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Nashville Hot Chicken Sensation Returns to SF After Hiatus

Hotbird is back on at Presidio Picnic this weekend

Hotbird’s Nashville hot chicken sandwich Robin Eagan

Hotbird will fly again this Sunday, March 31, returning after a months-long hiatus to serve its sought-after version of Nashville hot chicken at the weekly Presidio Picnic. Organized by the Presidio Trust and Off the Grid, the event is basically a daytime version of Off the Grid’s popular Friday night food truck party at Fort Mason, but with more grass, sunlight, and lawn games on the Presidio’s main parade ground.

“It’s one of the most beautiful places you can sit down and have food,” says Hotbird’s Aaron Nam. “You’ve got that amazing view of the bay... people bring their blankets [and] coolers full of wine and beer.”

And then there’s food: 30 options including Hotbird, whose stall should be easy to identify due to a lengthy line. After all, Hotbird is one of a small handful of Bay Area options serving the style of spicy fried chicken that’s become a nationwide sensation. With roots at Nashville institutions like Prince’s Hot Chicken and others like Hattie B’s, the item has fueled destinations as far from Nashville as Howlin’ Rays in Los Angeles.

Robin Eagan

“It encompassed everything we loved about fried chicken,” Nam, who founded Hotbird with Caleb Longacre, says of the style. The chefs met while cooking at Berkeley izakaya Iyasare, and started Hotbird with appearances at Oakland’s First Friday art walks before migrating to Off the Grid at Fort Mason, and finally, Presidio Picnic.

Most recently, Nam and Longacre took a break from pop-ups this fall in an effort to locate a permanent location. That search is ongoing, and with Presidio Picnic back in season, they decided to return to pop-ups for the time being.

At Hotbird, Longacre and Nam fry Mary’s chicken breasts, then dip them in hot oil mixed with spices, finishing them with dry spice powder and serving them on buns with apple vinegar slaw, dill pickles, and sauce. Customers choose their spiciness level: Mild, medium, hot, or burnin,’ with Carolina Reaper peppers used to achieve higher spice levels.

“There are customers who are pretty confident in their spice tolerance,” says Nam — sometimes overconfident. “I’ve seen tears.”

Personally, Longacre and Nam prefer theirs medium or hot.

“We always say, ‘go with the medium if you like spicy food, and work your way up.’”

The weekly Presidio Picnic starts this Sunday, March 31, with hours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The whole list of vendors is online here.