Food & Drink: Dave’s Hot Chicken Looks to Heat Up Tualatin

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“It blew my mind,” Alex Karcher recalled when he first tasted Dave’s Hot Chicken, “I loved the product.” It was at that moment that Karcher, Principal Operator of JCK Birdz in Eugene, and Jeremy Johnson, Director of Operations, knew that they had to bring the L.A. based “Nashville-style” hot chicken concept to Oregon. 

The Dave’s Hot Chicken brand began its humble journey in 2017 with four friends, the money in their pockets, a tent in an East Hollywood parking lot and a dream… making Hot Chicken “better than anyone else in America!” What happened next no one could have anticipated hour-long lines, sold-out nights and swarms of hungry Dave’s Hot Chicken fans clamoring for their share of the scrumptiously spicy chicken tenders. A brick-and-mortar storefront followed shortly thereafter on New Years Day of 2018, and they haven’t looked back since. 

The Nyberg Rivers store, scheduled to celebrate their Grand Opening on Thursday, April 29, is the first in Oregon, but the 11th overall in a steady stream of openings over the past few years, with nine stores in the greater Los Angeles area and San Diego, one in Toronto, along with Denver and two more California locations scheduled to open later this year. When asked, “Why Tualatin?,” Johnson quickly replied, “We loved the vibrancy out here on Nyberg,” as he noted the scores of patrons in the shopping center and the cars lined up on the thoroughfare. “This area is always full of life — always busy,” Karcher chimed in, “this was the right place to be.”

Alex Karcher (left) and Jeremy Johnson … and a rubber chicken. (Brandon Epland/Tualatin Life)

The menu is deceptively simple, Hot Chicken Tenders, solo or as sliders, but the nuance comes in the seven different available spice blends, each in varying degrees of spiciness, ranging from “No Spice” for beginners, to the daunting “Reaper” for those who appreciate and can handle their… um, heat. Dave’s Hot Chicken starts with only the best quality and most tender chicken, then employs a brine devised by chef and co-founder, David Kopushyan, who studied under world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller at Bouchon, then fried and seasoned to mouth-watering perfection. Mac and Cheese, Kale Slaw and Fries (with or without cheese) round out the Sides menu, with house-made Pickles and “Dave’s Sauce” accompanying every order.

I got the incredible opportunity to attend an early tasting, which also served as a training session for the horde of eager employees that Dave’s management team carefully vetted in the past two months of preparation. The spot was rippling with energy and anticipation for the ever-approaching opening, highlighted by “pump-you-up” music that will make anyone ready to dig into some chicken. Staff uniforms are emblazoned with clever “punny” slogans, including “Laugh Now, Fry Later” and “Rise-N-Brine,” which, in actuality, are all words to live by.

Allow me to say, that upon receiving my orders (I got Combos #1- two tenders, #2- two sliders, and #3- one tender and one slider) it was love at first sight — perfectly fried chicken, a deck of sliced pickles and a mound of spice dusted crinkle-cut fries that brought back wonderful childhood memories. The chicken breast tenders are large and plump, moist and juicy and extremely… well, for lack of a better word, tender! I dabbled with different degrees of “heat” for my hot chicken, as Dave’s allows you to mix-and-match seasonings within a combo. The entry-level “no spice” afforded me the chance to really appreciate the flavor that the brine adds to the chicken. “Mild” takes a bit of a jump with a nice introductory heat, that maps out a route of where this “spice journey” is headed. “Medium” made me wake up a bit, tingling the lips with a spice that resonated on the roof of my mouth… in a sense, pushing the boundaries of my spice tolerance. “Hot” is where this wuss topped out, as the delicious intensity of the heat caused my brow to bead with sweat and take full advantage of my refreshing soft drink and soothing pickles. “Extra Hot” and the legendary “Reaper” are available for those who like to taste and feel the “burn,” with the latter described to me by Karcher as “disorientingly hot,” to which Johnson added, “I had Reaper Tenders for breakfast… and I feel great.” Dave’s Hot Chicken offers Vanilla, Strawberry and Chocolate Shakes to quell any lingering heat, as well as an array of adult beverages.    

Dave’s Hot Chicken’s budding emergence in Tualatin has created “buzz” among many locals in the area. Once open, the restaurant looks to offer both takeout and sit-down service thanks to a hybrid indoor/outdoor dining room, taking advantage of the open-air environment and the great weather that’s right around the corner, while also protecting the safety of the guests and staff. “We’re excited to open,” added Karcher, in regards to opening a restaurant amid a pandemic, “help bring the restaurant scene back… and realize that there is a sense of normalcy coming back, will be hugely beneficial to the community.” I believe we can all look forward to that…and some delicious hot chicken!

Dave’s Hot Chicken is located at 7715 SW Nyberg Street in Tualatin (In the old Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill building). Visit www.daveshotchicken.com for menu and hours.