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

Categories: SFoodie's 92

John Birdsall
Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffle, $10.
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.

Dishes in our series so far:
92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tart
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe 77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots

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