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Report: Fried chicken rules roost

American restaurants might be tripping over themselves to offer ever more exotic dishes, but the hands-down favorite of U.S. patrons remains an old standby: Chicken, boneless and fried.

So say the results of a just-released study by consumer-trends research firm NPD Group here. An 11% increase in demand raised total orders of chicken nuggets, strips, and fillet sandwiches to more than 300 million last year, or 6% of all transactions, according to the firm, which proclaimed the item the nation's top seller.

NPD noted that the chicken is seldom described as fried, with most chains preferring descriptive terms like "crispy nuggets" or "breaded."

The research house also observed that outlets specializing in burgers, donuts, and coffee enjoyed healthy increases in traffic last year, when the restaurant trade's total customer count rose by 2%. Collectively, those three sectors handled 850 million more transactions in 2004 than they did in 2003.

Last year marked the first substantial increase in restaurant traffic since 2001, according to NPD's numbers.

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