Loco for Pollo at Zuni

Zuni Café’s been in business since 1979, so there’s no disputing that they’ve got a good thing going. It’s certainly one of my favorite SF spots—even if I’ve only been three times, most recently last Tuesday night. My friend Amanda and I were originally thinking Japanese, but when Sebo’s sushi bar was not an option, we went to Plan B—wait at Zuni’s bar and order the roast chicken for two. Amanda’s a dark-meat eater, and I’m all about the white, so we’re a match made in whole-chicken-eating heaven.

The bar at Zuni.

Waiting at the bar—ready to pounce on the next available table (which isn’t necessarily first-come, first-served)—is slightly stressful, although wine and bread can certainly help ease the nerves. After missing one opening, we (more like I) pounced on the next. It’s easy to understand why Zuni doesn’t allow you to pre-order the chicken while you’re waiting at the bar (What if you abandon it? What if you don’t have a table when it’s ready?), but from a diner’s perspective, it would be a nice service. After about an hour at the bar, we then had to wait another hour for the chicken once we were seated. Good thing we had lots to catch up on since we met at 6 p.m., and our meal ended well after 10 p.m. The chicken, as per usual though, didn’t disappoint.

Zuni's brick-oven roasted chicken for two.

Chicken done well is no easy feat—cooking it thoroughly without drying it out is a true skill. One food critic I know suggests that the telling measure of a talented kitchen and good restaurant can, in part, be determined by tasting their chicken. Based on this test, Zuni’s roast chicken would, and probably does, get the restaurant an A+. Even the white meat was tender and succulent—and butter most definitely played a large role in the light, crisp skin. Last but not least, the bread salad—dotted with currants and pine nuts—beats stuffing any day.

Petaluma chicken at Plumpjack Café.

Although I eat chicken almost daily, I rarely order it in restaurants—and rave about it even less frequently. One of my recent faves was at Bar 6 in Buenos Aires, and the other was at Plumpjack Café. I went there a few days before James Syhabout left to return to Manresa. The meat was slow roasted for maximum tenderness, skinless and fanned atop caramelized sunchoke cream, with Romano beans and Indonesian long pepper.

If I can’t find a dark-meat-loving friend to split a chicken with, get a ride down to Los Gatos for James’ chicken or snag a flight to Argentina, what are other restaurants in SF that make a mean chicken? Let me know.
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