from Chick-fil-A did. So in terms of taste, the spicy patty did not necessarily help. But no sauce also meant the bun was firm and fully dry, which was an advantage over everyone else. 

Overall, Chick-fil-A makes a very good sandwich, classic. 8 out of 10

After trying all four, I can conclude that a chicken sandwich is a chicken sandwich and it’s hard to go wrong wherever you go (except for Royal Farms). But some are better than others, with Popeyes leading the way. While its sandwich is somewhat similar to McDonald’s, the crunchiness and quality of the Popeyes chicken propel the sandwich to a different level. And thanks to its unsoggy bun, the Chick-Fil-A sandwich leapfrogs McDonald’s and claims second place. 

This taste test was a fun experience. I really enjoyed eating the chicken sandwiches and being a food critic for a day.