To liven up our days and bring some amount of arbitrary meaning to the endless monotony of quarantine life, a couple friends and I started Fried Chicken Fridays. The concept: on Fridays (and sometimes other days, when the hankering strikes), we try out fried chicken sandwiches in San Diego and evaluate them based on textbook fried chicken merits: the crispiness of the breading, the juiciness of the chicken, and the tastiness of the sandwich as a whole.
Oh, Common Stock, how I love you. I’ll never stop singing the praises of this restaurant, which I first visited right before quarantine started and which has stepped up its game significantly during these difficult times.
Out of the three places I’ve tried for Fried Chicken Friday, Common Stock has the best fried chicken, hands down. The ratio of breading to chicken is perfect. The breading flakes right off in tiny crouton bites that are crunchy but not greasy. It’s multidimensional, with a crispy exterior and layered textures and flavors. Whatever they use to season the batter is inspired.
They serve a really satisfying fried chicken sandwich, one of the best I’ve ever had. Perfect thin crispy chicken, great slaw, brioche bun. But what I really want to talk about here is the fried chicken & waffles.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not the biggest fan of fried chicken and waffles, aside from the version at Noto in Edinburgh, easily the best I’ve ever had. Common Stock is another stellar exception. Thin, crispy fried chicken sits on a rosemary cheddar waffle. The whole dish tastes herby, but you can’t tell where exactly the rosemary is coming from, which is how rosemary should taste, in my opinion. There’s a bit of a spicy kick on the chicken, which continues to reinforce the savory notes and prevents the dish from becoming too sweet when doused in maple syrup.
What I love about this fried chicken & waffle is that the flavors are so layered and complex and well balanced that it’s never at risk of becoming just a slab of fried stuff on a waffle covered in sweet maple syrup. Pour as much maple syrup as you want on it; it will always be a savory dish. That, to me, is the goal.
Cross Street Chicken
Located in the bustling food district that is Convoy Street, Cross Street Chicken specializes in Korean fried chicken, especially wings. Their OG flavor is reliably great, but they are constantly branching out with new wing flavors, including Thai sweet chili, soy garlic, spicy Seoul, and a rotating seasonal flavor.
But today, I came here for the fried chicken sandwich.
It has this great remoulade-type sauce that gives the sandwich a nice, tangy, briny bite. They’re generous with pickles. The chicken stretches out farther than the bun, jutting out from both sides and covering twice the distance as the sandwich itself.
The chicken itself isn’t as good as Common Stock, in my opinion—the breading is thicker and heavier, not quite as crisp and flaky as I would like. It’s also quite a thick slab of chicken and you wouldn’t be wrong to remove some of it just to be able to eat the sandwich. The sandwich as a whole, though, is on par with (or maybe even stronger than) the one at Common Stock. The condiment game is strong here, and that sauce really makes or breaks the bite.
The aptly named Working Class is all about a return to comfort food at affordable prices, a bold statement in defiance of the quickly gentrifying North Park and hipster, boutique restaurants that the neighborhood is now known for. At Working Class, prices are low and food is unpretentious.
It’s in this dichotomy that I find myself stuck. On the one hand, I admire and support their ethos, that good food can remain accessible and affordable. On the other hand, I am one of those pretentious food snobs that finds something wrong with everything. And that’s the predicament I’m in when it comes to their fried chicken sandwich.
At $9, the fried chicken sandwich at Working Class is a good deal. It comes with a side of buffalo sauce; you can add fries or a side salad for $3. The sandwich is straightforward—fried chicken, house slaw, and pickles on a house bun. It’s a basic, no-frills chicken sandwich.
Being a self-proclaimed buffalo sauce hater, the sauce did nothing for me. Aside from that, the chicken was drier than the other two sandwiches. To me, the ratio of thin breading to thick slab of chicken was a bit unbalanced. I wanted the breading to be crunchier and more substantial; I only got a couple of bites that really crunched. Compared to the other two sandwiches, this one was a more manageable size; it’s the only one I could finish in one sitting.
Streetcar Merchants of Fried Chicken is one of the local Black-owned businesses that saw a surge in orders following the Black Lives Matter protests this summer. As a result, wait times have ballooned, as the staff works tirelessly to keep up and manage entitled, angry customers. (That said, please do keep supporting your local Black-owned and minority-owned businesses, now and always.)
The fried chicken at Streetcar Merchants is among the best on this list. Dunked in maple syrup, it’s still ever-so-crispy and satisfying. Their potato salad is also one of my favorites. It packs a nice subtle heat. I meant to eat half, but I finished the whole thing.
The chicken and waffles are pretty famous, too.
Dave’s Hot Chicken
In my opinion, Dave’s really delivers on Nashville hot. You can customize your spice level, which I think is very considerate. I chose hot, and it was definitely spicy… almost too spicy.
The fried chicken here is good. The sides are skippable. I couldn’t even finish the mac & cheese.
Although it was good, during a pandemic, I would either go at lunchtime or skip Dave’s altogether. By dinner, orders have piled up, and wait times were typically 1-2 hours, regardless of whether you ordered online or in person. It was hectic on a Friday evening, with teenagers crowding around the door, no one social distancing, people taking their masks off, everyone upset and frustrated by the long waits… The stress might not be worth it for fried chicken.
More Fried Chicken Fridays are coming up. Do you have other suggestions for fried chicken in San Diego? Let me know!