Chicken wings are the consummate beer snack. In pubs the world over, you'll find fried chicken wings, but today, we're talking specifically about Buffalo wings. The problem with most Buffalo wings? They're puny, overcooked, and dipped in a red, flavorless vinegar excuse-for-a-sauce.
Having spent my college days in upstate New York, home turf of the dish, I've been exposed to the pinnacle of wings. The best I've ever eaten was at the now-closed bar in Cortland, New York called The Rafters. They sourced especially meaty, pterodactyl-sized behemoths. Fried to a crisp exterior and a moist interior, they were coated with a thick sticky sauce of melted butter, Tabasco-type of red pepper sauce and world-class wizardry.
For a while there, Orange Countians could get searing-spicy, garlic-overload wings at Stanton's Kyochon Chicken, but like The Rafters, they've gone out of business too.
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Why do the great ones flame out? I'm inevitably disappointed whenever I eat wings but I order them anyway, like Charlie Brown kicking the football. Tried the ones at the Buffalo Wild Wings recently--meh. Tried the ones at Costa Mesa's Wing Stop one night near closing time, and was served reheated, leftover wings, so I never saw a reason to return. If you're truly desperate or lazy, Domino's delivers chicken wings too. Sad to say, mediocrity is the rule, not the exception. Is there nowhere that serves a memorable, well-prepared Buffalo wing?
The long-running champion of wings round these parts quietly does its thing in downtown Huntington Beach. As Main Street morphs into an Irvine Company-looking commercial district around it, The Longboard Pub keeps on, unchanging and casual as ever. They've been feeding the locals great wings for as long as I've lived in OC.
Fried crisp and sauced with either the spicy Buffalo sauce, or their Jammin' Jerk sauce. The latter is a sweet glaze, studded with black pepper, rosemary and thyme. It's different, and yes, it strays from the Buffalo archetype I promised I'd stick to. You should order one of each, and bring friends to help out. One order is big enough to share while you're sipping on the bar's own Longboard ale, and you'll have more room to order the other pub favorites like the garlic cheese bread dunked into their clam chowder.
Longboard Restaurant and Pub, 217 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-1896. www.longboardpub.com; Happy Hour is 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. An order of wings costs $5.95.