The Best Chicken Wings In San Francisco
photo credit: Erin Ng
When you think about what makes a great chicken wing, a few things come to mind: crunchiness, aesthetically pleasing grill marks, the words "lemon pepper," and, inevitably, taking a shower with a small mountain of Wet-Naps. But whatever kind of wing you’re in the mood for—whether it's a sweet and spicy stunner from a Chinese, Korean, or Thai spot, or buffalo-drenched sports bar sustenance—chances are, it’s probably on this list. Here are some of our favorites around the city.
We’ll eat anything stuffed with garlic sticky rice, so we embrace these wings. The double-fried boneless chicken wings (only two per order) are the best bites you’ll have at this vibrant Southeast Asian-inspired restaurant (from the Liholiho Yacht Club crew). They arrive glistening from some kind of glaze like orange or adobo, and are painstakingly stuffed with rice or chicken egg rolls (depending on the night), and what tastes like an entire head of garlic. Order one per person or prepare to end a friendship before you leave.
San Tung’s dry-fried chicken wings are battered, deep-fried, covered in a garlic, ginger, and red pepper sauce the consistency of caramel, and they've single-handedly transformed the casual Chinese spot into a beloved Sunset institution. Prepare for a sticky-messy good time, and a life-changing experience that’ll have you licking your fingers like a voracious wolf pack. Waiting an hour or two in line for those wings—and some crispy-bottomed potstickers, and satisfyingly thick black bean sauce noodles—is a citywide pastime (San Tung doesn’t take reservations). So just drop your name on the small whiteboard up front and build up anticipation outside on the sidewalk with everyone else.
Traits we look for in a great wing: char, sticky glaze, and meat that slides off the bone with ease. The “party wings” from this Thai restaurant in the Mission possess them all. But their true superpower lies in the fiery housemade chili jam that they’re tossed in. Just one bite will make your lips and tongue burn (and will compel you to urgently signal to a server for a water refill). Don’t worry, everyone else in the room will be doing the same—this spot is a spice-centric extravaganza.
The Guamanian restaurant in the Mission serves sweet rolls, beef empanadas, handmade egg noodles and coconut beef, and other excellent Chamorro dishes, the indigenous foods of Guam and the Marianas Islands. And, have you met the ko’ko wings? They’re tender and juicy, spiced with a secret house blend, and taste even better dipped in their tangy lemon fina’denne' sauce. Expect to dream about these wings.
The wings at this casual Korean-Chinese spot in the Outer Mission are pudgy, double-fried goliaths that arrive 12 per order in a mound that could rival Mount Everest. They’re also complete bangers that aren’t overly decadent or salty. While ordering them smothered in the fantastic garlic glaze or a not-too-spicy honey chili sauce is always a worthwhile move, go for the salt-and-pepper wings for maximum crispness.
Hot Sauce and Panko in Russian Hill runs a tight chicken wing to-go operation and we’re eternally grateful for it. The wings are incredible, hard stop. An order comes with five pieces for $7.89 (the $12.59 special includes a sweet Belgian waffle). They also have a ton of flavors to choose from, but some of our favorites include salt and pepper, the “green” with cilantro, and Korean-style wings slathered in gochujang. Heads up, sauces are 75 cents extra.
The angel wings at this late-night Thai spot in the Richmond are plump bites of bliss. They’re fried until the outside is magnificently crunchy while the inside remains juicy as hell. They’re also coated in a sweet spicy garlic chili oil that’ll just stick to your hands (it’s okay because you’ll happily lick it all off). Order a plate for the table, eat it with the som-tum (and a chewy pad see ew while you’re at it), and then go home and pass out on your couch.
The chicken wings from this casual Korean spot are drenched in a thick, spicy-sweet sauce that pools at the bottom of the bowl like the world’s most delicious puddle. Even though each wing is well-coated, it still retains its crunch, which is one of the key factors to wing greatness. The other factor this spot nails? Meat that pulls right off the bone. We brave the line at this always-packed Sunset restaurant for this dish alone—and you should, too.
Foghorn Taproom is a snug, no-fuss sports bar in the Richmond that has several dozen beers on tap. But the big draw here is that this place is chicken wing central. The wings are hefty, crispy, and well-coated in a range of sweet and spicy sauces. There is peppery-sugary dry spice, perfectly tangy buffalo, bourbon maple bacon, lemon pepper, and more. Wings are five for $8-ish, a price we can get behind, especially since we like to order multiple rounds while watching whatever game is on the big TVs behind the bar.
Birdbox is the casual Birdsong spin-off that’s home to an excellent fried chicken sandwich with the entire chicken claw still attached. But don’t let fried toes distract you from the fact that this counter-service South Beach spot also runs a mean chicken wing operation. Choose between flats and drumettes (or tenders, for the boneless crowd). We love the ones coated in nutritional yeast, which adds a mildly cheesy and extra crunch to each bite. There’s a sampler of all five of their housemade sauces, but if you’re trying to narrow it down, go creamy buttermilk ranch or spicy mayo.
This Tenderloin spot specializes in halal chicken wings and is great for big orders (30 pieces for $44.99). If your chicken wing goals are less ambitious, opt for the 6 pieces for $9.99. The menu has a bunch of different sauces and dry rubs, but there isn’t a wrong choice. Go for the honey garlic, which has the right amount of sweetness and some heat from the chili flakes, or lemon pepper all the way if you don't need your wings doused in sauce. Everything comes with a side of ranch dressing.
The Detroit-style pizzas from the Square Pie Guys are San Francisco royalty, and we'd do anything (including going up and down Mount Tam five times in a morning) to get The 6x8 with the curled-up pepperoni cups. But don't overlook the Szechuan dry-fried chicken wings. Well-spiced, salty, and spicy, these wings come with a creamy cilantro lime sauce you'll want to put on everything—including on top of the 6x8, obviously.
Two words describe the chicken wings at this Chinese restaurant in Hayes Valley: perfectly balanced. The sticky goodness is a tad spicy but not in a "help, send milk now" sort of way. And the sauce is an ideal combination of salty and sweet. But the crackly skin on each wing is what keeps us ordering them every time we come here.
Ask us to tell you everything we love about Um.ma, and we'd start with, "There's just not enough time in one day." Here's the truncated version: This Inner Sunset spot has excellent Korean BBQ and seafood pancakes, a lively atmosphere, and a picnic table-filled patio that's perfect for large groups. Um.ma also serves amazing and plump chicken wings, which they offer slathered with citrus gochujang, ginger sesame soy, or honey butter.