5026 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach
“OK. How’s about Oceanside?”
“I tell you, man,” says Hank. “Nothing beats O.B.”
We’re ambling west down Newport, arguing, as per usual. Size, of course. Like, who has the longest pier. I.B. or O.B.? If O.B. wins, I’m sunk. Have to pay for chow. We yabber on outside the blue-and-white international hostel. It’s dusk. Ralph Lauren babes and Johnny Depp dudes drape its balcony like a seal colony. We see one guy smoking a French Gauloise and scanning a California guide.
“Uh, mind if I borrow your book for a mo’, bro?” says Hank.
The guy shrugs.
Hank flips through its pages. Now he’s reading. “Aha!” he says finally. “O.B. has the longest concrete pier in the world — 1971 feet! Oceanside has the longest wooden pier in California, 1954 feet. I.B.’s is 1491. Hope you’ve got the necessary, dude.”
Sigh. Guess I can do it, long as Hank doesn’t go too crazy. I ask the Gauloise guy, “Where have you been eating while you’re here?”
“Right across this street,” he says. Sounds like a German accent. “The chicken is very delicious. Cholesterol, of course, ja? And the jojo potatoes…But they are very good. And so cheap.”
Huh. That last word. My ears perk up. We cross Newport in the fading light.
What we chicken-lovers find on the other side is this little hole-in-the-wall with a brown canopy. The sign above it says “Chicken Kitchen.” Newer lettering on the canopy says “Livingston’s Mexican Grill.”
A second, wider canopy to the left says “Sunshine Company Saloon.” Looks as if Livingston’s has been slid in like a shoebox to fill half the pub.
“You’ve come to the right place, lads.”
Couple of Irishmen sit at a green plastic sidewalk table, chowing into chicken and great fat fries, looks like, or are they fried zucchini? James, the guy who greeted us, introduces his buddy James. Seems they really are supersized fries. “Irishmen know spuds, and these are…you have to try them. Best in town. That’s what they are, indeed.”
I resist a “Begorrah!” and head on in. It’s a little space with bright green wainscoting, white walls, cream ceiling, and a big, shiny copper vent-shield over the stove area. Half the walls are covered in menu listings. All sorts of Mexican stuff, plus chicken. “That’s what we’re here for, dude,” says Hank. “The chicken. See? Broasted — pressure-cooked in oil — or rotisserie. Let’s get rotisserie.”
But hold it. What’s the choice and what’s the price? For starters, I’m impressed by the day’s special: a quarter chicken with rice, beans, and tortillas for $4.59. Then a half rotisserie chicken with those sides is $6.50, or a whole chicken is $9.95. Or a half chicken with no sides is $4.99, and a whole is $7.99. Can’t beat that. The broasted — high-pressure fried — chicken runs $4.10 for a two-piece dinner ($3.10 for just the chicken and a roll) up to $6.50 for a four-piece (breast, wing, thigh, leg) for the dinner, $5.50 for chicken and roll.
I look at Hank. I mean, this I can afford.
“Let’s go for a whole-chicken dinner,” he says. “Split it.”
“That okay?” I ask Sergio, the guy running the joint. And I mean running. He’s triangulating on the double between the fryer, the freezer, and the phone.
“Oh sure,” he says.
“Comes with jojos?” I ask.
’Course it’s a bit of a wait. Sergio has to cook all this stuff, and he has a line of people waiting to order, and he’s got only one guy helping him. Plus, I notice that his sidekick is going back into the bar area (you can see right through) and taking orders from people in the Sunshine Company Saloon.
But waiting’s no problem, it turns out. Three guys — Dave, Andrew, and Girardo — sit down near us. Dave and Andrew are from San Antonio, Texas. Pharmacy students.
“You’ve sure come to the right little town for that,” says Hank.
“Hey, man,” I say. “Just because O.B. has a certain reputation…”
Girardo is from here, San Diego. Works nights on the — get this — Everingham bait barge. That’s way out in the middle of the swell-wracked entrance to our bay, where they prepare live bait for the coming day’s fishing fleet. It’s no job for wimps. The sea lions, for a start, give ’em hell all night long, waiting for them to trip and send bait fish flying.
These guys are here for the tortas. “The best I’ve had is in Monterrey, in Mexico,” says Andrew. “Girardo says they’re as good here.”
“For here?” yells Sergio. We yell back, “Yes!” and he brings out two paper plates brimming with blackened chicken and a pile of jojo potato wedges, like orange quarters. Oh man, the smell. Then come frijoles, and chips on the side, plus tubs of hot sauce. The slightly cheesy spuds, with a little salt and hot sauce, are beautiful.
And Hank, Mr. Salad himself, lunges into the chicken like there was no tomorrow. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” he says. “The breast is the test. If it’s flavorful and moist, you’ve got yourself a good roast chicken. Or turkey.”
“Or, in your case, Tofurkey.”
“You don’t realize how good this tastes, after you’ve been on the salad thing for as long as I have,” he says. Across, at the next table, Girardo and the Texans seem to be voting for those tortas with their mouths.
Fact is, this is one of those busy-busy little places that gives you a real deal and real taste. Very O.B. No corporate BS.
My only regret is that we didn’t try the broasted chicken instead of the rotisserie. Loved the rotisserie, but I know there’s something even more wicked about the broasted. It’s like broiling and roasting the chicken at the same time. Deep-fried, but in a pressure cooker. They say the chicken retains its moisture and it’s less greasy. Pretty sure Sergio does this with the jojo potatoes (the in-crowd pronounces it “ho-ho”). They even take on some of the chicken’s flavors.