Eat This Now

Hidden Gem: Rag’s Real Chicken & Waffles in Youngtown

You're in Youngtown, baby. Better get some soul food.
You're in Youngtown, baby. Better get some soul food. Lauren Cusimano
Tucked away in the northwest Valley city of Youngtown, a small family-owned restaurant plates sky-high chicken and waffles. By that we mean is this; When you order the first option off the menu at Rag’s Real Chicken & Waffles, i.e. the chicken and waffles, the dish must be about six inches tall off the surface of the table. But aside from the huge portions, there is so much more to appreciate here.

Neighboring Youngtown Market and a locksmith at the intersection of Nevada and 111th avenues, Rag’s is easily missed by much of metropolitan Phoenix. Rag refers to the owner, Ken Smith, a.k.a. Rag, who’s been operating the 50-seat eatery since 2015. His wife and sons help run the soul food joint, but if you come in midday for lunch, it might just be you and Smith.

And that's fine, because Smith is extremely friendly. The business' Facebook page reads, "We will deep fry anything you can digest. My job is to serve and protect your appetite. Alabama style!" And after meeting Smith, you can tell he definitely wrote that.

click to enlarge The standard place setting at Rag's. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The standard place setting at Rag's.
Lauren Cusimano
Walking in, you’ll notice the three communal tables and some bar seating. Solid colors like yellow, orange, green, and blue are slapped on the walls. Tables are topped with plastic cloths, syrup containers, salt and pepper shakers in a kitschy cartoon pig holders, some napkins, maybe a jar of barbecue sauce.

Then, you’ll notice the small stage in the back, and how the walls are adorned with photos of jazz musicians and record covers.

Drink choices include sweet tea, water, and soda, and then you order. The menu lists plates of ribs, fish, shrimp, a chicken sandwich, and sides like baked beans and mac and cheese. But honey, we definitely recommend sticking with No. 1, the namesake dish, on your first visit.

For the chicken and waffles, white meat means a breast and wing; dark means a thigh and drum. If Smith hasn’t had a visitor in a while, there’s no distinct smell inside the restaurant until he starts cooking. This is proof things are made to order, as Smith promises from the start.

click to enlarge Live music and a BYOB policy to boot. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Live music and a BYOB policy to boot.
Lauren Cusimano
Suddenly, the smell of cinnamon overwhelms the whole room. If you weren’t hungry before, you are now. Smith will top off your drink, ask if you want hot sauce. He definitely sets the scene for what’s about to happen. Then, you hear the chicken drop in. A white noise-style frying and sizzling is all the soundtrack you’ll get for 10 to 15 minutes, aside from maybe daytime news.

But that’s if you're not coming in at night. Rag’s actually hosts live music multiple times a week, hence the small stage and large speakers. And there’s also a BYOB policy here, meaning bring it if you got it (and they definitely got more at the neighboring Youngtown Market). Another feature of Rag’s is delivery. Says so right there on the menu: “We deliver. Don’t cuss. Call us!!”

click to enlarge Just keep it clean. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Just keep it clean.
Lauren Cusimano
Smith uses two hands to bring out your platter of chicken and waffle. If you ordered white meat (sorry, delicious chicken thighs), this is a shockingly big chicken breast. It’s like a fried football has been placed before you.

The best part is, the breast has divots, so it can be pulled apart more easily. And once the chicken cools just a little, you realize this works like a charm.

“Nobody does that but Rag’s,” Smith says, proudly.

And he should be. The chicken is perfectly cooked beneath the extremely crunchy shell. No hot sauce is really necessary. And if you can pull yourself away, knife into that cup of warm butter and start spreading on your fresh waffle. Maybe add a little syrup. If you can get all these elements onto one forkful, you’ve beat the simulation.

click to enlarge The artfully divoted chicken breast from Rag's. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The artfully divoted chicken breast from Rag's.
Lauren Cusimano
Smith also provides an extra plate, which you’ll certainly need for hot sauce dipping, bones, napkins that have run their course. Smith will check in from time to time, but he’s probably just expecting a hearty nod. He’s used to messy hands and mouths full of piping hot chicken or chewy waffle.

A word of advice after you’ve requested a to-go box: Be sure to wash your hands well. The smell of the fresh chicken skin will linger on your fingertips. And keep that to-go box out of sight. Because if there’s any chance you’re hungry again later at the office and remember those leftovers exist, you’ll be digging back into that to-go box well before dinner.

Rag’s Real Chicken & Waffles.
12242 North 111th Avenue, Youngtown
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; closed Wednesday and Sunday
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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano