Fast Casual Review: Chicken Fingerz and Fries from Zaxby’s

I have always fancied myself as a chicken finger aficionado.

Where, exactly, are his "fingerz" located?

To state anything else would be to deny my very roots in eating out. Flash back 17 years and you’ll not only find images of me chowing down on fried chicken tenders at TGIFriday’s, but you’ll see  gobbling up Chicken McNuggets at McDonald’s and dunking fries into ketchup at every chain from here to Kalamazoo. Grilled chicken and non fried potato products? Please. I still remembering pushing back grilled chicken from Bennigan’s, and refusing to eat any kind of mashed spud. No sir, only the crispy, salty, and juicy meat of chicken fingers would do, and only seasoned fries with fluffy interiors could suffice.

Yet only now, nearly two decades removed from my earliest chicken finger memories, can I say that my evolution as a chicken finger eater has come full circle…

…and I have Zaxby’s to thank for that. The fast casual chain, based out of the southeastern United States and specializing in chicken fingers and crinkle cut fries, recently opened its 500th store and celebrated its 20th anniversary. I don’t get down past the Virginia state line too often (heck, I don’t get out of my house or work that often), but on a recent trip to South Carolina to cover a football game I stopped at a Zaxby’s, lured by your promises of juicy chicken fingers (or, as they say, ‘fingerz’) and perfectly cooked fries.

Those promises were right on the money. I may have ordered a five piece order of Zaxby’s famous Chicken Fingerz, but if I could do it all again, I’d probably order three times as much. The Chicken Fingerz were just that good. Warm, slightly greasy, but adorned by crispy breading that’s not in the least bit burnt, the fingers come in perfectly portioned three to four-bite strips that give new meaning to the adjectives “juicy” and “moist.”

You know how they say really juicy chicken makes your mouth water? Well yeah, this is exactly what they’re talking about. The taste is clean and fresh with strong notes of onion and garlic, with a slightly sweet finish that leaves you salivating. Unlike most chicken, the salt level is restrained but respectful, neither detracting from the meat nor overpowering the taste. But above all, it’s that juicy bite and the intermittent crisp edges which leave me licking my fingers (or should I say, ‘fingerz’).

I usually don’t go for Soybean Oil based sauces, which all too often just add fat and calories without contributing anything to the taste of the chicken. But in the case of Zaxby’s signature sauce, you’d be smart to throw nutrition out the window and dip into the “Zax Sauce”. The sauce has a kind of tangy, somewhat spicy sweetness that has good bite. It seems like an oxymoron to say a sauce has good “bite,” but within it I find the best of mayo, ketchup, and even a spicy mustard, with the viscosity neither too runny nor thick to get in the way of each bite of the finger licking chicken fingers. I’m also a big fan of their Buffalo sauce, which has several different notes of spice and doesn’t strike me as the overly cayenne based empty heat that even my beloved Chick-fil-A falls back on.

A final word on the fries is in order, because while they look like something you might have eaten in your third grade cafeteria, their taste and texture quickly will quickly send any negative connotations of crinkle cut fries out the window. While not as crisp as say, McDonald’s fries, they resist sogginess remarkably well, and above all display only the highest degree of earthly-sweet potato flavor. The seasoning – again reserved – is a bit sweet and a tad salty, like seasoned salt mixed in with some smoked crystals of superfine sugar. The interiors are perfectly fluffy and the fries consistent - a rarity in fast food, and a worthy caloric price to pay for a side which gives new meaning to the world premium.

About the only negative I can think of about Zaxby’s is the sauce charge. It’s apparently 25 cents per sauce packet, and having not been given the foreknowledge of this small detail, I mistakenly asked the dude at the counter for “a bunch of all your sauces ’cause I don’t get out a whole lot.” Basically, this is like giving a blank check to the company, and while my college-aged friend didn’t destroy my own limited supply of funds, he did go ahead and add six sauce packets to be charged. Seeing as though I only had five fingers and was digging the Zaxby’s sauce so much, I didn’t even get around to the BBQ or Mustard sauces. And while I’ll gladly take Zaxby’s Fingerz to Chick-fil-A’s over-salty rendition, I can’t help but applaud Chick-fil-A’s “we come bringing gifts” sauce policy. Come on Mr. Zaxby’s Chicken Man;  If you have a great product and your customers love you, show them some love!

All told, there are few things which would ever cause me to consider moving to the South. After a weekend filled with the arrogance (yup, arrogance) of SEC football fans, I’m not likely to change that attitude, but for Zaxby’s, a yearly special occasion trip to the southeast may be in order. Next time, I’ll just be hoping for a better outcome on the other end of things.

Pros: Chicken fingerz have both crispy and savory texture. Finger licking good aspect gives new meaning to the word "juicy." Garlic and onion flavor does not overpower, and allows for Zaxby's signature sauce to shine. Fries have pillowy interiors with incredible flavor and just enough seasoning to keep you coming back for more. Novelty and nostalgia of crinkle cut fries that don't suck.

Cons: Fingerz are a tad greasy. Sauce is heavy on calories (180) per packet. French fry portions are a little small and slightly greasy. SEC football arrogance.

Taste: 9.25/10
Value: 7.00/10
Grubbing on-the-go: 6.50/10
Price: $3.99 for 5-piece chicken finger order. $1.49 for regular crinkle-cut fries. $0.25 for additional sauces.

Overall GrubGrade: 9.00 (Exceptional)

Nutrition Facts:
5 piece chicken fingers with Zaxby's sauce
Calories: 610
Total Fat: 39 grams
Saturated Fat: 6 grams
Cholesterol: 130 mg
Sodium: 1890 mg
Total Carbs: 19 grams
Fiber: 1 gram
Sugars: 4 grams
Protein: 46 grams

31 comments on “Fast Casual Review: Chicken Fingerz and Fries from Zaxby’s

  1. Lizz says:

    Man…. this made me really miss Zaxby’s. I live in Colorado now, so I only get Zaxby’s when I visit home. I think this just made my list of must-haves when I visit in a couple weeks.

  2. Jeff says:

    If you get the finger plate, it comes with one sauce. If you large size, it comes with two. One for the chicken, one for the fries and texas toast. Long live Dixie!

  3. Robert says:

    I love Zaxby’s. Sometimes I just crave that place.

  4. larry says:

    Damn. It pains me to say this but you’re wrong on almost all accounts by me Adam. ;-)

    The problem with most chicken fingers/strips is the flavor. They simply must stand on their own and Zaxby’s, while serving a hot and generally fresh tasting strip, simply doesn’t measure up to the best strips. The best in my mind being Chik-Fil-A, the current highly peppered KFC strips, the retired kfc blazin strips, and the original great chicken strip at Applebys (which apparently they decided around 1998 to dumb down for expansion reasons).

    Not only is no sauce necessary, you would think twice about dipping them in any sauce.

    I do grab a box of Zaxbys strips (got to get the 20 box) to share with family members from time to time but Zaxbys strips will forever be “second” best because they rely on the fabulous Zaxby sauce to provide both flavor and kick.

    Differences aside, great review!

    • Adam says:

      I can see your argument, and to a certain extent I agree. I would say CFA’s chicken has a deeper, dare-I-say smokier taste that really comes from the peanut oil and breading. BUT I like the crispier breading on Zaxby’s fingers, and I did find them jucier accross the board. Thanks for the comment though. I can tell we both have a love of Chicken Fingers. Ever been to Raising Canes? I think that has to be my next stop on a roadtrip

      • larry says:

        I have been to Canes and found both the chicken and the sauce to be EXACTLY like Zaxbys.

        One strip I left out of the mix unintentionally was Popeyes, probably because I generally order other items when I hit a Popeyes. However, I had some a few days ago and they were crispy, spicy, and did not require sauce so by my standards they were a good strip.

        However, the spice seemed to be under the coating meaning that they did not seem to be marinated and spicy throughout so if I had to rate them on a chicken strip scale I would give them a 7.

  5. Kate says:

    The SEC doesn’t represent the whole Southeast! Don’t give up on us- we have the ACC too, offering less arrogance and more hospitality! (wait, did that sound arrogant?)

    • Lizz says:

      That’s because there’s nothing to be arrogant about in the ACC… hahahaha okay, okay. Sorry. Had to.

      An Arrogant SEC fan. =P

  6. Natalie says:

    These are my most favorite fast food chicken tender (Chick-fil-A’s nuggets being in the nugget category obviously.) Unfortunately, I live outside of the south so I have to wait until I visit Georgia to get my hands on them. I almost always order the “wings and things” so I get both the tenders and wings along with fries and texas toast.

  7. Todd says:

    I don’t know when Navy will be scheduled to play the Gamecocks again. 1984 still hurts us old timers. With football out the way, I have to say that I will take Chick-fil-a nuggets over Zaxbys any day.

  8. Andi says:

    YES! YES! YES!!!!

    Your review summarized all my feelings about Zaxby’s. Although personally, I can’t go there without getting a meal with Buffalo Tenderz, Texas Toast, and fries (although to make it easy on myself, I just order the Kickin’ Chicken Sandwich without the ranch sauce and I get all those tastes together).

    And if you like mozzarella cheese sticks, I totally recommend trying their white cheddar bites. They’re tangy and sweet and so good.

    It’s seriously one of those places where I don’t mind going fried from beginning to end.

  9. Justin ST says:

    Raising Cane’s is also very good. I wish it would expand more.

  10. Rodzilla says:

    Adam, you can describe the intricacies of fast food items in more detail than reviews of Michelin star establishments. That’s how I know these must be good.

    Feel free to add the above to your resume.

  11. Peter says:

    Pretty much the same chicken and sauce as Canes. There used to be a Zaxbys on campus at Ohio State a few years ago but it closed and there are tons of Raising Canes around. I’ll stick with a tailgate pack (25 fingers) and maybe some texas toast, and skip everything else.

    • Justin ST says:

      Raising Cane’s has fresh-made sauce. The funny thing is, I make the sauce myself at home and I like it a lot more than the one I had at Raising Cane’s, but maybe it’s “stepped on” there. Who knows?

      The chicken is also better than Zaxby’s. I really don’t understand where you’re coming from.

  12. ALRUI says:

    Great review! I recently started to eat at Zaxby’s and have generally been very happy with the food but I do have a gripe as well about the extra sauce charge, I think its pure BS. Also they really have to do something about the extremely wasteful packaging, there has to be a better way to serve the food other then the huge amount of styrofoam & plastic! The local Zaxby’s likes to take the waste one step further and when you order an extra side of cole slaw they put the plastic cup it comes in inside a styrofoam clamshell box!

  13. somesteve says:

    looks pretty tasty. chicken fingers and fries is a winning combo.

  14. Keith says:

    The pioneering of ~$10 chicken strip meals (including sauce and fry charges) from casual sit-down and fast casual restaurants is, in my opinion, at least partly to blame for dumbing-down the palates of American youth. Thanks Applebees.

    I never get them, and I never will as they seem to be just an overpriced delivery vehicle for various condiments.

  15. Kayleigh says:

    That looks awesome! Chicken Strips are by far my favorite fast food order, but up in the Pacific Northwest there isn’t anywhere mind-blowing to get them. The KFC strips are pretty good, Popeyes spicy strips are my favorite. Anyone know anywhere to try up here for great chicken?

  16. rob says:

    The SEC is just a superior football conference … every year the National Title game should be the SEC Champion versus the best team in the rest of the nation, because it’s a given that the best team in the nation plays in the SEC.

    What they play in other conferences is “football lite”

    • Manavee says:

      When two SEC teams play each other, I don’t root for either team. Instead, I root for a meteor to appear and strike the stadium, taking out both teams and all of the SEC fans in attendance.

  17. Eric says:

    It’s all about the Nibblers there. Those things are delicious. Basically a chicken finger on a soft buttered bun. Always get the Zax sauce on the side though because otherwise they just put it on the sandwiches and you don’t get an actual packet.

    Also, they have Cherry Fanta and Coke Zero which is a great combination drink.

  18. David says:

    Canes >>> Zaxby’s

    Trust me. The sauce is homemade every day, unlike the packaged stuff of Zax. The tender’s are fresh, and never frozen. Also the texas toast is amazing as is the fries. If you ever make it down to LA or any other parts of the South you won’t be disappointed.

    Experience? I worked at Canes for a few weeks.

  19. Vicki says:

    I never heard of Zaxby’s until a few years ago when one opened in a nearby (45 min. away) town. Still, I never stopped there. Then a few months ago my hubby, daughter, son in law and I went on a mini vaca to St. Augustine, Fl and stopped there one day for lunch. Now I’m like you. I LOVE chicken strips etc. But the ones I had that day at Zaxby’s were awesomely good. They were the best I’ve ever eaten and probably ever will eat. YUM!!

  20. Dave says:

    As a lifelong Southerner stuck in the Midwest Zaxby’s is one of the things I miss everyday. Another? Saturdays in the fall spent on an SEC campus. Go ahead and hate. 5 in a row.

    Roll Tide.

  21. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Didn’t mention the toast! Love that shiz. I always replace the coleslaw with another slice of toast. The sauce is pretty easy to make, I usually keep a jar at home. 2 parts mayo, 1 part ketchup, a bit of worcestershire sauce, and a ton of black pepper. nomnom.

  22. Chelsea says:

    I am SO glad you finally got to experience the amazingness of Zaxby’s. Even after working at one for almost 3 years, I still crave it almost daily, though I only let myself indulge once every few weeks. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!

    I would suggest the kickin’ chicken sandwich. I have them drown it in ranch and tongue torch, and add blue cheese crumbles to it. Mmm! Dip the fries in a mix of the ranch and teriyaki and you’ll be set!

  23. [...] and Fries November 07, 2011 By: Adam Category: Chicken, Fries/Rings/Sides, ReviewsFollowing my visit last month to the veritable “Chicken Finger Emporium” known as Zaxby’s , a number of you [...]

  24. [...] 2012 By: Adam Category: Food NewsI love me some Zaxby’s Chicken Fingerz and crinkle fries (read the review), but I missed out on the Fried Pickles during my visit to the southern fast casual in September.  [...]