Combining fried poultry with leavened breakfast food has become a trend so widespread that chicken-and-waffles is seen on even normally cautious hotel restaurant menus. Fans debate the dish’s place of origin, most often claimed to be either Baltimore or Los Angeles, and its cultural background, whether Pennsylvania Dutch or soul food. In Phoenix, the chicken-and-waffles pairing has decidedly been influenced by the latter, and Lo-Lo’s has been the restaurant to popularize the combination, even as so many other places have added it to their menus.
Lo-Lo’s has grown in recent years via franchising, with locations not only in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area but also in Nevada and Texas. Nevertheless, the restaurant on south Central Avenue remains the small chain’s flagship. To be clear, this site is not the original Lo-Lo’s. That was actually a smaller building around the corner. Nearly a decade ago, Lo-Lo’s expanded into its current structure, which is just a block from the planned Buckeye/Central station on the South Central light rail extension. A bike rack is found in the parking lot next to the patio.
The restaurant is dominated by one large dining room with red brick walls covered with posters commemorating historical figures and displays marketing Lo-Lo’s brand merchandise. Smaller side rooms are used for private events or overflow. Customers congregate near the host station. Since there’s often a wait for a table, make sure to join the waiting list, either by checking in with the staff or via Yelp’s website or app. The patio is sometimes used as a waiting area, and it works well for that purpose. Think twice about eating outside, though, due to slow service there.
Lo-Lo’s namesake specialty is what can be seen on most plates coming out of the kitchen, but the restaurant has a full menu of traditional soul food with a few updated twists. Appetizers, all of them fried, include green tomatoes, catfish beignets, okra, and even gizzards. Combine them in a trio or order them separately, but either way, they’re as filling as the entrees to come, so some sharing is recommended. Due to Lo-Lo’s large portions and the lack of a bar or counter to sit at, the restaurant is not an ideal place for solo dining, especially during peak hours.
Chicken and waffles are available in ten different configurations. The dishes are all creatively named and differentiated mainly by the number and type of poultry pieces on the plate. For customers who prefer white meat, Betty’s Boob is essentially what it sounds like: a fried chicken breast with a waffle. For those favoring dark meat, Lil Amadi replaces the breast with a leg and a thigh. The Lo-Lo’s eponymous dish is an enormous plate of three pieces of chicken with two waffles, and other configurations include chicken smothered with gravy and onions.
These platters are all unabashed protein and starch. As appealing as those can be, a vegetable side or two is a way to add some color and nutrients to the plate. Collard greens or sauteed spinach add some greenery to the meal, while candied sweets (potatoes) are decidedly orange and full of beta-carotene. Red beans, with or without rice, showcase the role of legumes in Southern cooking. Of course, it is always possible to add yet more carbohydrates with choices like creamy mac-and-cheese, whipped potatoes, buttery grits, potato salad, or French fries.
If a break from waffles is desired, it’s still possible to obtain a large quantity and variety of food via one of Lo-Lo’s soul food platters. This build-your-own option allows the choice of fried chicken or catfish with any two sides and a cornbread muffin or biscuit, with the result being a massive platter. Alternatively, the meat can be omitted in favor of any four sides to create a colorful and bountiful vegetable plate. For seafood options beyond catfish, the decadent shrimp and grits, made with fried prawns, or the mac-and-cheese with grilled shrimp, add to the variety.
Cool Bre Bre’s Chicken Salad may sound light, and, comparatively speaking, it is. Nevertheless, it’s a huge bowl of greens topped with either grilled or fried chicken, along with an entire avocado, candied walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and bacon. For a smaller meal, Ya-Ya’s Honey Butta Chicken Biscuit is as simple as a fried chicken tender between two halves of a biscuit drizzled with honey. Pair with a side or two for a manageable meal. Another uncomplicated option is an entree of grilled chicken, shrimp, or fish paired with any two sides.
With the emphasis on waffles, it’s not surprising that Lo-Lo’s has a menu section devoted to breakfast foods that are served all day. That includes entrees such as hearty biscuits and gravy or waffles fashioned into a breakfast sandwich with eggs and meat inside. The restaurant has two signature desserts. One is a rich banana pudding made with the requisite vanilla wafer cookies. The other is a generous slice of red velvet cake, by itself a simple combination of cocoa and food coloring but made more interesting with pecans sprinkled in the frosting.
The signature beverages at Lo-Lo’s are sweet tea (although unsweetened is available) and Kool-Aid. Lo-Lo’s also has a liquor license (although not a distinct bar) that allows it to offer cocktails, beer, and wine. Most drinks, with or without alcohol, are served in voluminous mason jars. The debate over where the combination of chicken and waffles originated is far from concluded. Nevertheless, popularization of the concept in Phoenix is without a doubt the work of Lo-Lo’s, and the South Central location is as close as possible to where it started.
1220 S. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85003