There are certain attributes that make a food the best of its kind. A burger needs the right bun-to-meat ratio as well as a perfect cook on the patty. Pizza is all about how the sauce works with the crust and the choice of toppings. But with chicken wings, those types of standards simply don’t work because delicious chicken wings can come in so many different styles. Sometimes they’re dry fried. Sometimes they’re smoked. Sometimes they’re covered in sauce. Sometimes they’re (gasp!) naked.
But if they’re the tastiest ones you’ll find in all of San Francisco, then they’re definitely made at one of these nine places.
San Tung’s dry fried chicken wings (12 pieces for $10), battered and deep fried with garlic, ginger, and roasted red peppers, are sticky, crunchy, and have the perfect balance of sweetness and heat… Which is probably why we (and many others) argue they’re the best wings in the city. And why there’s always a line. We like to call ahead and take ‘em to go. That way when we lick our fingers after (it is impossible not to, so don’t even try), we’re doing it in the privacy of our own home. Or, uh, a nearby bar.
The biggest problem with Wing Wings is deciding which sauce you’re going to get on the wings that are pre-baked and then fried to order. We can’t resist the spicy-sweet Angry Korean sauce (red chili paste, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy, topped with sesame seeds and scallions). But then it’s also hard to turn down the signature Wing Wings sauce, a sweet soy glaze with a hint of spice. And sometimes we’re just in the mood for some trusty Buffalo sauce (roasted garlic, spices and Wing Wing’s homemade Hella Hot Sauce). We get those ones hot, of course, but that’s because we like to live dangerously. The good news is that with an order of large wings (10 pieces for $11), you get two sauces, so you’ll only have to eat here five times a week to taste ‘em all.
Hi Tops Buffalo wings are everything you expect in a Buffalo wing—tangy, a little spicy, and drenched in sauce—but somehow even yummier. Maybe that’s because you’re eating them in SF’s first gay sports bar. Maybe it’s because they’re a little richer than the typical wing (in a good way). Maybe it’s because they come with a side of pickled celery and carrot sticks and buttermilk ranch or bleu cheese for dipping. All we know is that we’re happy to pay $12 for 10, and even happier when we don’t have to share.
There are a couple of things to know about Hot Sauce and Panko before you go. First, you’re getting your wings to go; the extremely tiny spot only has two standing tables and with wings this good, you’re going to want to sit down while you savor them. Second, they don’t just sell over 20 varieties of wings, they sell waffles and wings. Third, waffles and wings is now your new favorite food combo ($10.99 for six wings and a waffle; $6.89 if you get just the six wings). But then also, and this is big: They have fried ramen wings with a vinegar sauce you pour on top. But only sometimes. If you’re lucky.
Kezar Pub claims its wings are “world famous” and while we can’t speak to that, we can confirm that they are damn good. You can get them four ways—Buffalo, naked (crispy and sauceless), Gagnam-style (marinated, fried, and tossed with Korean chile paste and powder and then sprinkled with sesame seeds) or smothered in a Bulleit Bourbon-infused BBQ sauce. Ten pieces will run you $12.75 to $13.95 depending on which style you get; we always order the traditional Buffalo wings because it’s what they’re known for and they never disappoint.
Memphis Minnie’s slow smoked Southern-style barbecue is so delicious that it can be hard to “force” yourself to order the Smokey Mountain Wings ($8.25) instead, but luckily you’re a grown-up, which means you can totally order both and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The wings are smoked AND fried (yup), and then covered in a barbecue sauce that’s hot, sweet, and a little tangy all at the same time.
Nothing goes better with wings than beer and football, which is why we sincerely appreciate that this “new American beer hall” has 30 beers on tap and plenty of flat screens to enjoy the game. Of course, none of that would matter if the crispy adobe wings (6 for $10) weren’t also super tasty. They’re definitely more on the sweet side, but not aggressively so in that you’ll have problem finishing an order to yourself.
WESTERN ADDITION and MISSION
Huh? Wings? At a Chicago-style pizza place? Yup: wings at a Chicago-style pizza place. Specifically spicy wings ($12.75 for a pound) that are marinated and then baked in the pizza conveyor belt oven so that they’re a little drier than wings you may be used to, but in a very crave-able way, even though “dry” and “chicken” sound like a bad combo. Just trust us. They’re delish. Oh, and they come with house-made blue cheese dressing, and what’s better than that? Other than the wings, of course.
This Mission spot is known for its bomb-ass all-in-one sandwiches with coleslaw and fries on the inside, but the chicken wings (10 for $9.95 or 20 for $16.95) are some of the best you’ll find around town. You can choose from BBQ or Buffalo, but, as you may have guessed by now, we prefer the classic Buffalo, which come with lots of sauce and a side of blue cheese dressing.
We don’t want to tell you what to do, but if you go to SO and only order wings, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed with your decision. SO is actually a sister restaurant to San Tung’s, and has a chef who readily admits he loves MSG and doesn’t give a crap about your gluten allergy, a life stance we wholeheartedly admire. The wings ($8) are crispy and spicy, with just a tinge of sweetness and are similar to San Tung’s, but not quite on par. Still, considering how amazing San Tung’s wings are, that’s absolutely a compliment.