Number 18: Auntie April's Fried Catfish

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Jonathan Kauffman
Auntie April's fried catfish.
SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition

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The subtitle to April Spears' Bayview restaurant is "Chicken & Waffles," but her signature dish is overshadowed by "Grandad's Fisher's catfish." If it seems like the easiest thing in the world to fry catfish properly, then you haven't done it recently. Batter's a reliable safety net, keeping the fish inside moist and steamy while the exterior gets crisp, but Auntie April's cooks simply roll catfish filets in spiced cornmeal, which means they have to stand over the fryer until the fish is cooked just so.

Which it is: The cornmeal fries up into a sandpapery, saffron-colored shell that refuses to soak up oil. The grains crackle and whisper when you bite into the fish, almost more of an illusion of crispness than a crunchy coating. And it's thin enough so that you don't taste the corn, you taste the fish underneath, barely opaque, with its sweet, freshwater flavor. (No taint of moss and mud here.) The restaurant makes its own chile-infused vinegar, paler and more delicate than Tabasco, and you may find yourself painting the fish brighter and brighter shades of orange as you eat. If you want to eat the catfish with a waffle, they'd probably oblige, but greens and mac and cheese are fine enough for us.

Auntie' April's Fried Chicken and Waffles, 4618 Third St. (at McKinnon), 643-4983.

Other favorites in this series:
19: None but the Brave from Heaven's Dog
20: Saha's vegan kibbeh
21: Starter Bakery's hazelnut kouign amann
22: Pupusas at Cafe and Restaurant Montecristo
23: 2 a.m. apple fritter at Bob's
24: Le Sanctuaire's vadouvan
25: Crab louis salad at Nettie's Crab Shack
26: Soy sauce chicken from Happy Bakery & Deli
27: Locanda's Jewish-style artichoke
28: Local: Mission Eatery's asparagus-egg sandwich
29: Memphis Minnie's 18-hour brisket
30: Custard buns from City View
31: Mission Chinese Food's kung pao pastrami
32: Panisse frites from Frances
33: Izakaya Yuzuki's chawanmushi
34: Fatted Calf's chorizo
35: Silvanas from House of Silvanas
36: Linden Street Brewery's black lager
37: Aged oolongs from Red Blossom Tea Company
38: Broken Record's crawfish grits
39: Cebiche mixto from La Mar 
40: Nutella-hazelnut hand pie from Black Jet Baking Co.
41: Fifth Floor's burger
42: Perbacco's agnolotti dal plin
43: Iced coffee from Sightglass
44: Cypress Grove's Purple Haze Chevre
45: Lechon from Tastebuds Cuisine
46: Duck with beets from AQ
47: Tai nigiri at ICHI Sushi
48: Fish with explosive chiles from Spices! 
49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Auntie April's Chicken n Waffles

4618 Third St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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