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The Contender: Dirty Birds

With 30-plus sauces, the P.B. success story is in the running for best wings

By Troy Johnson


It took a few years, but I finally finished reading Dirty Birds’ menu. What an epoch. Peter Jackson should adapt it into a movie starring hobbits. There are naked wings, lemon pepper wings, salt & vinegar, garlic parm, Hawaiian, chicken enchilada, Old Bay, apple-bourbon chipotle, dirty jerk, dirty ranch, maple-chipotle, Asian-orange, General Tso’s, Seoul wings, flaming honey mustard, habanero-lime, you name it. Thirty-plus sauces in all, one for every available brand of blood-thinner. So, obviously, variety is the main allure (but not the only one) of the mini-chain started in Pacific Beach in 2008.

DB has gotten some national attention for their efforts, named among the best wings joints in the U.S. by Yahoo Sports and The Daily Meal. It should be noted that they have a PR firm with national representation, which helps a restaurant make lists like these. But sometimes restaurants have good PR because they’re good enough to warrant spending money on someone who’ll spread their gospel. There’s no denying Dirty Birds does wings right, taking the time to season and slowly bake them (which tends to keep the moisture of the meat better than simply frying) before briefly frying them to order. 

DB’s wings are the meatiest, juiciest and most tender we’ve eaten so far. Mediocre wings almost feel rigor mortis-ized, stringy-dry meat on bone. DB’s taste braised and flash-fried. 

We look at the server, point to the menu, and provide her a look of profound lostness. She mercifully points us to five of her favorites, and two of them are special. First the dirty jerk (order it “wet,” which means with extra sauce), which pops with allspice, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, thyme. The second is the flaming honey mustard, with both a homesteader sweetness and a heat that’s not really flaming, but at least has enough sparks. 

If there’s one complaint about Dirty Birds, it’s that both of our favorite sauces are too sweet. Dirty Birds is smart, knows that Americans love their sugar (whether in honey form or otherwise). And the unsweetened one we order—the diablo, which should be their signature hot wing—doesn’t live up to some of the other joints.

With a full bar, enough big-screen TVs to anesthetize whatever emotional sports deficiency you may be experiencing, it’s for sure one of the city’s top wings joints. 


Dirty Birds, multiple locations 


The Contender: Dirty Birds

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