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Spicy chicken sandwich. [Photo: Carey Jones]

I'd never been to a stand-alone Chick-fil-A before. The chain started in the Greenbriar Shopping Center in Atlanta in 1967, and I'd only stopped by outlets in food courts. Stand-alone restaurants abound, though—like the one I visited in Metairie, LA, where at 11:45, the drive-thru line already wrapped around the building.

Always known for their chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A introduced a Spicy Chicken option to their menu only last month. I've long been a fan of Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich, and I wanted to see how Chick-fil-A's would compare.

Fast food isn't just about the food; a large portion of value is found in the speed and service, both of which impressed me at Chick-fil-A. Given the long drive-thru line, I opted for take-out, and no less than five cashiers greeted me inside. The cashier who took my order smiled and teased me about being a Northerner; we chatted for a second as he gave me change. His congeniality reminded me of a recent trip to In-n-Out Burger in California, where the employees smiled and had a few niceties. All too often, employees at the larger chains practically bark at you—so a bit of warmth is always appreciated.

I ordered both the plain Spicy Chicken and the Deluxe. The plain (490 calories) comes with the fried spicy boneless chicken breast, their classic buttered bun, and pickles. The Deluxe (580 calories) also has lettuce, tomato, and pepper-jack cheese, in addition to the pickles. (Somewhat ironically, the photos we took actually look more appetizing than the pictures on their website.)

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Spicy chicken sandwich with cheese.

From the moment I bit into it, I knew the sandwich was good. Really good. The breast has a lot of heat, more than the comparable Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich. The poultry portion itself is smaller in size than Wendy's, but tastes much more like chicken—you really have the impression of eating a fried-up chicken breast, as opposed to some manufactured McBreast. In truth, I've long been a fan of Wendy's, but Chick-fil-A's is better. Their buns are a bit fluffy, but also have a delicious eggy, almost brioche-like quality. The lettuce wasn't phenomenal, but the tomatoes looked and tasted fresh—bright red and flavorful, as opposed to the fast-food standard McPink. The pepperjack didn't melt—either for lack of time, heat, or both—and didn't add much to the sandwich. I'd leave it off.

All in all, the Spicy Chicken at Chick-fil-A beats Wendy's hands-down. After a long day of eating, I was already full when I stopped by Chick-fil-A, and fully intended only to nibble and note-take—but I ended up finishing the plain, and half of the one with fixin's. I'm a loyal Wendyist, but Chick-fil-A has something special in their spicy chicken.

(On another note, when I exited the restaurant with my take-out in hand, four minutes after entering, the drive-thru line was gone. Now that's what I call service.)

Have you tried the Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich? What did you think?

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