The Tenderloin isn’t exactly known for fresh seafood, but like so many of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets, sometimes you have to look in the most unlikely of places to find them.
Sandwiched between the TL and Nob Hill in Polk Gulch, Piccadilly Fish & Chips doesn’t give a damn what you think about the atmosphere or the location. It’s an unapologetic seafood shack that could just as easily be found on a shoreline in Southern New England, but this space is just a little more charming.
Piccadilly resembles many small San Francisco restaurants, like dim sum places or taquerias, except that it serves only fried food. It stretches far back, with small tables along both walls and a tiny open kitchen that spans about half the length of the restaurant. Beneath a big yellow menu with an assortment of fishy combos is the only major appliance in the joint, a long deep fryer that looks like a massive breadbox with about six sliding doors that open to deep, oily pits. Right there, at the counter, is where you order with one of the kindly owners who still serve their customers every day.
Piccadilly’s menu variety is surprisingly large, offering fried fish, crab, clams, oysters, scallops, prawns, and chicken, all lightly tempura-battered and served on a pile of salty, thick-cut french fries. Because it’s usually what I’m craving, I keep it simple and stick to the fish, which is light, flaky, and tastes like summer. For $7.50, you can get two large pieces of white fish and a side of fries, and for about 20 cents more, you can upgrade the fries to onion rings. Everything is also offered a la carte, in the event you happen to feel like a fried lunch is necessary while the french fries aren’t. On the side, Piccadilly serves homemade coleslaw, fried mushrooms and zucchini, and even corn dogs if you’re really feeling the spirit.
This is the perfect example of a restaurant that’s more than just good food; it’s about the whole experience. It’s the smell of the seasoned deep fryers, the school-bus yellow menu with handwritten prices, and it’s the sweet older couple who have been serving fried fish to the neighborhood for years. It’s like going to the carnival and eating cotton candy or a blooming onion. You’re not eating a big ball of fluffy blue sugar because it’s particularly delicious, but because that’s just what you do at the carnival. And obviously, these fish and chips are way tastier than cotton candy, but you get the idea.
Piccadilly Fish & Chips, 1348 Polk St., 415-771-6477, no website.