First Taste

First Taste: We Signed the Waiver for XXXHot at Mrs. Chicken in Phoenix

Trying the XXXHot at Mrs. Chicken.
Trying the XXXHot at Mrs. Chicken. Lauren Cusimano
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: Mrs. Chicken
Location: 4011 North 32nd Street
Open: Six weeks
Eats: Nashville-style hot chicken
Price: $10 to $15 per person
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday

The history of Nashville hot chicken is a fun one. It’s said Thornton Prince was served an extra-spicy plateful of fried chicken by a pissed-off girlfriend who’d noticed his wandering eye, but it backfired. Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, and later the nation’s hot chicken craze, was born.

click to enlarge The sign for Mrs. Chicken on 32nd Street. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The sign for Mrs. Chicken on 32nd Street.
Lauren Cusimano
But the history of Phoenix hot chicken is a short one. Monroe’s Hot Chicken opened in February 2019, and Mrs. Chicken opened in April. And yes, many more are on the way.


Mrs. Chicken was opened by George Frasher, chef and owner of Frasher’s Smokehouse — which sits across the street in this transforming Arcadia 'hood.

The menu is well trimmed here, offering the choice of leg or breast, a chicken sandwich, tenders, wings, and sides like dry-rub crinkle fries, red beans and rice, and baked potato salad. A beverage purchase means a go at the typical soda fountain soft drinks. And yes, you will be grateful for those free refills soon.

But what will draw your eye on the menu are the spice levels.

There’s the classic, or no heat, followed by mild, medium, hot. The short description will help, i.e. hot is compared to a summer day in Phoenix, and the XXXHot will “burn your face off.” It also requires a signed waiver.

click to enlarge You're asked to sign a waiver if you order the XXXHot. - BRI MALLOY
You're asked to sign a waiver if you order the XXXHot.
Bri Malloy
When ordering the breast quarter, spice level XXXHot, the friendly cashier will give you a final out, but when she or he sees you mean business, the waiver is produced. You’re then free to fill your cup and have a seat in the farmhouse-style dining area.

Food is brought out unless the place is hopping busy — which it can be around lunchtime proper.

Initially, the XXXHot doesn’t seem like such a tough character — more delicious than anything. The highest spice level is delivered on the bird in a kind of goopy coating — the perfect amount, too. And the skin is still crispy, crunchy, under there. So you want to start right away.

It’s going to get messy, but it’s going to be good.

The first couple bites require some sharp inhaling — that weird reverse hissing we make when something is burning, temperature or otherwise. But about bite four, after you’ve been tearing and pulling the chicken apart, knowing you wear that sauce smell on your fingers for the rest of the day, you start to feel it.

It begins on the forehead as perspiration, which may also be because of the restaurant's temperature. It’s a little warm to start with, lending almost to an authentic farmhouse-porch feel. You’re grateful for the plastic basket of napkins at the table. No one gives you a second look for forehead- and neck-mopping.

Then, you feel it in your stomach.

click to enlarge You'll start to feel the burn about here. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
You'll start to feel the burn about here.
Lauren Cusimano
A burn starts to rise inside, which alerts the eater to take some action. That action, if you got the crinkle-cut fries, comes in the form of a selection of dressings.

Neighboring the soda fountain, a chilled bin of squeeze bottles are labeled as ranch, honey mustard, a mix of ranch and the dry rub on the fries, and even some more hot sauce in case you chickened out and went for the mild level from the jump.

A heavy dip of fries in ranch cools the burning in your gut. Soda helps, too, as does the piece of white bread found squished beneath the helping of hot chicken.

click to enlarge Decor inside Mrs. Chicken in Arcadia. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Decor inside Mrs. Chicken in Arcadia.
Lauren Cusimano
There’s no telling how you’ll feel later, but right now, as you’re taking on the ceiling-level spice flavor, you feel accomplished, unstoppable, if not a little sweaty.

The portions are a good size here, so there's no shame in not finishing simply because there's a lot of chicken. But if you can stomach it, don’t sleep on dessert — especially if the gooey butter cake is on the menu.

For $4, it seems like a petite slice at first. But it’s so rich, dense, and yes, gooey and buttery, that you feel like an absolute hedonist even if you’re splitting with someone. It also helps cool off the bubbling XXXHot in your works.

click to enlarge Don't snooze on this butter cake. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Don't snooze on this butter cake.
Lauren Cusimano
So, is the XXXHot chicken here waiver-worthy?

You won't think so at first. But overall, perhaps yes. It’s not going to put anyone in the hospital (we say not confidently), but the XXXHot is certainly uncomfortable, though very tasty, and at least deserves a warning. But you can easily finish it if you normally go in for heat.

This caution is also necessary from a small restaurant business's perspective, since they can't just return your money, or whip you up another, milder batch, just because you can't hang.

But the chicken here is good, worth enjoying coated under maybe just a hot or mild. Some people may just want lunch, not a food challenge, before returning to the office for another four hours.
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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano