Fried chicken is no simple thing to nail: there’s the moistness of the meat, the texture of the skin, the spice, the temperature, the grease. These spots—from a Styrofoam-slinging walk-up window to a high-end eatery whose herb-flecked, buttermilk-brined version takes over three hours to cook—take the challenge seriously. Whether you’re craving a Nashville-style sandwich, a bed of waffles or a diet-be-damned bucket, these are the best places for fried chicken in San Francisco. Just don’t forget the sides.
Top spots for fried chicken in San Francisco
Chef Brenda Buenviaje is Louisiana-born, and her southern-style, “secret recipe” fried chicken—known as BFC for Brenda’s Fried Chicken—doesn’t disappoint. Crackly, golden-brown, and slightly spicy, it’s served at both the crowded Polk Street location, where antique mirrors line the walls and noise bounces off the pressed tin ceiling, and the newer Brenda’s Meat & Three on Divisadero (919 Divisadero St, 415-926-8657, brendasmeatandthree.com), where you can snag a seat at the curvy bar. A two-piece fried chicken meal is served with fries, coleslaw and a moist cream biscuit at lunch and with three-pieces, hot pepper jelly, a biscuit and collard greens at dinner. Avoid the weekend wait and go for dinner, when the endless chalkboard list of those waiting for a table runs considerably shorter. Cap off your meal with fresh-from-the-fryer beignets.
The Front Porch is generous with their portions—you can get a 10-piece bucket for roughly the same price as some of the fancier two-piece meals on this list. The single, four-piece meal is served alongside a mound of garlic mashed potatoes and gravy and ham hock collard greens. The flavorful organic chicken comes from Mary’s Chicken and the batter is a zingy combination of cornmeal, flour, thyme and (brilliantly) lime zest. It’s brined, then fried to textured perfection. Pair it with sides like blue-crab hush puppies or fried pickles.
This alleyway walk-up window—an offshoot of Farmer Brown’s—used to be an experience unto itself: You’d know you were at the right place by the scent of the fryer, the bright blue shutters and the pack of strangers ravenously hunched over Styrofoam containers. Though the window remains, in 2014 Little Skillet also took over a bar counter at Victory Hall & Parlor next door, serving after 4pm for those who’d rather eat inside (and wash their meal down with a craft beer). In both spots, you can order the crispy, extra-salty fried chicken as a 2-piece, 3-piece, or 8-piece meal, served with a powdered-sugar dusted waffle or a side dish like grits, sharp cheddar mac and cheese or coleslaw. The waffle version comes with blackstrap molasses syrup, but Tapatio and Crystal hot sauce is on hand to balance out the sweetness. Take note: On days when the Giants play, the SoMa window is often swamped by a line.
Food & Wine included this version on its list of the best fried chicken in the country for a reason. Celeb-chef Tyler Florence grew up in South Carolina, where he honed his taste for deftly-spiced fried chicken. At Wayfare Tavern, his version is a little schmancy, with a buttermilk crust and topped with fried rosemary and sage, roasted garlic and lemon. The secret is in the time-intensive preparation: The thinly-battered chicken is baked at 200 degrees for more than two hours before ever hitting the fryer, which leads to a rich, moist meat and a golden, crackly crust.
Three generous pieces of fried chicken—a bone-in breast, drumstick and wing—come with complimentary corn muffins and two sides for just $14. (You can also scrap the sides and have it served, sizzling-hot, on a buttermilk Belgian waffle or order it “smothered” with gravy and baked in the oven with onions, bell peppers and garlic.) The classic style is best, heaped alongside gut-busting sides like creamy mac and cheese, gravy-drenched potatoes and collard greens. Though Hard Knox has opened a second location in the Richmond, the food is more consistent at the Dogpatch original, where the tin walls and kitschy decor lend a homey, old-school feel. Request the spicy option if you’re a heat-lover.
The fried chicken is legendary at this upscale neighborhood joint, made only with boneless dark meat and coated in a thick, crispy skin. It’s served alongside a ramekin of smoked jalapeño buttermilk dressing, which adds a pungent kick and cuts the richness of the meat. Though the price is steep—$25 for 2 pieces—it’s deeply flavorful, served with a rotating side dish, whether macaroni salad, black-eyed peas or creamed kale. Spring for the decadent “drunken” mac and cheese, laden with goat cheese and a creamy bechamel sauce.
This swanky, youth-run supper-club is known for two things: jazz and Jordan’s Fried Chicken. The secret here is in the spice, a tasty blend of salty, tangy and sweet. The portions are large (a half-chicken), served with gravy mashed potatoes and house-made coleslaw. It’s meticulously cooked: moist on the inside, crispy, spicy and not too greasy on the outside, and served promptly from the fryer.
The fried chicken at this no-frills soul food joint is inexpensive and impeccably executed. The salt and pepper seasoned batter is simple, but the crust is fried to crackly, amber-brown perfection. You can order the chicken as a 6-piece, 8-piece, or 10-piece meal, but it would be a mistake to miss the waffles. The crispy, Belgian-style waffles come in original, cinnamon, or buckwheat flavors, topped with your choice of a 2-piece thigh, wing, leg or breast. Regulars slather everything in April’s Sticky Bone Sauce: a sweet, spicy, addictive barbecue glaze. Save room for Boogie’s shareable dessert waffles, which come in varieties like banana foster, red velvet, chocolate cake, and strawberry-n-cream.
This ritzy, New Orleans-inspired bar by the team behind the Slanted Door is known for its backlit bar displaying hundreds of varieties of rare whiskies. But after a flight of brown spirits, you’re going to want to turn your attention to the other side of the menu. The fried chicken here is served three ways: Hard Water Style, with pepper jelly and dense buttermilk biscuits; Spicy Nashville Style, with bread and butter pickles and savory corn and almond cake; and “TKO”-style, on a biscuit with bacon, bread and butter pickles and slaw. All the iterations allow the chicken itself to shine, served piping hot with a juicy interior and crispy skin. Tack on sides like fried green tomatoes and tangy, mustard- and malt vinegar- spiced Brussels sprouts.
This Bayview mainstay serves up home style fried chicken for patient purists. The service can be slow and spotty, but the classic chicken (which is also available on a golden-brown waffle) is worth the wait. The batter packs a subtle cayenne punch, and the meat is chin-dribblingly juicy. The sides are as worthwhile as the chicken itself, particularly the collard greens, candied yams and mac and cheese.