No. 61: Hard Knox Cafe's Chicken and Waffles

  • By John Birdsall, SFoodie Editor
  • Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 6:42am
  • DiningSFoodie
Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffle

SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

What does soul food look like in San Francisco? Show up at Hard Knox in Dogpatch some afternoon, vying for counter space with the bro with blazed-out eyes, the Asian granny in a Giants sweatshirt, neighborhood tech rats, and the dude with 3/4-inch lobe plugs and knuckle ink, and you can't miss it: It looks like us. Hard Knox owner Tony Hua built a thriving business posited on the universality of soul food in a city particular about its own diversity. That's the appeal here, in a room lined with corroding corrugated roof panels and American Pickers-style bric-a-brac: soul food that jumps the narrow rut of Southern genre.

That's partly what makes Hua's chicken and waffles so good. Within a decade, it's migrated beyond the world of African American diners to become, first a stunt dish, then comfort food with the lingering glamour of the cultish. Here, though, the dish is absolutely guileless. The waffle has a crisp skin that softens within a couple minutes of leaving the kitchen, as the gob of delicately funky salted butter melts and sluices through its channels and the insides go all stretchy. The chicken three-piece is craggy as a popcorn ceiling, brown, and saturated with just enough grease to register as rich, above flesh (garlicky from its marinade) that pries easily from bone. By the way, that's supermarket-grade pancake syrup in the dispenser, but you don't need it. A beer, however, is just about essential.

Hard Knox Café: 2526 Third St. (at 22nd St.), 648-3770. Also 2448 Clement St. (at 26th Ave.), 752-3770.

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