There’s a little strip mall in Sorrento Valley that’s mostly filled by ten or twelve little counter restaurants; a food court serving all the corporate campuses in the area. It sits about a block south of the local outpost of Karl Strauss Brewing Company. San Diego’s oldest brewery turned 30 last month and threw a big party to celebrate, as it does every year.
In the strip mall, Chicks Natural likewise opened in 1989. It celebrated its 30th anniversary last month by hanging a banner.
9430 Scranton Road, Sorrento Valley
I guess there’s not as much glory in rotisserie chicken as there is craft beer, but staying in business for 30 years is quite a feat for any type of restaurant. I had been heading for a different restaurant in the food court, but when I spotted the banner, I decided to celebrate by going inside and ordering its most popular entrée: a half chicken with two sides for $13.92. For $1.86 you can add bread to the order. I chose the baked in-house jalapeño corn muffin over flour tortillas or wheat roll.
Note that it’s Chicks Natural, not Chick’s Natural. There’s not a person named Chick, the name refers to the shop’s practice of serving natural chicken, i.e. farmed without hormones or preservatives. Chicks marinates small chickens for two days in a citrus and spice blend, then fires them in its rotisserie oven.
The results include crispy seasoned skin and flavorful meat, served almost immediately once you order it. That would make it fast food, but a healthy approach to fast food, especially by 1989 standards. To wit, there are no French fries among the litany of sides to go with your chicken. Instead the starches include rice, roasted sweet potato, potato salad, and mashed potatoes with gravy. You can choose corn on the cob, salad, coleslaw, fresh fruit, or steamed vegetables: carrots and broccoli.
There’s not a ton of wow factor, but there’s a decent meal served with a winning combination of speed, health consciousness, and affordability. Good enough for 30 years and counting. If I worked in the area, I might make a regular thing of this chicken too, but I might bring in my own hot sauce to liven up those steamed veggies.
Ironically, this 30-year-old restaurant that trademarks itself as “the original fire roasted chicken,” may not even be the original Chicks Natural. That seems to be Chicks Natural Encinitas, which claims to have opened in 1985. The two shops offer identical menus, but apparently operate independently of one another these days, with separate websites and social media channels. They each operate their own distinct catering services.
So, in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, the first GPS satellite went into orbit, and the first Simpsons episode aired. Meanwhile, in Sorrento Valley, a Chicks Natural opened for business.