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HOWLIN RAY’S SERVES UP NASHVILLE HOT CHICKEN IN DTLA’S CHINATOWN

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We were recently on a weekend getaway to Nashville and while we were there we tried to eat some Nashville Hot Chicken at this restaurant called Hattie B’s.  I say “tried to eat at” because every time we went to the restaurant there was a massive line outside with a 2 hour wait. Needless to say, we never got to try this infamous Hattie B’s hot chicken.  Well, flash forward a few days and we are back home in Downtown Los Angeles.  Suddenly right there in the DTLAexplorer Instagram feed was a photo from Howlin Ray’s Nashville Hot Chicken restaurant right here in DTLA.

I’ve heard about this place for a few weeks. Now after all the hype about hot chicken in Nashville we needed to check this place out, so off we go to the Chinatown.  Howlin Ray’s is located in the Far East Plaza, home of Cheego, Pok-Pok and Ramen Champ.  We arrived just before noon on Sunday, thinking we would beat any lunchtime rush.  We were wrong.  The line outside Howlin Ray’s was huge.  It wrapped around the picnic tables in the corridor and back toward the center of the plaza.  We jumped to the end of the line and slowly started creeping forward.  As you stand there moving ever so slowly, you watch the people who already have already waited in line finally sit down and start enjoying their hot chicken. My husband was getting annoyed at this one woman who knew everyone in line was watching her, so she was eating it in slow-motion, savouring every bite.  Not to be crass, but she was making love to that chicken and enjoying the attention.  So rude, right?

As people exit the restaurant, the people in line try to peek inside their to-go boxes to see what they ordered.  Everyone in line is discussing what they were going to order and how hot they were going to order it.  I changed my mind 6 or 7 times and didn’t really make up my final decision until we approached the door, and that took just about an hour.  Yes, we waited in line for an hour for some hot chicken.

Once inside you place your order at the register.    White or dark meat?  Half or whole?  Breast or wings?  The sandwich or the chicken and waffles?  …and finally the most important question, “How hot do you want your chicken?”  Howlin Ray’s has six layers of heat starting at Country that has no heat, moving up to Mild with a brush of heat, Medium where you feel the burn, Hot that’s described as burn baby burn, X-Hot that comes with the disclaimer that you’ve been warned and then the mother of all hotness… Howlin!  Can’t Touch This.  10++.  Okay, you have been in line for an hour.  When you get to the register you better be ready.  There is a line of hungry people behind you.  Make it snappy and keep this line moving.

I was quite conservative on the heat meter and ordered my chicken with Mild heat. My husband went for the Medium.  Once you place your order you get a number.  Now you wait again for your number to be called.  This is when you start looking for seats. There are about 12 seats inside the restaurant, and plenty of picnic tables outside in the plaza. We were lucky enough to nab seats inside at the counter overlooking all the action in the kitchen.  As we waited (and salivated) for our food, we watched the chefs in action.  They are cooking chicken non-stop.  Every few minutes the chef calls a number.  It’s like the lottery, even though you know your number, you check your ticket just make sure.  It was probably just a few minutes, but it felt like another hour. Finally, our number was called and our food was ready.

I ordered the Chicken Sandwich ($11) made up of a boneless breast topped with slaw, their signature comeback sauce and pickles on a butter bun.  Mild was just the right amount of spice for me.  The piece of chicken was huge, sticking out of both sides of the bun.  Let me tell you, the first bite was worth the wait.  Delicious.  I also ordered a side of extra pickles ($1).

My husband got the Skinny Jimmy ($8).  It was a boneless breast of chicken covered in dark red spices. He likes things a little spicy and he thought Medium was perfect. He was obsessed with his side of Hot Shake Fries ($3).  These are crinkle cut French fries tossed in spices.  Get this, he ate them in slow-motion, knowing that everyone in line was watching him.  I guess that’s a right you earn after waiting in line?

As we devoured our food we sparked up a quick conversation with the chef.  My husband asked him just how hot was the Hot level of heat and the chef gave him a Hot wing.  Now my husband likes things hot, but this wing made him break into a sweat.  At one point, he was laying pickle chips on his tongue to cool it down.  It was so hot, but he continued to eat it.  I think his heat tolerance lies somewhere between the Medium and the Hot.   I tried his Medium, and it was too hot for me.  There was no way I was putting Hot in my mouth!  We watched plenty of people come in and order the Howlin level of heat.  I don’t know how they do it.  Do they even have taste buds left?

Howlin Ray’s serves all natural, hormone and antibiotic free chicken, and it’s fried in 100% peanut oil.  You can taste the quality.  I love chicken sandwiches and Howlin Ray’s chicken sandwich is as good, and maybe even better than the chicken sandwiches from Ludo Bird and Birdies.  The restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11am until 4pm (or until they run out of chicken).  Oh, and by the way, the Chicken and Waffles special is only served on weekends.

Howlin Ray’s Nashville Hot Chicken 727 N. Broadway Avenue (inside the Far East Plaza) in Chinatown 213.935.8399 howlinrays.com

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