Slideshow: Our Search for the Best Fried Chicken in San Francisco! Part One, Southern-Style

The Overall Winner: Memphis Minnie’s
The Overall Winner: Memphis Minnie’s

  1. Skin & Batter:5
  2. White Meat: 4.5
  3. Dark Meat: 5
  4. Seasoning: 5
  5. Sides we tried: Excellent mac ‘n’ cheese, too-sweet sweet potatoes.

When it comes to a subject as oft-contested as fried chicken, picking a favorite is just asking for an angry outcry. But, no one said this job was easy! So here we go (deep breath): Memphis Minnie’s makes our favorite iteration of Southern-style fried chicken in San Francisco. A Saturday-only special, $13.75 gets you a massive plate of food: five pieces of chicken and two sides.

Memphis Minnie's, Close-Up
Memphis Minnie's, Close-Up

And the chicken... oh, the chicken. First, it’s smoked for three-and-a-half to four hours over white oak and cooled, lending the dark and white meats an incredible depth of flavor (and these guys know their way around a smoker). It’s then battered in flour and “five secret herbs and spices,” though we’d swear there are at least 50 involved from the punch of flavor each bite of crust revealed (and it’s good enough to eat sans chicken, or perhaps dipped in the mac ‘n’ cheese... yeah, we went there). The dark meat is particularly excellent -- the smokey flavor really shines, and the meat is fall-apart tender. The breast veered a little on the dry side in parts, but was very well-executed considering the size.

The crust was texturally perfect and adhered well to the skin; and those 5 secret seasonings, whatever they may be, amped the overall flavor up from a good-if-standard fried chicken dinner to a truly memorable one.

Memphis Minnie’s: 576 Haight Street, San Francisco CA 94117 (map) 415-864-PORK; memphisminnies.com

For the Fried Chicken Purist: Frisco Fried
For the Fried Chicken Purist: Frisco Fried

  1. Skin & Batter: 5
  2. White Meat: 5
  3. Dark Meat: 4.5
  4. Seasoning: 5
  5. Sides we tried: Some of the best collards and mashed potatoes and gravy in San Francisco.

Let’s say you’re a fried chicken purist. You don’t want your batter zested, your meat smoked, your collards gussied up. You, my friend, are going to love Frisco Fried’s phenomenal fried chicken. A 3-piece dinner ($10.99, +$1 for a breast) is a textbook example of exactly what Southern fried chicken is, and should be.

The chicken comes out sizzling hot, with a gorgeous, well-colored exterior. We guessed the batter was little more than flour, black pepper, and cayenne, but we can’t be sure -- this chicken maestro won’t even give his daughter his recipes. The crust is crisp, the dark and white meats both salty, moist, and richly flavorful -- the breast is worth noting for being cooked perfectly, despite its size.

Impressively Good White Meat: Hard Knox Cafe
Impressively Good White Meat: Hard Knox Cafe

  1. Skin & Batter: 4
  2. White Meat: 4.5
  3. Dark Meat: 3
  4. Seasoning: 3
  5. Sides we tried: The cabbage (cooked with bacon) and red beans and rice were fine but next time, I’d go for the mac ‘n’ cheese and the collards.

Hard Knox Cafe is often listed as a favorite fried chicken spot in San Francisco. And generally, we were pleased by what we tried there. The 3-piece plate ($11, plus corn muffins and two sides) includes a breast, drum, and a wing, and is well battered-and fried. The crust is a nice example of a simple, classic Southern-style preparation. It has a nice color and texture, and is well-seasoned with (likely) little more than salt, pepper, and perhaps some garlic powder.

Hard Knox, Chicken Crust
Hard Knox, Chicken Crust

The crust didn’t really stand out to us (especially compared to, say, Frisco Fried). Good but not great. Meat-wise, the dark meat was verging on greasy -- the dripping nature of the leg and wing distracted from the chicken flavor and tender meat within. The bone-in breast, however, was fantastic -- rich, salty, and tender, it had none of the greasiness of the dark meat and all of the flavor. I’m generally impressed when white meat lives up to dark, so an example of it outshining the dark meat was definitely unexpected.

Hard Knox Cafe: 2526 Third Street, San Francisco CA 94107 (map) 415-648-3770; hardknoxcafe.com

The “Stay For The Beer” Chicken: Magnolia
The “Stay For The Beer” Chicken: Magnolia

  1. Skin & Batter:3.5
  2. White Meat: 2.5
  3. Dark Meat: 4
  4. Seasoning: 3.5
  5. Sides we tried: solid if not stand-out mashed potatoes and gravy, charred corn on the cob

I dig Magnolia in the Haight for a lot of reasons -- their beer, their burger, their beer, their brunch, their beer -- you get the idea. And their Thursday-only fried chicken has been on my list for a while. And while it didn’t disappoint, it didn’t blow us away, either. Some of this was due to the chicken-value-assessment we’ve had in mind while tasting chicken: $20 here gets you two pieces of chicken and two sides (when we visited, mashed potatoes and gravy and charred corn on the cob). This is pretty standard for a ‘fancy’ plate of chicken (and because we’re including both, we opted not to rate based on value), but it’s hard not to draw comparisons with Memphis Minnie’s massive $13.75 plate.

Anyway. Our price-prejudice aside, the chicken itself was...fine. The two pieces, a bone-in breast and (surprisingly) boneless thigh looked like they’d been prepared differently -- there was a noticeable difference in color, texture and flavor. The thigh-crust was darker, craggier, and had a much better flavor; the meat echoed this, with its nice salty juiciness. The breast was lacking in terms of crust, meat flavor, and tenderness. The chicken’s seasoning was, again, average -- nothing standout, but it certainly wasn’t underseasoned (at least when we considered the thigh).

Bad chicken? Definitely not. And let’s be honest, Magnolia’s stellar beer makes everything taste a little bit better.

Magnolia: 1398 Haight Street, San Francisco CA 94117 (map) 415.864.PINT; magnoliapub.com

The Front Porch, Bite Shot
The Front Porch, Bite Shot

The batter, made of cornmeal, flour, thyme, and lime zest, was texturally spot-on, and had a flavor profile unlike any other we tried. The herbal richness of the thyme comes out in each bite without overpowering the crust or chicken, brightened by the subtle pop of lime zest. This was some good-looking chicken, too. The exterior had a nice color and craggy texture, and wasn't greasy. Both dark and white meats were flavorful, tender, and juicy, clearly having benefited from a brine and a sure hand at the fryer.

The Front Porch: 65A 29th Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map) 415-695-7800; thefrontporchsf.com

'Fucket, Get A Bucket!'
'Fucket, Get A Bucket!'
This is the kind of "fancy" bucket chicken we can get behind (and definitely the winner for this unofficial category). The ingredients, and yes, price, are elevated, but the killer flavor makes the cost feel well worth it. So, pay attention to The Front Porch’s motto, and fucket, get a bucket!

The Cool Kid: Mission Bowling
The Cool Kid: Mission Bowling

  1. Skin & Batter: 4.5
  2. White Meat: 4.5
  3. Dark Meat: 4.5
  4. Seasoning: 4.5
  5. Sides we tried: stellar cornmeal waffle and chile sauce.

We first fell for this mad scientist/evil genius version of Mission Bowling Club’s fried chicken when we tried it at brunch ($10, with waffles).

Fried chicken, brined in citrus and fried crisp (the batter includes ground up chicken skin!) is served alongside hearty cornmeal waffles, along with housemade chile sauce (sambal, cabbage, Fresno peppers, and hot sauce) and a dollop of maple butter.

Best Fried Chicken and Waffles Duo: Little Skillet
Best Fried Chicken and Waffles Duo: Little Skillet

  1. Skin & Batter: 4
  2. White Meat: 4
  3. Dark Meat: n/a
  4. Seasoning: 4
  5. Sides we tried: Great mac ‘n’ cheese, great wafffle.

The Little Skillet isn’t just one of the few destinations for lunchtime fried chicken for the SOMA-set, it’s a damn good option, too. We revisited the Skillet at this year’s Outside Lands festival, and weren’t disappointed by the powers a good piece of chicken can have on a thoroughly chilled music-festival-goer.

The massive, salt-brined breast meat made us quickly forget how bummed we were to not get a leg. The crisp, well-salted crust spoke to an excellent base batter. The powder sugar-dusted waffle had a lovely, yeasty flavor; the mac and cheese was textbook-good and laced with creamy sharp cheddar cheese.

Little Skillet, Close-Up
Little Skillet, Close-Up

Unfortunately I didn't get to try the dark meat but was pleased enough with the white. And really, it’s hard to be unhappy with this spread in the middle of a music festival.

Little Skillet: 360 Ritch Street, San Francisco CA 94107 (map) 415-777-2777; littleskilletsf.com

Best Dipping Sauces: Wing Wings
Best Dipping Sauces: Wing Wings

  1. Skin & Batter: 3
  2. White Meat: 3.5
  3. Dark Meat: 3.5
  4. Seasoning: 3
  5. Sides we tried: nice mustardy potato salad, buttery, flaky biscuit

I had rather high hopes for the fried chicken box ($8.50, fried chicken box with one side and a biscuit) from Wing Wings considering the Little Skillet street cred of owner Christian Ciscle. And this chicken wasn’t bad, it was just lacking in terms of seasoning. Namely: salt. The white and dark meats, both moist and tender, were definitely undersalted; the skin and batter, which had a nice, crisp, cornmeal flavor and texture, similarly lacked a good punch of chicken-rich saltiness (it was also a little greasy for our taste).

The Good and the Greasy: Auntie April’s
The Good and the Greasy: Auntie April’s

  1. Skin & Batter: 3.5
  2. White Meat: n/a
  3. Dark Meat: 3.5
  4. Seasoning: 4
  5. Sides we tried: The fries are uninteresting and limp, but are great vehicles for Auntie April’s Sticky Bone Sauce

Auntie April’s may be worth it for the scene as much as it’s worth it for the chicken. We parked next to a couple of hat-wearing ladies eating peach cobbler and banana pudding, a few tables away from the old man who had BYODed (Doritos, that is) and was not-so-quietly singing “Hava Nagila” to himself.

The chicken is pretty damn good, too. Our 3-piece dark meat plate ($8.25, with fries) had a consistently nice crust and juicy, well-seasoned meat, despite the fact that it was pre-made. Double dredged in flour and seasoned flour (we’re guessing it’s Lawry’s, due to the large Lawry’s tub that had been repurposed as a butter container), Auntie April’s chicken is no frills, but is still packed with flavor.

Auntie April's, Serious Crust Shot
Auntie April's, Serious Crust Shot

The exterior was quite greasy -- chicken lip-gloss-greasy. But the meat avoided this, remaining tender and flavorful. We were also sold on Auntie April’s Sticky Bone Sauce, a basic honey barbecue sauce but we couldn't stop dipping our drums and lackluster fries into it again and again.

Auntie April’s Chicken, Waffles, & Soul Food: 4618 Third Street, San Francisco CA 94124 (map) 415-643-4983; auntieaprils.com

Crustiest Crust: Citizens Band
Crustiest Crust: Citizens Band

  1. Skin & Batter:1.5
  2. White Meat: 4
  3. Dark Meat: 4
  4. Seasoning: 2
  5. Sides we tried: Great fresh greens and an okay biscuit.

You’d expect a ‘finer diner” to have some great fried chicken. And the description of Citizens Band’s fried chicken ($20) certainly sounded mouth-watering: a buttermilk-battered Rocky Jr. Chicken, served with Marin Farms Escarole, SOMA honey and bacon coffee gravy, and a Pinkie’s buttermilk biscuit.

Dark and white meats were tender, juicy, and well-flavored; the greens were wonderfully simple and fresh-tasting, and had a nice, unexpected punch of flavor from the honey. The biscuit was warm and fresh baked but a little floury and chalky. The gravy was on the bitter side but they get some creativity points for bacon coffee gravy.

The 3AM Good/Bad Decision: Van Ness Gas Station
The 3AM Good/Bad Decision: Van Ness Gas Station

  1. Skin & Batter: 3.5
  2. White Meat: 3
  3. Dark Meat: 3.5
  4. Seasoning: 3.5
  5. Sides we tried: We didn’t order them, but have heard rave reviews of their thick, wedge fries, aka Jo Jo Potatoes.

“Bones in your bed, Sriracha in your belly-button.” That’s what to expect when you visit the, well, kind of shady looking gas station located at 17th and South Van Ness in the Mission. Open 24 hours, this is the spot when you want some fried chicken at 3 a.m. Also, you’re drunk. And hungry. And did we mention you’re probably drunk?

Okay, so this is gas station chicken (‘Crispy Lite Chicken,’ the sign on the fluorescent-lit case reads). But considering it’s been sitting there for God know’s how long, it’s really pretty good. And you really can’t beat the (somewhat arbitrary-seeming) prices: $2.99 for a breast, $1.69 for a thigh, $1.79 for a leg, $1.29 for a wing.

Gas & Shop Chicken, Bite Shot
Gas & Shop Chicken, Bite Shot

Our breast and leg both had a rather good, still crispy!, crust on them, packed with salt and black pepper, and probably some MSG, too. The meat is overall quite tender; while not dripping with juice, the chicken isn’t dry, either. The white got slightly undersalted in the middle, but the salty exterior more than made up for this.

Gas & Shop: 599 S. Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA 94110 (map) 415-863-6835

Your Fearless Correspondent
Your Fearless Correspondent

Would I seek this chicken out again when sober? Probably not. But it’s definitely cataloged in my late-night-grub file in the back of my head.