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The Night Fowl at Blue Hen Chicken Co. by Sabin Orr
Sabin Orr

The Night Fowl at Blue Hen Chicken Co. Photo by Sabin Orr

Hot Damn!

Desert Companion

If you’ve got a burning desire to taste the rage for spicy chicken sandwiches, these spots are fire


Spicy chicken sandwiches are certainly, well, hot at the moment, but this fiery fad has a history going back more than 70 years, originating at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, Tennessee. As the story goes, Thornton Prince, known for his way with the ladies, stepped out on his woman one Saturday night. As punishment, she doused his fried chicken with hot pepper, and, well … he dug it — and decided to sell it. Thus began our masochistic love affair with lip-puckering, eye-watering fried chicken, which is now ubiquitous on menus across the country (hello, KFC) and even abroad. Whether you’re seeking heat or comfort, the city’s bird-on-a-bun game is strong. There’s a sandwich out there with your name on it and, if you’re feeling especially plucky, maybe even a waiver to sign. Here are my favorite hot chicken spots for feeling the burn.


1. Houston’s Hot Chicken
When I walk into Houston’s Hot Chicken, on the counter is a signed waiver from a previous customer. The guy behind the counter explains it’s required for patrons who order the Houston’s highest level of spice — ominously called Houston, We Have a Problem! This particular sandwich clocks in at 2 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU), a measure of the level of capsaicin, the active component in peppers that causes that burning sensation on the tongue. (For comparison, the original Tabasco sauce has a rating of 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units.) How many people order their sandwich at that level? Not many, he says; and hardly anyone ever eats more than a couple of bites. Judging from the waiver, this bird is more pain than pleasure, the kind of shock-factor item one orders on a dare among friends with a wicked streak.

I have no such appetite for punishment, so I order the Mild — a modest 2,000 SHU. It offers plenty of spice for my apparently capsaicin-shy palate. Housed in a brioche bun and topped with house-made slaw, pickles, and house sauce, the breaded chicken breast is flavorful and tender, though somewhat on the smaller side of the chicken-to-bun ratio, resulting in an overly carb-y sandwich. But this isn’t such a bad thing for those ordering the spicier iterations — the sweetness of the brioche is certainly a good foil for the heat. 1500 N. Green Valley Parkway #110, houstonshotchicken.com

2. Flippin’ Good Chicken, Burgers, Beer
When Flippin’ Good opened way back in 2014, it brought something new to the Downtown food scene: elevated fast food that could compete with the eateries popping up on Fremont Street, offering grass-fed burgers, hand-cut fries and onion rings, frozen custard — just mere months before New York City’s Shake Shack descended on the valley. The chicken sandwiches are particularly notable not only for the bird’s provenance — all are raised and hatched domestically, free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics, which make for a satisfying sandwich every time. There are several iterations of the sandwich, but this is the place to get a no-fuss version of the Nashville Hot Chicken (left): It’s simply a chicken breast, hot sauce, lettuce, and pickles. It’s the perfect amount of spice, and the size, which some might say is on the small side when ordered by itself, is just right when paired with fries. Also a good accompaniment? An ice-cold brew from the tap. Fast food should all be this good. 505 Fremont St., flippingood.com

3. Dave’s Hot Chicken
Dave’s Hot Chicken is coming in hot, with a success story for the ages: It began in 2017 as a late-night chicken stand in east Hollywood and is now in the midst of an aggressive nationwide expansion. The heat level on Dave’s birds go from No Spice to the seventh circle of hell, not-so-subtly dubbed the Reaper. Your only salvation here is a side of kale slaw, a semi-
virtuous concoction meant to cool the tongue. While you’re at it, order a side of crinkle- cut fries. And don’t skip the cheese in the sliders (right) — you’ll need every heat-dousing element as you go up the spice chain. Slather on Dave’s Sauce generously, especially if you order the tenders; it makes for a good fry dip, too. 9040 W. Sahara Ave., daveshotchicken.com

4. Burnin’ Mouth
The décor at Burnin’ Mouth tells you exactly what you’re in for. One wall has the word “Danger” all over, and the color scheme is one that can only be described as fiery, which is what your mouth will feel like shortly. The spice levels correspond with the peppers deployed in the mix: Simple and Mild are cayenne-based; Good has the satisfying heat of jalapeño; Ugly is the more insistent habanero; and Insane is haunted by ghost peppers, which clock in at just over a million SHU. The Good-level spice seems to be the sandwich of choice for most, but if you want no spice at all, you have to request it, as it’s not on the menu. Two signature sandwiches are on offer: the Bang Bang (left), with a sauced chicken breast, and the Nashville Coo Coo, which has a dry seasoning. Both come with cole slaw, crispy onions, pickles, and a house sauce. 6340 W. Charleston Blvd. #110, burninmouth.com
 

5. Blue Hen Chicken Co.
Just two blocks down from Burning Mouth on Charleston is Blue Hen Chicken Co., a welcome respite from Nashville’s heat (though you can certainly opt for the spice, which ranges from Mild to, gulp, Death Wish.) But if you want just a chill bird, the Blue Hen (right) fits the bill: hand-breaded chicken thigh, bread and butter pickles, aioli, and buttermilk chive on Larder Baking Co. brioche bun. A menu item I’ll be revisiting is the refreshing Night Fowl sandwich, with pickled chilies, peanut sauce, cabbage, Thai basil, cilantro, toasted sesame seeds, and house sauce. The chicken thigh is juicy and carries the Asian-inspired flavor profile beautifully. 6250 W. Charleston Blvd. #120, bluehenco.com

6. North Town Chicken
As someone who’s firmly ensconced in the southeast side of town, I’m not always up on the food happenings up north, so when an opportunity comes up for a mini road trip to try out a chicken sandwich, you’ll find me clucking with joy. North Town Chicken, which opened in 2020
during the pandemic, has been a welcome change from the fast food joints lining Craig Road. For my first visit, I ordered the eponymous NTC Chicken Sando (left), two sizable chicken breast tenders housed in a honey-butter bun with pickles and cole slaw. There are several dipping sauces to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with the house sauce (though I did dip my
toe into the heat with the mango habanero). Since NTC was a trek for me, sides were a necessity, and the creamy mac ’n’ cheese and Ma Ma’s Potato Salad did not disappoint. 1735 W. Craig Road, northtownchicken.com

7. Mama Bird Southern Kitchen
Hit up the Southern Highlands spot on the weekend and you’ll undoubtedly find a gaggle of people waiting for a table. And for good reason: Not only is the space highly Instagram-friendly, but the plates coming out of the open kitchen space are showstoppers, from the deviled eggs to the waffles. The fried chicken sandwich (right) is the standout: a chicken breast nestles inside a soft potato roll, along with pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and a creamy house sauce. We might quibble a little with the breading that’s laid on a bit too thick, but it’s delicious and doesn’t take away from the well-seasoned bird underneath. Even if you’re not here for breakfast or brunch, add the fried egg. It takes the chicken sandwich to a whole new level, along with those North ’n’ South fries, a combination of regular and sweet potato spuds. You can up the spice level, too, should you need an extra kick. 10550 Southern Highlands Parkway #140, mamabirdsk.com

BONUS: The OG, Farm Basket
My chicken sandwich tour ended with less fire and more nostalgia, with the tried-and-true Farm Basket  providing the closing note. The locals’ favorite, in business for more than 45 years, is a stalwart in the chicken (and turkey) sandwich scene. The signature Clucker Sandwich — fried chicken breast on a toasted hoagie roll and served with side of Miracle Whip and cranberry sauce — is a must. It’s a trip down memory lane, back to simpler times when all we want from our chicken sandwich is familiarity — and maybe a side of cheese and gravy-smothered fries. 6148 W. Charleston Blvd., farmbasketlv.com

Photos by Christopher Smith and Sabin Orr

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