9 spots for serious Southern cooking in San Francisco

By Marcia Gagliardi

Southern food is a contentious issue in San Francisco—there’s the ever-present “but is it authentic?” question, and don’t even touch barbecue. We’re not here to argue, but we are here to eat, so let’s get down to it. Here are nine of the city’s better Southern joints, from Nawlins to North Carolina fare, from the down home to the upscale—with a little bit of California allowed, but not too much.

Farmerbrown has been offering Southern soul and a lively vibe for a while at this busy Tenderloin corner. Come by for the weekend brunch buffet, heaving with biscuits and gravy and their famed cheesy grits, plus a side of live music. Or stop in for lunch, which brings their fried chicken and waffle. There’s always dinner, too, with dishes like crispy catfish and jumbo Louisiana shrimp over stone-ground grits. Cocktails? Check. Vegetarians will also find options to please, because it’s San Francisco and that’s how we do it.
Neighborhood: Tenderloin MAP

Auntie April’s Chicken-n-Waffles
You want some true home cooking? You found the spot. Collard greens made with love. All kinds of fried chicken options—you want wings, or two thighs and a breast? Excellent waffles, too—which include a red velvet version (for folks with a real sweet tooth), mac and cheese, shrimp and cheese grits, yams, and sweet tea! It’s like your dream Sunday supper every day of the week, but Auntie April’s closes by 4 p.m., so better make it a lunch. Eat here and then visit some of the nearby breweries.
Neighborhood: Bayview-Hunter’s Point MAP

The Elite Café
First, make sure you have the famed Meetinghouse biscuits on your marble table. Okay, now it’s time for a hard decision: Will it be the Nashville-inspired hot chicken (yes) or the Southern fried chicken dinner? (Pssst: come back for that on Mondays when it’s half-price with the purchase of a beverage.) Another choice: NOLA faves like chicken jambalaya, or duck gumbo, or—hey, look at that, there’s a combo. Enjoy a well-made Sazerac, and weekend brunch is busy for a reason. Again, get the biscuits. The space was also renovated, and now has an updated classic look.
Neighborhood: Fillmore MAP

Brenda’s Meat and Three
Most SF residents know and adore Brenda Buenviaje’s establishments, from the brunch and beignet heaven at Brenda’s in the Tenderloin, to Brenda’s Meat and Three in the Western Addition. On the supper menu: The classic meat and three, a special kind of Southern magic that will have you pairing fried catfish or her famous fried chicken or the kickass meatloaf (that’s its name!) with sides like collard greens, cornbread, and green bean succotash. Vegans can also make a plate, no problem. Light eater? You can order à la carte, don’t you worry. But really, don't pass on the cream biscuits.
Neighborhood: Western Addition/NOPA MAP

Rusty’s Southern
Pork lovers have probably (hopefully!) discovered the hickory-smoked and chopped pork shoulder here—an homage to the owner’s North Carolina roots—which are also served on grits at brunch (yes, please!). The downhome menu is assembled with quality sourcing, like the catfish from Passmore Ranch, and fried green tomato lovers will have two tasty options: The usual, or in a succotash. Rusty’s is sure to be a favorite for anyone homesick for Southern cooking, made extra-nice, with warm hospitality, too. The list of craft beers is a bonus.
Neighborhood: Tenderloin MAP

Alba Ray’s
This Cajun-inspired hideaway in the Mission has a little touch of Cali on some dishes, like avocado on the shrimp remoulade toast, but it’s a good thing. NOLA faves like char-grilled oysters with herbed butter and Romano cheese, boudin balls, and crawfish étouffée should have your attention. And it’s crawfish season right now, so get a booth and don’t miss partaking in a boil spread with your friends. You’ll also find Hurricanes and brunch classics like a Ramos Gin Fizz, and a Grasshopper is the perfect dessert.
Neighborhood: Mission MAP

Frisco Fried
This casual Bayview restaurant is a favorite for fried chicken and some quality waffles—and wings, fried fish, and then there are the oxtails. You might have to wait a little for your food, but everything comes out hot, and since you’re about to chow down, you may as well get just a bit hungrier first. They’re also known for their burger dog, but that’s for the second visit.
Neighborhood: Bayview MAP

Hard Knox
This is an old-timer of sorts, feeding the people of SF since 1999, and now they have two locations (the newer second one is in the Outer Richmond). The portions are abundant, and regulars come for the oxtails and their fried chicken (which you can also get spicy), as well as the barbecue pork spare ribs. You also get two sides (choose from 12!) and little corn muffins that will remind you of being a kid. There are also a bunch of sandwiches. See ya at lunch.
Neighborhood: Dogpatch MAP Outer Richmond MAP

Two Jacks Nik’s Place
Look, it’s tough to find a Southern place with more cred in SF than this Lower Haight and legacy joint, which has been holding it down since 1977. And let the little fish on the sign be a hint: You’re here for fish. Fried fish. Catfish, and snapper, and sole. Shellfish too. There are also wings, and combos. The food is value-driven, and comes with your choice of potato salad, old school French fries, or coleslaw, and a side of wheat bread, to get that fiber. Two Jacks is a family-owned spot, and while the recent remodel makes it seem younger than it is, it remains an integral part of the neighborhood fabric—and there’s also live music, poetry readings, and more.
Neighborhood: Lower Haight MAP

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