Over-the-Top Chicken Sandwiches

Courtesy photo

Baba’s Hot Chicken has opened at 406 University Avenue in Hillcrest, adding an already-popular fast casual concept to San Diego’s growing hot chicken scene and giving locals a new way to experience one of this year’s biggest culinary trends. This is the first San Diego outpost for Baba’s Hot Chicken, an independent brand that began as a small yet sought-after pop-up concept and has today grown to three locations in the Southern California region.

On the menu, the signature Baba’s Hot Sandwich and Mini Baba are layered with fried chicken tenders, slaw, pickles and house sauce with more add-ons available. For something different, Baba’s Loaded Fries are topped with chopped chicken, cheese, house sauce, ranch and slaw – or guests can opt for classic Baba’s Hot Tenders on white bread. Southern-influenced sides include Mac & Cheese and Fried Pickles, and off-menu specials give guests the option to replace sandwich buns with grilled cheeses or add a hefty serving of mac & cheese onto a hot chicken sandwich. Throughout its menu, Baba’s Hot Chicken uses halal, hormone-free chicken and a few imported, proprietary spices for a distinct flavor profile.

“We researched in depth how Nashville makes its hot chicken, not just the seasoning but the entire process. Then, we added a little twist with spices you won’t experience at other hot chicken places,” said founder Mahmoud “Mike” Hemood. “I love the loaded fries, but if it’s your first time get the chicken sandwich.”

Hemood is a fried chicken enthusiast with a true rags-to-riches story. Born in Iraq in the 1990s, his family lived in Jordan as refugees and endured poverty for several years. As a child he dreamed of tasting fried chicken, but never did as it was too expensive; instead, family meals involved more affordable staples like eggs, rice and spaghetti. At age ten Hemood moved to California, living in several cities but always visiting San Diego a half-dozen times each year, in large part due to El Cajon’s well-known Iraqi cuisine.

“When we came to the United States we started eating nicer things; for example, I didn’t taste shrimp until I was twelve years old,” said Hemood. “I had always wanted to try fried chicken, but my parents never had the opportunity to take us to KFC because they couldn’t afford it. But when we came to the states my dad took me to Popeye’s and I became hooked on fried chicken.”

Later, as a university student studying accounting, Hemood developed an at-home hot chicken recipe that he began making for friends; it was so well received that he bought an $80 fryer off Amazon and began a Baba’s Hot Chicken pop-up while still in school. Within nine months, he had opened the first permanent Baba’s Hot Chicken within the Riverside Food Lab, followed by a location in Costa Mesa and then Hillcrest, with plans for additional San Diego locations on the way. As Baba’s Hot Chicken expands, he remains committed to giving back to those in need.

“We’re huge on helping the less fortunate. That’s been our biggest thing since we started Baba’s,” said Hemood. “Even before we became brick and mortar we would donate a lot to orphanages, especially internationally as that money goes a long way.”

Baba’s Hot Chicken is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and currently offers takeout through online ordering and via phone at (619) 600-0080. Learn more and order at www.babashotchicken.com and follow alongside Baba’s more than 51K Instagram fans at @babas_chicken.