The Bay Area’s best fried chicken sandwiches have come a long way since the early ‘80s, when Burger King made a big to-do about its newest offering. Back then, the fried chicken sandwich was nothing more than crispy chicken tenders shoved between a hoagie roll topped with iceberg lettuce and mayo—and (for it’s time) it was brilliant.
Fortunately, the world of fried chicken sandwiches has evolved in a big way since the King debuted its masterful creation. The San Francisco Bay Area is now teeming with restaurants, pop-ups, food trucks and neighborhood joints that serve up mouthwatering compilations of deep-fried crispy chicken sandwiches. They arrive stacked inside brioche buns, torpedo rolls and more, topped with coleslaw, bacon, aioli, BBQ sauce, pickles, jalapenos and other scrumptious toppings.
You could say that the bird is having its moment.
Here are our picks for 10 of the best fried chicken sandwiches in the Bay Area.
1) HotBird (SoMa)
Once a wildly popular pop-up at Off the Grid at the Presidio and Oakland First Fridays, now fans can get their fill of Hotbird’s world-class Nashville hot chicken sandwiches in the Twitter building’s food hall (1355 Market St.). Somewhat new to California diners, Nashville hot chicken sandwiches are popping up everywhere—and this is the place to try one.
Hotbird’s signature sandwich, aptly named “The Hotbird,” comes with apple vinegar slaw, “comeback” sauce and dill pickles on a buttered bun. You have a choice of five heat levels for sauce, ranging from none to “burnin.” The food hall (aka The Market) is undergoing a massive expansion, so until it’s completed, Hotbird is only selling a few items for takeout or delivery via online orders.
How to get it: Get your fix during lunchtime hours Tuesday through Saturday at 1355 Market St.
2) Love Burn (South San Francisco)
Love Burn is another pop-up that fries up crazily crispy and delicious Nashville hot chicken sandwiches. Love Burn adds a global twist to their chicken using Chinese Five Spice, guajillo chiles and other flavorful spices. Their sandwiches come on a potato bun with creamy slaw and pickles—but order the Hot Leg & Thigh combo if you want more chicken. Patrons get to choose from amusingly named sauces: 0: Just a Friend (No Spice), 1: Crush (Mild), 2: First Date (Medium), 3: Burning Love (Hot! A little painful), and 4: One Night Stand (Good Luck! Milk’s on us!). Levels 2 through 4 come with a blend of pickles, onions and jalapenos.
How to get it: Love Burn serves up the goods Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., from their permanent spot inside the Hometown Bowl (130 Northwood St.) or order delivery via common delivery apps.
3) Southern Comfort Kitchen (Castro Valley & Roaming Food Truck)
Run by three brothers from New Orleans, Southern Comfort Kitchen dishes up authentic Cajun cuisine, and you’ll see the Cajun influence their Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich. Not one but two pieces of chicken breasts are soaked in buttermilk, Louisiana hot sauce and blackening seasoning, and then are fried golden and piled inside a French bun. They top this stack of deliciousness with red wine vinegar slaw, dill pickles and Old Bay garlic aioli. The menu includes comfort food and every favorite Cajun dish you can think of, including beignets for dessert (Sundays only).
How to get it: Visit Southern Comfort Kitchen at 3571 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley for takeout (online ordering available), or keep an eye out for their truck popping up at Off the Grid lunch and dinner Makerts.
4) Eat On Monday (Milpitas & Roaming Food Truck)
Food truck Eat On Monday got its start as a pop-up at Café Yulong in Mountain View and is currently serving lunch from their commercial kitchen in Milpitas near the Milpitas BART station. Their truck is starting to show up again for private catering and some lunch stops. What makes their signature buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, called the “UFC Club,” exceptional is they adorn it with two pieces of maple-glazed bacon (also available in spicy version). Lettuce, tomato, spicy house spread and an Acme torpedo bun round out the tower of yumminess.
How to get it: Check for regular lunch hours and pick up at Milpitas BART station at 1558 Gladding Ct., Milpitas.
5) Bakesale Betty (Oakland)
Run by Alison Barakat, Bakesale Betty is one of San Francisco’s OG fried chicken sandwich makers. You currently only have nine hours a week to order one of Alison’s buttermilk Fried Chicken and Coleslaw Sandwiches. The slaw contains jalapenos for a nice kick, and to finish things off, try a slice of pie or a freshly baked cookie.
How to get it: Find Bakesale Betty Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m at 5098 Telegraph Ave., Oakland.
6) World Famous Hotboys (Oakland)
This former pop-up has a permanent brick-and-mortar spot in Uptown Oakland (1601 San Pablo Ave., Oakland) and serves up a fabulous Nashville hot chicken sandwich that practically bursts out of its bun. Choose your sauce ranging from no spice to one of six levels of heat. Order “The Hot Hot” online and you’ll be required to answer a questionnaire confirming you’re willing to take the risk! World Famous Hotboys also serves chicken wings and other bone-in options such as breast and wing, half chicken and even a whole chicken. End with a hot, fresh “bonut” (a donut-biscuit hybrid).
How to get it: Swing by between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. any day of the week. In addition to a second permanent location in Sacramento, the team behind World Famous Hotboys has recently launched what they’re calling a “Foo Truck” that is out on tour with recent stops in Denver.
7) The Bird (SoMa & Hayes Valley)
You know you’re in for something remarkable when you bite into a fried chicken sandwich made in a shop dedicated to the craft of frying chicken. Their limited menu offers a few entrees (all featuring fried chicken), hot wings, curly fries and apple fritters. What elevates The Bird’s fried chicken is they use free-range chicken thighs, buns baked fresh daily and slaw made hourly. The breading happens to be gluten-free too. Celery, slaw, mayo, pickles and a choice of two sauces top it all off. The Bird won’t bust your budget either—the sandwich will only set you back $9. The new Hayes Valley location serves beer, wine and cocktails.
How to get it: Visit their locations in either Hayes Valley at 406 Hayes Street or SOMA at 115 New Montgomery St open seven days a week.
8) SF Chickenbox (SoMa)
SF Chickenbox has been a local fave forever and has moved around some. They operated out of the sports bar Trademark SFC on Folsom Street for a while and then moved to the Brew Coop on Valencia Street last summer. Their website currently indicates they’re on vacation. An Instagram post and Twitter tweets promise a new permanent home at 464 Broadway! Their delectable fried chicken sandwich came dressed with lettuce and “special sauce,” and they used halal chicken and canola oil in their fryers. We can’t wait to see what they come up with when they open in their new space!
How to get it: Stay tuned for an update for a permanent location at 464 Broadway.
9) Hawking Bird (Oakland)
It turns out that award-winning chef James Syhabout (behind Michelin-starred Commis and the more casual Hawker Fare) can also create a tasty fried chicken sandwich to rival any hole-in-the-wall. Hawking Bird’s fried chicken sandwich comes topped with mayo, a housemade charred chili jam and slaw dressed in lime juice, fresh green chilies, mint and cilantro. No fries here, but you can order sides of tots, fat rice, green beans, pickled veggies, bone broth, garlic noodles and curry gravy.
How to get it: Stop by 4901 Telegraph Ave in Oakland daily, except Mondays.
10) Flybird (Union Square)
Flybird takes you beyond U.S. borders with a few internationally themed fried chicken sandwiches such as the Seoul Food (Asian slaw, pickled daikon, shiso, sesame mayo and gochujang pepper sauce) and the Mexico City (black bean, avocado, slaw, pickled radish, cotija cheese and chipotle aioli). You can also go with the Classic (cabbage and carrot slaw, ranch and bread-and-butter pickles or kick it up a notch with the Hot Classic, a mashup of Buffalo and Nashville-style fried chicken. All their sandwiches come on Boudin Bakery buns, but if you want to skip the bun, Flybird serves fried or grilled chicken atop a variety of flavor-loaded salads.
How to get it: Find Flybird at 35 Kearny St. in San Francisco on Monday to Friday from 11-3.