Alibi V.28 No.20 • May 16-22, 2019 

Restaurant Review

Chicken Hotter Than A Phoenix

FireBird Hot Chicken lives up to the name

Not featured: the crazy red color of really cluckin’ hot
Not featured: the crazy red color of really cluckin’ hot
Eric Williams Photography

The explosion of chicken places here in Albuquerque hasn’t gone unnoticed. When it came to good chicken and waffles, most locals found their choices limited to a very select set of restaurants. Recently, it seems like people have caught up with the craze and now we have chicken and waffles everywhere. Did I intend that my first few months as editor of the food section would be spent eating mostly fried chicken and waffles? Absolutely not. In fact, my excitement came from the fact that I was going to be trying the newest styles of food and drink here in Albuquerque. Yet the universe has deemed it necessary that most new restaurants opening in the last few months feature my all time favorite, so how do I not try them?

When I was at Stripes Biscuit Co., I aimed for a large spread of things to try, but the newly opened Firebird Nashville Hot Chicken didn’t have those kinds of spread options. Yes, they offer BBQ pulled pork and chopped brisket, but the reality here is the chicken had to be the focus and standout for it to be a success.

Located in the Heights, FireBird is laid out simply inside, with ample seating for a small crowd and a focus on time spent eating with others rather than watching something on TV. The staff are very friendly, with huge smiles on their faces and a helpful attitude when ordering. For example, when I got up to the counter and ordered the chicken and waffles ($8), they asked me what sauce I wanted. My eyes caught the listing of heat from “none” all the way up to “really cluckin’ hot”. So I ordered a mild and a really cluckin’ hot, naturally, and the woman at the counter eyed me and asked “Are you sure? It’s a Carolina reaper and ghost pepper sauce.” I solemnly nodded, knowing full well how stupid a choice this was but committing anyway. People need to know if this heat is New Mexico True or another imposter to the throne in a town full of spicy.

When my food came, I didn’t even need to know what the hot option was. Sitting atop my waffle were two pieces of chicken, one with a gentle glisten and normal color, which I assumed to be the mild, and the other a dark, brilliantly deep red. My animal instincts kicked in, reminding me that any color like that means danger. With it came their collard greens, which I figured should probably be my starting point, just in case I lost access to taste afterward.

The collard greens ($3) were fantastic. With small chunks of pork within it, cooked down to perfection, they were full of sweetness and fatty goodness and didn’t last long in front of me. I jumped into the waffle, which was also great. A crispy exterior with a little fluffiness inside, drenched in butter and maple syrup by my own hand, I picked away at the majority of it that hadn’t touched the really cluckin’ hot chicken. I followed up with the mild sauce piece and devoured it faster than I’d like to admit. The chicken is super juicy, the skin is crispy and crunchy, and the mild sauce helped bring out some of the best flavors in the chicken, without detracting a thing. Full disclosure: I went back and ordered another piece of the mild because it was that good.

I had avoided it long enough. That dark red chicken was staring at me from the plate, and I back at it. We both knew what was next, pain and fear at the forefront of my mind. I imagine that anytime someone orders really cluckin’ hot, the staff sits with bated breath and watches to see the brave struck down by fire. I’m no stranger to hot sauce, regularly pushing my limits with some of the hottest sauces out there in the company of friends, both for taste and masochistic delight. But in the infamous words of Illidan Stormrage of Warcraft fame, “You are not prepared.”

I made a mistake. When picking up the chicken to move it and better prepare myself—while wasting time from the actual task at hand—I accidentally covered my fingers in the sauce and absentmindedly licked them clean. What was supposed to be a baby step into the heat to test the waters became a cannonball to the depths of the deep end and very quickly, I realized my feet had just touched the bottom of the pool. Like someone who realizes too late that they’ve taken way too much acid at the club, everything around me became silent as a fire rushed across not just my tongue, but also my soul. I became Drogon and was ready to physically spout flames from my mouth at the nearest target to me.

I’ll say this: The sauce tasted great. There are a lot of sauces out there that purport to be hot, and absolutely are, but still taste horrible. A balance must be struck between heat and flavor. While some masterfully pull off the combo, others fail horrifically. This was not the case with FireBird. This sauce carried a taste of pepper that laid on the tongue and was quite nice, despite the feeling of my tongue being seared off. It paired well with the chicken once I took a bite, and was great overall.

Was it the hottest sauce I’ve ever had? No, but I’d put it in my Top Three for sure. Was it the best tasting super-hot sauce I’ve ever had? Arguably yes. Especially at the price point it was sold at, it became all the more attractive. FireBird is a great addition to the Heights, offering a wide array of heat choices for some killer chicken. And for those wondering—like I found out in a mad rush to the counter—they do sell milk by the glass.

FireBird Nashville Hot Chicken

3105 Eubank Blvd. NE

Hours: Seven days a week, 11am-8pm
Vibe: Hot chicken in a family friendly setting
Alibi recommends: Chicken, hot sauce based on comfort level