ChickeNest - La Mesa, CA
Here a chick, there a chick, everywhere a chick, chick........Could be the theme song for ChickeNest in La Mesa. It's certainly the first thing you see when you walk in the door. The interior is a pleasing pink and green color scheme with comfy booths along the wall and agumented by an assortment of tables seating anywhere from 1 - 8 people. But nearly every inch of wall space is covered with chicken memorabilia, and get this, it doesn't really look kitschey.
Oh, and the other thing you notice right away when you walk in is that the average age of customers is probably around 70. I was BY FAR the youngest person in the place.
The claim to fame here is, obviously, chicken. They do it two ways, roasted or grilled. It comes in a variety of combinations. You get, whole, half or quarters, and there is no surcharge for getting the breast quarter. You can get chicken ala carte to go, you can get it as part of a dinner w/sides, or you can get it with either soup or a Greek or Ceasar salad. Sides include potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, 3-bean salad, baked beans, green beans, rice, country potatoes, french fries, baked potato, mashed potato, corn and finally gravy.
In addition to all the chicken choices, they also offer a full service breakfast menu, a vast array of deli sandwiches and other hot entrees such as charbroiled salmon, meatloaf, brisket, stuffed cabbage and BBQ ribs. Nothing on the menu is over $10.00. The ChickeNest Breakfast Special (also called the Eye Opener) is 2 slices of French Toast OR 2 pancakes with 2 eggs any style and 3 pieces of bacon or sausage for $4.99 M-Th and $5.49 on holidays and weekend. Their breakfast menu also listed Biscuits and Homemade Gravy. Someone needs to check that out and see if it's really homemade or not.
This is industrial strength food. It's solid, reliable, meat and potatoes, not terribly creative home cooking. I ordered the Chicken & Salad, listed in the menu (complete with picture) as a quarter roasted chicken and a Greek salad. It arrived quickly on 2 separate glass plates. The chicken looked rather lonely on it's large plate devoid of any garnish or accompaniment; the photo in the menu showed chicken and salad on the same plate, though in reality it would have been too hard to eat if it had all been on the same plate. The chicken also looked a lot like it been held under a heat lamp a little too long. The skin was crisp if not somewhat tacky. The meat on the leg quarter was good, and not fatty. It wasn't especially moist, nor was it dried out, but the chicken's biggest offense was that it had very little seasoning. The true chicken flavor came through, but it was rather bland and a little boring, it could have stood being kicked up a little. It's definitely not the best chicken I've ever eaten. I can roast a better chicken, I can buy a better chicken at Costco or Von's. Heck, City College has rotisserie chicken and it's even better than this chicken was.
The Greek salad on the other hand was a winner. It too, was made with industrial products, but the salad worked. The entire 9" dinner plate was piled with the usual 3-way salad mix, i.e. chopped iceberg to which shredded carrots and red cabbage have been added. It was topped with a shower of Feta cheese with a nice bite, some thinly sliced red onion rings, a few sliced canned beets, 2 or 3 Kalamata olives, pieces of zucchini and cucumber, all topped off with a few too many pepperocinis (I have no idea what pepperocinis were doing on a Greek salad but they tasted good). The greens had been dressed with a light oil and vinegar dressing that helped pull the salad together without masking all the different flavors.
The warm half baguette served with the meal was great. Crusty, chewy, yeasty and made all the better by being slathered with real butter.
The ChickeNest is located at 7200 Parkway Dr., which runs parallel to I-8. It's 2 blocks east of Lake Murray Blvd. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and also provide catering. There is a small deli and they do offer deli breads and some deli meats to go, along with family dinners which are quite reasonably priced. There is also a ChickeNest in Kearny Mesa located at 8046 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
In spite of the only so-so chicken, I would go back to The ChickeNest. The ambiance is nice, the service is fast, friendly and efficient. It a decent neighborhood place serving large portions of reasonably well prepared (though somewhat uninspired) food, at a very reasonable cost. If you're a local to this particular area of San Diego it's a nice alternative to the chain restaurants on every other corner.
It is sunny. In the distance you see a rainbow sprouting from the sun and arching over a golden cloud. Off of that cloud you see hundreds of chickens jumping from off of the cloud on to the rainbow… sliding down and into a golden roasting campfire down below. As the chickens hit the camp fire, one by one they dance the chicken dance and jump out, cooked to perfection. Their juicy plump thighs getting seasoned by a large rooster with a chef’s hat on. As they get glazed and sprinkled with succulent seasonings, they cackle with enjoyment as they realize what works of perfection they have become. In the distance you hear a feint breeze whispering over the canyon as if to be the voice of God looking down on the chickens saying “you are my most wonderful creation.”
The scene pans to a restaurant. No, not just any restaurant… is it? could it be?? YES! It is the chickenest!
In goes the chickens, one by one through the back door. Out the front door, as if by assembly line, comes dancing chicken buckets clucking and steaming with auras of succulence. Each chicken followed by one piece of bred, some rice, and a little container of chicken gravy.
Picture now, that your sitting in the parking lot of this magical establishment. Imagine the tasty odors emanating from the baskets as they approach your car. You quickly pull out a white sack and open it wide. As if by magic, each and every one of the chicken buckets and accessories leap into your sack, shrinking to miniscule sizes. As you watch this, slowly imagining the sheer bliss that awaits in eating these masterpieces, the bag soon fills. As the last chicken approaches, the bag shines with a gleaming glow, and you hear a symphony of chicken cackling that fills your very being. You close the basket and start your engine, and quickly drive home.
As you drive you are entranced by the visions that you have beheld, and contemplate the many splendors that await you upon your unpacking of the most chickenest sack of food ever conceived by man.
You approach your home. You open the bag, and out springs all the chicken buckets, filling the room with many countless dancing beings surrounding your room and your senses. With a mystical look in your eyes, your mouth waters as you reach out for your first chicken bucket. You stretch your hands out, pry off the lid. It is the most amazing thing you have ever seen!!! Your heart almost leaps out of your chest with amazement… THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING PIECE OF CHICKEN YOU HAVE EVER SEEN!!!
You grip the chicken. Tears of happiness stream down your cheeks. You open your mouth, ready to take the first bite…
Your clock alarm wakes you up. Groggy, you stumble to open your eyes. Tears well up in your eyes from the disappointment you are burdened by. You quickly come back to reality, and are soothed, as you realize… this dream DOES have a happy ending, for there IS a chickenest! And you woke up early! You hop into your car and drive as fast as you can to your destination. You chuckle and think to yourself “time to make my dream a reality!” as you see chickenest on the horizon.
…TO BE CONTINUED!!!
Thanks for the leg work...I drive past that place almost every day. My wife loves mid-west comfort food things and is always trying to get me to Koo-Koo-Roo type places. This sounds like it would be right up here alley.
On a side note, the Don Primo Bolivian place i was talking about earlier (the one by the La Mesa Anthony's) has changed and is now a Mexican place. I think it is called Mr. Joey's.
Do you know any El Salvadorian places? I had a good buddy who's g-ma would bring us down papusas. Also tamales wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks. Serious good stuff. Something I haven't had in a while.
Yes, as a matter of fact I do know a decent place for Salvadoreno food. Believe it or not, the U/T acutally wrote the place up.
After getting the Thanksgiving turkey on and a few other things ready to go, I sat down to read the paper. Imagine my shock and surprise at seeing the lead review by Maria Hunt in the Night/Day section of the U/T. I had no idea they reviewed houndish places, and she practically swooned over this place. Now, I actually like Maria Hunt's reviews, but I always look at the U/T restaurant reviews with a skeptical eye, especially when they involve less mainstream choices.
A few day later I collected Chilepm and we went off to see for ourselves, as it appeared a number of other folks did too since we all had that "deer in the headlights" look on our faces when we popped our heads in the door upon entry. The name of the place is El Salvador Restaurant, or maybe Restaurante El Salvador, and they have both a Salvadoreno menu and a Mexican menu. It's located 1 short block West of the I-15 on University. You can't miss it. First it's an old Pizza Hut building with that distinctive roof design, and two sides of the building are tan and the other 2 sides are blue. There is a parking lot which is shared with a Mexican market. I suspect both operations are probably under the same ownership.
When you walk in you can either seat yourself or order at the counter. The Salvadoreno menu is small. It includes several types of pupusas, several plantain dishes, a couple of soups and a couple of other entree type plates. Once you order, they will bring you a dish of chips and a thin red salsa along with a clear plastic jug with the pickled cabbage (curtado?)garnish that is used extensively in El Salvador. The chips are thicker, tougher and chewier, similar to what you might find in a Mexican resto in Mexico. The red salsa, was very, very mild, but had a mildly addictive quality. The cabbage, El Salvador's verison of Kim Chee, was tangy, but once again, not hot and spicy. While waiting for our food we discovered that if you put the cabbage on a chip and topped it with some of the red sauce that it was pretty tasty.
We split their top of the line pupusa (which, if memory serves was less than $2.00). Excellent. We tried the black beans with fried plantains with crema. I'm used to eating plantains with rice and crema which is one of my favorite comfort foods. They were equally tasty with the black beans, but this is a heavy dish, a very heavy dish and is at it's peak when everything is hot, which isn't a problem because all our food arrived from the kitchen piping hot. Once the plantains begin to cool off, though, they become pretty leaden. The portion on the pupusa wasn't that large, the portion on the black beans and plantains was very generous, it was more than enough for the 2 of us sharing.
One of the wonders of the Latin kitchen are their soups. I learned to love and eat many of them when I lived in central Mexico years ago. Chava's in San Fransisco serves a great Caldo de Ris and a great Caldo de Pollo, which are great bowls of a fragrant broth filled with chunks of earthy vegetables and pieces of meat (bone and all), along with chopped cilantro, lime wedges and diced onion. I've yet to find a Mexcian restaurant here in San Diego that serves a really great bowl of soup, soo I had to try El Salvador Restaurant's Sopa de Pollo. It arrived as a large bowl of chicken broth with equally large chuncks of onion, carrot and chayote. A very crisply cooked chicken leg quarter arrived on the side, looking very much like it may have been cooked under a brick. The chicken was juicy and flavorful. To eat it you were supposed to pull it off the bone and add it to the soup. The soup also came accompanied by a couple of lime wedges to squeeze into the soup. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it's a pretty good start and the best version I've found so far. I think it was around $5.00 or $5.25. This would make a nice bowl of soup on a cold day, but then we don't know what cold days are here anymore.
There is little in the way of ambiance in this place. It's an old Pizza Hut and it still feels like an old Pizza Hut. Service is friendly, but not always especially swift or attentive. Maria Hunt was unstinting in her praise for this place. I didn't swoon over it, but I did find it to be very good and very tasty.
One last warning, though. The food does not taste especially salty when you're eating it, but both Chilepm and I were plagued by extreme thirst for the rest of the afternoon after we ate. Drink lots of fluid along with your meal.
If you are ever slumming--or heading to Phoenix--let me know and I can direct you to a wonderful caldo out here in Yuma. Caldos (rarely called sopas here) seem to be a local specialty. One place always has Caldo de Res as lunch special, and several of my favorite places will often feature one soup (de pollo, or posole, or de res, or albondigas, or menudo) as a daily special. They put the yum in Yuma (sorry for the bad joke, but it is not original. The best Chinese place in town is Yummy-Yummy).
re: David Naimark
I posted about Yuma Mexican food places last Dec 9 on the SW board and about non-Mexican spots a few days later. If you are only going to be in town for a day or two, let me know, as I sometimes have an idea what the lunch specials will be at some of my favorite spots.
Thanks for the great write-up on the El Salvador. Diana has been after me to take her to this place since we first drove by it several months ago, and your lovely description convinced us to head down University yesterday afternoon for a snack. Like you, I didn't catch the exact name, but the sign advises that they have Salvadorian (sic) food.
I had a Pupusa with Jalapeno -- excellent. Spicy, but not as hot as I had imagined it would be. Diana had a Pupusa Revuelta with chicharron (I think, it's really chorizo), black beans and cheese). She also had a Tamal de elote con crema -- a fluffy corn tamal, a little crispy on the outside, and kind of sweet with only a hint of cheese. It was served with crema on the side. We also enjoyed the Salvadoran Kim Chee.
I've had pupusas before, but not many, and not for a long time. I had just finished eating mine and had put down my fork when I looked over and saw a (Salvadoran?) family being served. The mom put a big tong-ful of the kim chee right on top of her pupusa and picked the whole thing up in her hands like a tostada. I suddenly felt like the consummate gringo.
We also had Diet Cokes (which I think were specially bought for us at the adjoining market). Next time I'll have a licuada de chocolate.
Also on the menu were pupusas de loroco. The hostess/waitress (who, BTW is from Mexico) told me that lororco was a kind of flower. Back home, I googled it and found that loroco is indeed a pungently aromatic flower that grows wild in Central America and is used in the local cuisine. According to the article I read, though, it loses most of its flavor when frozen for shipment to the US. I still want to try it. They also had several dishes that featured yucca root, but we were just there for a snack, and these looked like entrees.
We'll surely go back again to this place that felt like a little loncheria in rural Mexico. The only cautions I would sound would be to avoid visiting their restroom, and to obey the sign that says, "Don't open this door." ;-)
. . jim strain
p.s. The "Mexican" menu, more extensive than the Salvadoran, also looked good. How 'bout an order of fries covered with pollo asado, guacamole, and cheese? Heart attack on tortilla. MMMM.
re: Jim Strain
Jim and Gayla, thanks for your responses.
I went over there, and the pupusas (and the yucca) were very good.
They would be perfect if they had half the cheese.
I had 4 different pupusas, I left really full.
below is their address/phone:
El Salvador Pupuseria y Restaurante, 3824 University Ave, City Heights