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Best chicken wings in Southern California

Apple Bourbon Chipotle Wings at Dirty Birds in San Diego. Photo by Rob Andrew

For many of us, chicken wings will forever be associated with sports bars, buffalo sauce, and cheap college-era eats, but the almighty wing can be so much more than just a gametime go-to alongside celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. Around Southern California, chefs are giving wings a global spin, glazing them with signature sauces, getting creative with garnishes, and turning up the heat.

Dirty Birds, San Diego

A basket of chicken wings with a side of celery and carrot sticks

Ghost Pepper Wings at Dirty Birds. Photo by Rob Andrew

If you can’t find a style you like at this quintet of wing joints around San Diego County, well you should just give up. Dirty Birds offers a whopping 40 types of wings ranging from the familiar to the uber-out-there.

Keep it tried-and-true with teriyaki, buffalo, or BBQ, or get wild with unique versions including salt-and-vinegar, wings done with island-style and Cajun dry rubs, and the locals’ fave: apple-bourbon chipotle.

Each menu offering is marked with its corresponding heat level, and those who can stand some scorch can opt for wings doused in habanero hot sauce or made with infamous ghost peppers, some of the hottest in the world. 

Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co., Los Angeles

The neighborhood pizza joint located below historic live-music venue Paramount LA churns out craft pies, piled-high fries, and whimsical wings—from mole to lemon-pepper to the fiery (and fun!) Flamin’ Hot Cheetos version.

In a nod to the quintessential “afterschool bodega snack,” Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. chef and pizzaiolo Jorge Sandoval coats the wings in crushed pieces of the spicy-crunchy corn puffs along with a house-made wing sauce and then gets extra cheesy with some oozy nacho cheese, crumbly cotija, and grated Parmesan, plus a glimmer of green with a handful of fresh cilantro to top off the dish. (323) 968-1106.

MRK Public, San Clemente

Inspired by the Asian flavors that surrounded him during the years he lived in Hawaii, chef-owner Rayne Frey first put these Vietnamese-style sticky wings on the menu when he opened his airy Orange County gastropub in 2014, and regulars haven’t let him take them off since.

The MRK Public kitchen makes each batch to order, frying up the wings before tossing them in a mix of his homemade chili paste and fish sauce–based simple syrup and then letting them caramelize in the pan. Frey’s self-described sticky-sweet-spicy-crunchy-gooey wings get finished with a sprinkle of fried garlic and plated with the pickled carrots and daikon that serve double duty on the pub’s pork belly banh mi.

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