Some Like It Hot: Chicken Edition

Jay Bird’s Spicy Nashville Chicken Sandwich

When I found myself waiting in an hour-long line for a hot chicken sandwich during the soft opening for Jay Birds Chicken in May of 2019, I thought I was surely having a peak Los Angeles experience right here in Long Beach. More than a few Nashville hot chicken spots in LA are notorious for their long waits and limited supply of food, especially on weekends. Hungry people will wait for hours, all to get that perfect Instagram post and show their followers they really did it, but as with many things online the act of waiting and feigned exclusivity seems to be the draw more so than the food. Waiting in a long line is always difficult, but especially so when you’re surrounded by half a dozen other, wait-less, establishments like you are in the Hangar at the Long Beach Exchange. It’s the epitome of foodie heaven with everything from poutine, to hand rolls, and now hot chicken. A cold beer from Bottle Craft helped the time pass and before I knew it I was ordering from a very kind woman who took the time to explain to me what I was getting myself into by ordering the hottest chicken they had on the menu. I eat a lot of very spicy food so it was a warning I knew well and mostly disregarded. The food came out quickly and it looked as good as it smelled. Crispy fried chicken with the bright red dusting of their spice mixture coating every piece evenly. 


After a few photos, I dug in. When I tell you, I was hit by a wave of heat so intense it nearly left me choking, I hope you know I don’t exaggerate. My friends looked on sympathetically as I grew quiet and down half a beer in two large gulps. After a few moments, I had to dive back in. The chicken was so tender and perfectly cooked. The spice was incredible but there was also a depth of flavor that left you craving more and more. The house made sauces only added to the experience. This was the summer of last year, when the idea of waiting in a line of that many people didn’t seem alien, and I find myself back ordering that “fire” hot chicken fairly often even a year later. Jay Birds was even my quarantine birthday meal this year.


Since Jay Birds Chicken opened there has been a surge of hot chicken in Long Beach from pop-ups to brick and mortars, all unique and of course delicious, but I find myself going back to Jay Birds more often than not. Maybe it’s the ease of ordering and proximity to great craft beer, but I think it’s mostly because when I bring my non-spice loving friends they leave just as happy as I do. The quality of the food at Jay Birds is top notch and their portion sizes compared to their prices are extremely fair. The chicken is always perfectly cooked and seasoned, so even my partner who orders the mild tenders craves their chicken. Although there was a labeling mishap once that led to my “fire” order being labeled as “mild”, hilarity ensued. Regardless of how you feel about heat, you’re going to have a good meal here. This is all without mentioning their crinkle cut fries, creamy mac and cheese, and tangy coleslaw. One day I like to think I’ll have to bravery to order the “Mac Daddy” which is a chicken sandwich topped with mac and cheese and a drizzling of their “comeback sauce”.


The hot chicken debate rages on in Long Beach every bit as much as it does in LA or of course Nashville where the style of chicken got its name. And while the lines might not be an hour long anymore, every eater has their own preference for some reason or another. I myself love all hot chicken, but I can confidently say if you told me you wanted some real heat, I would know exactly where to take you.


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