Review: Cross Street Chicken and Beer
The Korean fried chicken is good, but I think we should see other chicken
There’s a ceramic chicken holding cups full of toothpicks. There is a steel chicken, and a wrought-iron chicken. There is a chicken lying on its back, guzzling a beer. There is the chicken from the Disney film Moana, the one with the Steve Buscemi eyes. There is a rubber chicken, a Chicken Little with a sad face holding a baseball hat. There are multiple “chicken crossing” signs.
It looks like one of those amazing niche museums you find in Middle American towns, where you stop to take pictures because you can’t believe someone loved chickens enough to make a chicken museum.
Cross Street Chicken is a bright, modern box on Convoy Street. Convoy being San Diego’s hub of Pacific Rim food, one of the city’s original restaurant rows. Where you get your ramens and bibimbaps and soup dumplings and delicious beef tongues on sticks. It’s where Asian expats find a taste of home, and where non-Asians discover specialties that widen their palates and scare the bejesus out of them.
But there’s nothing frightening about chicken. Specifically, Cross Street Chicken & Beer specializes in Korean fried chicken. Korean fried chicken is the best chicken. Its not-so-secret technique is twice-frying the wings and drumettes, which results in that cracked-glass crispy skin but moist meat inside. Plus, the sauces and flavors are wild and creative and, well, Korean.
Everyone who tries to park near Convoy feels like Sisyphus, rolling his fat stone up the hill while history laughs. Cross Street seems to have been erected in a corner of a parking lot, which means it took the place of some parking spots. I resent Cross Street Chicken for this.
I do not resent their chicken, which is very good, especially the lemon pepper wings served in a garlic butter sauce. So, yes, low fat. The skin is thicker than a DMV clerk’s. It explodes, and is tart and salty and all kinds of right. The beer-battered fries are also nice (browned, craggy, crispy, spackled with herbs), if not overly memorable among today’s competitive fry market. A side salad is somewhat sad, institutional. Then again, they do not have rubber salads and salad crossing signs. It’s about the chicken.
Service here is prompt, friendly. But the menu, at least at lunch, is the gun that shoots their foot. You can order a chicken plate, which comes with about six pieces and fries or rice and that half-hearted salad. Or you can order wings by the pound. That is all.
Here’s the problem: They have all of these wonderful-sounding flavors of Korean fried chicken: soy garlic, garlic Parmesan, “The OG,” salt and pepper, Thai chile, Seoul Spicy, lemon pepper, Sriracha lemon, etc. But you cannot mix, nor match. You can order only one kind by the pound.
“The kitchen has preset amounts of sauce for a pound,” explains my server. “We’re trying to fix that.”
That fix needs to happen. I understand the need for efficiency in a kitchen. Ordering a pound with every single flavor would be abusive. Cooks would cuss and quit. But Cross Street’s very appeal (besides a bevy of good craft beers on tap, and a nice shaded patio to drink those quality beers) are all these awesome-sounding fried chicken varieties. But I would have to order nine pounds of chicken to taste them all. I’d need a bigger table, and a bigger me. As it is, I ended up doing two pounds just so this review could have at least a semblance of depth.
So I urge Cross Street to let the people order two different kinds! Preset the ingredients for half portions. Or even three different kinds! Maybe keep large trays of samples in the back (cut into tiny, bite-size pieces) so that people can try a few before deciding which flavor they’ll commit to a pound of. I’d like to say I’ll go back nine times, or with eight other friends, so that we can try them all. But maybe I won’t. It’s a big city. There are lots of restaurants my prissy, high-maintenance mouth demands to be taken. Forced into their chicken monogamy (which I came to call “the Cross Street Burden”), I also committed to a pound of Seoul Spicy. While pretty tasty with a sticky coat of red pepper (Sichuan I believe, by the way my mouth buzzed and numbed), it was a tad too sweet and began to get on my nerves. I wanted to see other chicken. I wanted chicken polyamory. I kept looking at the sign, teasing me with all those flavors.
Maybe one of those flavors would’ve truly blown my mind. As it is, Cross Street only presents the illusion of choice, which is no choice at all.
4403 Convoy Street