An all dark meat Nashville hot chicken sandwich
Scores of San Diego restaurants have closed permanently during the pandemic, but there’s at least one subset of eateries that only seem to be growing stronger: those serving Nashville hot chicken.
4705 Clairemont Dr, San Diego
I’ve tried so much of spicy fried chicken this year, my heat tolerance has leveled up a notch or two — which, as spice addicts know, only makes you want it more. I’ve started adding sriracha to my soup, Cholula to my eggs, and jalapeño to my burgers.
It’s never enough, though, so as new hot chicken joints keep opening, eventually I feel the need to pay them a visit, if only to hit my weekly chili pepper quota.
And so I wound up driving into Clairemont in search of Main Chick. The fast-growing Los Angeles chain apparently has big plans for San Diego, which seems to be the case with most L.A. fried chicken spots (though not the king of them all yet. Howlin' Ray's, what’s it going to take?).
Hot chicken spot in a Clairemont shopping center
I’m not sure what I expected, but what I found is a small counter shop in the Clairemont Town Square, which is home to the likes of Big Lots, Domino’s Pizza, and Ross Dress For Less. In other words, my search for a trendy food spot dropped me in the middle of chain store country.
The Main Chick menu is pretty simple, mostly following the hot chicken standards. That means choosing between chicken tenders ($4.50) and chicken sandwiches ($5.50), then deciding whether you want it mild or extra spicy, and whether you want sides of crinkle cut fries, coleslaw, or mac and cheese.
The first San Diego outpost of a Los Angeles chicken purveyor
Where Main Chick got me excited was offering a second sandwich choice featuring all dark meat. Most fried chicken sandwiches involve white meat, which is fine for fried chicken. But chicken thighs are just better, in my opinion, so that little switch-up told me somebody out there is listening to hot chicken reason.
For the most part, everything tasted all right. The hottest spice didn’t taste all that hot, but I’ll allow that may be due to the extremes I’ve been experiencing from competitors such as Dave’s Hot Chicken and its outlandishly spicy “reaper.”
The spicy, yet not as hot as some would like, chicken tender at Main Chick
Where the chicken of any spice let me down was in its granular textures. Rather than hot chili paste or sauce, the seasoning here seems to be powdered on, resulting in otherwise sumptuous battered bites having a dry and dusty edge.
When I think about it, despite the long, slow lines Howlin’ Ray’s has become famous for, the hot chicken genre does seem ripe for adaptation in a fast-food model. As I looked around at the Krispy Kreme, Taco Bell, and Jack in the Box populating the shopping center, it occurred to me: Nashville hot chicken is just mainstream enough to fit right in with drive thrus and value menus. Choose your spice wisely.