Cross Street Chicken and Beer opens in Del Mar Highlands
Cross Street Chicken and Beer has found its way north from the Convoy District to Carmel Valley’s Del Mar Highlands Town Center, the tasty intersection of Korean cuisine and classic Southern fried chicken and the best in San Diego craft beer.
Cross Street serves up fried chicken tenders and wings, in a variety of different flavors from the mildest OG sauce to the hottest Seoul spicy and Thai chili. Generous fried chicken thighs are featured in their popular sandwiches like the classic Classy as Cluck and the spicy Hot Chick with house-made sauce, chipotle coleslaw, pickles and cheese on a toasted brioche bun.
Sides include beer-battered, garlic parmesan or lemon pepper fries, tater tots and corn popper— fried bites stuffed with cheddar, corn, potatoes, jalapeño and bacon.
Currently Cross Street is serving up a soft opening menu to start but eventually, they will add traditional Korean dishes to the menu such as kimchi fried rice, dumplings, bibimbap, sundubu-jjigae (tofu soup), spicy corn cheese, gimmari (Korean fried seaweed spring rolls) and buldak, a spicy chicken dish.
There are over 20 beers on tap and plant-based options are also available.
Owner Tommy Nguyen runs Cross Street’s three locations with his wife Grace and his best friend since childhood, Wilson To—whom he met in middle school when they were the only two Asian kids in their school. Another longtime friend, Jayden Nguyen, serves as chief operations officer.
Tommy comes from a corporate background in technology management and information systems, a place he felt he didn’t really fit because he craved talking to people and socializing and he wanted to explore his more creative interests. When the Sorrento Valley software company he was working for was purchased, he took it as a sign to step outside of the corporate realm and into entrepreneurship.
Grace’s background is in the restaurant industry—her family has owned 13 restaurants in San Diego in the Kearny Mesa and Convoy area including Bing Haus, Friend’s House Korean and Grandma Tofu & BBQ. Grace is the mastermind behind the Cross Street’s Seoul spicy sauce: “The flavor is what made Cross Street what it is today, the original sauce we are so proud of,” said Tommy.
The two foodies traveled Asia for a couple of years where they got a lot of inspiration from seeing all the creative foods in China, Korea and Vietnam.
“In Korea, chicken and beer restaurants are everywhere, it’s almost like Starbucks,” Tommy said of the cuisine known as chimaek. “I love fried chicken and San Diego is known for its craft beers. We thought ‘let’s do a chicken and beer concept in San Diego!’”
The couple was able to get their first brick and mortar eatery, the Up3You Cafe, a dessert spot in Kearny Mesa with some partners in the industry. Shortly after they took over the cafe, the person who sold them the cafe approached them about taking over a spot on Convoy after his plans had fallen through.
All the stars seemed to align for their Korean chicken and beer idea to take off. They launched in 2017 with the intent to be a neighborhood restaurant where their family and friends could come hang out and enjoy delicious fried chicken and brews.
“It just blew up,” Tommy said of the restaurant’s fast-growing popularity and the media attention that soon followed.
They started racking up recognition, from being named one of USA Today’s Top 20 fried chicken places in America to winning San Diego’s Wingfest in 2019.
“It’s insane. Since then a hundred chicken places have popped up but I think the competition is healthy,” Tommy said. “As long as we stay true to who we are, we will be ok.”
Cross Street is still drawing national attention —Food Network did an episode on them that will air on March 9 and The Discovery Channel came by on the same day to film a segment. “It was amazing,” marveled Tommy. “I was so appreciative and flattered.”
Cross Street’s second location opened in November 2019 in Carlsbad’s Windmill Food Hall and Del Mar Highlands Town Center reached out to fill an untapped need.
“This is a great place to introduce this type of cuisine, right in the middle where a lot of our customers come from,” Tommy said of the Carmel Valley location.
Originally the plans were for Cross Street to be a part of the Sky Deck but, instead, they have taken over the former Rimel’s and California Native spot, on the upper level near Cinépolis.
“It’s the dream location we’ve always wanted,” said Tommy of the large space where they are able to take advantage of the open kitchen concept and the indoor/outdoor vibe.
The expanded bar area has allowed Cross Street to crossover into craft cocktails. Beverage director Jesse Ross developed a unique craft cocktail program with fun drinks like the Matcha Grasshopper and Champagne Poetry—a sparkling orange-hued cocktail meant to be a version of the French 75, with cognac and orange blossom water. The Ube Jasmine Collins is a spin on a Tom Collins that uses jasmine tea-infused local gin, fresh lemon and purple ube ice cube that changes the color and flavor of the cocktail as it melts.
Tommy was able to inject a lot of his own personal design influences into the new space. It is hip and modern and can be bathed in a “crazy” rainbow of lights but it is also playful—his figurine collection is on display and a neon chicken wing in the style of Nike swoop over the bar reads “Just wing it.”
Tommy said he and his staff couldn’t be more excited about the new Carmel Valley location: “It’s an elevated Cross Street from where we started.”
Cross Street is located at 12955 El Camino Real suite G2 in Del Mar Highlands Town Center. For more information check out crossstreetcnb.com/
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