The first time I tried to dine at The Crack Shack, a new fried chicken place in Costa Mesa, the restaurant’s large parking lot was full and the line of people waiting to place an order stretched around the corner and all the way down the street. I circled the block a couple of times, then sped away hungry.
I tried again the following day, and the drill played out much the same way. For my third attempt, I arrived in the middle of the afternoon when I figured nobody else would be eating. The valet parking lot was packed but not closed, so I handed my keys to an attendant and shuffled into line on the sidewalk. There were 34 people in front of me. At 3 p.m. on a Wednesday.
Even in the rain, they stand in line for this stuff. And it’s not just the mustachio’d hipsters with slicked-back hair and polka-dot suspenders, sitting by the fireplace, drinking Bloody Marys. It’s an eclectic clientele, a mix of millennial bros drinking beer and playing corn hole, plus soccer moms with kids and a group of grandmas who look like they just came from the bingo parlor. I’ve stood in line with unchaperoned teenagers, foreign college students and middle-aged tourists.
It looks like most are here for the sandwiches rather than the individual bone-in pieces of fried chicken, perhaps because the smallest order comes with five pieces. Frankly, I prefer the latter, even if I can’t finish a tray all by myself. I think the bone-in chicken is fantastic — almost as good as KFC and certainly good enough to make me want to bump someone from my list of the best fried chicken in Orange County. The chicken is dusted with some sort of chili powder mixture, which adds more of a savory kick than actual heat. It’s good stuff.
The sandwiches are good, too, made with boneless slabs of that same style of mildly spicy chicken. And the menu goes beyond that. They make french fries from scratch, and they are as good as it gets. The fries are perfectly crisp, almost to the point of being burned, which has always been the secret to a proper, thick-cut fry.
Among the curiosities, there’s something called matzo ball pozole. It is an imperfect pozole married to an imperfect matzo ball soup — and the resulting mashup is really quite delicious. That said, it might taste even better if it were served steaming-hot instead of lukewarm.
So is it worth the block-long lines? Well, no. But I do love the indoor/outdoor architecture and the eclectic, rock-n-roll vibe. The fried chicken is…