First Taste

First Taste: Hot Chicken and Donkey Kong Are the Combo You Need

A full order of Nashville-style hot chicken from The Hot Chick
A full order of Nashville-style hot chicken from The Hot Chick Chris Malloy
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: The Hot Chick
Location: 4363 North 75th Street, Scottsdale
Open: Three months
Eats: Hot and fried chicken, plus relatives
Price: $10 to $25 per person
Hours: Monday and Tuesday 3 p.m. to midnight; Wednesday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Thursday 3 p.m. to midnight; Friday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to midnight.

click to enlarge When your table is a Donkey Kong arcade. - CHRIS MALLOY
When your table is a Donkey Kong arcade.
Chris Malloy
When you walk into downtown Scottsdale’s The Hot Chick during brunch on a Saturday, your expectations for the Nashville-style hot chicken free-fall. First, there are Mario and Frogger arcade games. Fried chicken and joysticks? Not the best one-two right there. Second, a party crowd fills the capacious space booming with DJ tunes, and the food seems to be an afterthought next to the retro bar and fleet of flatscreens. Third: You order from a retro camper.

The stand-like camper is painted with a kinking triple line of brown, red, and mustard-yellow. On its counter, below an analog menu and ceiling twisting with vents, you will find a jar of powdered sugar cookies made from potato chips. They cost $1 each.

How do those cookies, looking like stoner polvorones, shape chicken expectations? Well, you should probably save your dollar.

No longer expecting much, you sit down and plop the buzzing device on your table, waiting for it to jump and your food to come. The patio is a solid place to wait depending on the kindness of our Sonoran sun. Tunes are less loud. A fine mist descends. If you sit inside, though, you can catch a game. Or you can, if you sit at a table like the one with Donkey Kong under the glass and play a few levels before your food comes.

click to enlarge Que Pasa, a cocktail uniting tequila, elderflower, pineapple, lime, and agave. - CHRIS MALLOY
Que Pasa, a cocktail uniting tequila, elderflower, pineapple, lime, and agave.
Chris Malloy
The Hot Chick serves fried chicken, Nashville-style and old school. The chicken comes as golf ball-sized bites, larger cuts like thigh and breast, or in sandwiches. Wings, perfunctory salads, and some interesting sides like pimento mac and cheese and a “giant pickle” round out the tight menu. The best thing about the menu is off it: a sauce bar beside the retro camper, decked out with just about anything you’d want to put on chicken, from chile-pink aioli to vinegar.

So with brimming cups of sauce, I sat outside under misters, waiting for my big chicken order with small expectations. And as my margarita riff with pineapple rapidly vanished and the music swung from Jackson 5 to Beastie Boys to '80s hip-hop, something happened: I started to have pure fun.

If you’ve got free time and like to celebrate being alive, there’s a lot to like about this place. The exposed brick and retro-brown. The ordering camper and the DJ in his raised booth. And yes, even post-chicken, the arcade cluster where you can lose yourself up digital ladders and down tubular green drainpipes.

click to enlarge A fried chicken thigh sandwich with slaw. - CHRIS MALLOY
A fried chicken thigh sandwich with slaw.
Chris Malloy
The energy at The Hot Chick recalls that of the clubs on Indian Plaza a few blocks away, only a little slower and friendlier. But the energy is still fast and vibrant and grows on you, even with the shallow name and tepid margarita remix.

And against all odds, the chicken defies expectations.

Fried chicken sandwiches come on classic but denser buns, spilling their toppings. Those toppings include the likes of pimento cheese and bacon, or a drippy egg and fluffy maple butter bunned on a cut biscuit.

I went for a sammy heavy with breaded chicken thigh, a nicely spicy-sweet slaw, and pickled Fresno chiles. It was a good sandwich — the chicken tender, the slaw crisp and cool and hot — even if the bun was too prevalent in the ratio of bread to filling.

A whole basket of fried chicken has six pieces and costs $21. I thought I could finish one of these on top of the sandwich — a grave error. The pieces are huge with a crust that packs some shatter, thinly bursting and giving way to juicy inner chicken. Honestly, the chicken is surprisingly juicy, especially for a place in downtown’s Scottsdale’s club radius, where food isn’t top of mind.

click to enlarge Nugs with maple butter and a biscuit from The Hot Chick - CHRIS MALLOY
Nugs with maple butter and a biscuit from The Hot Chick
Chris Malloy
But The Hot Chick uses birds free of added hormones and antibiotics. This fried chicken won’t dethrone any of the Valley’s chicken elites, but it’s a good version in a good environment.

So if you’re kicking it by day or night in downtown Scottsdale and hungry, The Hot Chick should be on your radar if you’re within a few blocks. Before or after a long night, an order of “nugs” and the solid accompanying biscuit dunked in maple butter should hit the spot, or an Irish coffee with a cold-brew ice cube — even if the DJ music can feel thunderous, and even if the Nashville-style hot chicken could have more heat. 
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy