4 Trendsetting Spicy Chicken Spots in O.C.

Nashville Hot Sandwich from Cluck Kitchen; Photograph courtesy of Cluck Kitchen

Cluck Kitchen advises us to #getclucked, and we do. We order the Nashville Hot Sandwich: fried antibiotic-free chicken breast with unforgettable crunchiness and more topography than its namesake city—plus vinegar slaw, pickles, and comeback sauce on a pillowy bun. Five heat levels allow guests to choose their tolerance. Hot ticket: a side of Nashville fried pickles. Co-owner Steve Kim also partners at nearby burger spot The Cut. 17915 MACARTHUR BLVD., IRVINE, 949-418-9393, CLUCKKITCHEN.COM

The innocent-sounding Chicken Sandwich at Jay Bird’s Chicken is anything but: all-natural breast, six heat levels from Plain Jay to Reaper Fire, coleslaw, comeback sauce, dill pickles, and sides such as loaded potato salad. Blazin’ Fries are topped with mac ’n’ cheese, chopped chicken tender, and comeback and buttered cayenne sauces. Jay Bogsinske, also director of culinary at Shorebird in Newport Beach, is rolling out Jay Bird’s all over the area. 303 THIRD ST., HUNTINGTON BEACH, 714-594-3233, JAYBIRDSCHICKEN.COM

“Thicc thighs save lives” is the motto at Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken. But we opt for the modest slider, which instead accommodates a chicken breast tender, coleslaw, and pickles. There are six levels of heat and three a la carte sides, including the combo’s Cajun crinkle fries—never mind that Louisiana is a couple states from Tennessee—and a memorable truffle mac ’n’ cheese with sauteed mushrooms. 2202 N. TUSTIN ST., ORANGE, 714-363-3308

The word Nashville never appears on the menu at Spice-C. But if it looks like Nashville and tastes like Nashville, we’re singing country. The menu includes golden, crispy-fried, marinated-fresh-chicken sliders and tenders. Five levels of heat top out at a gut-wrenching reaper style for which roughly 200 people have signed waivers. Naked and no-heat tenders are also available. Combos come with kosher pickles and sides such as mac-and-corn salad. 2455 PARK AVE., TUSTIN, 714-673-6331, SPICE-C.NET

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