Hard Knox Cafe
2448 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA
It was a Tuesday night, and I was driving over to Outer Richmond in San Francisco with two friends to finally try the famous PPQ Dungeness Crab. We had planned it for a whole week and were SO excited for it. Only when we got there, they were closed…..
Of all nights a restaurant takes a break, why would it be a Tuesday night?!
But it turned out to be a complete blessing in disguise. Since we were on Clement Street already, we took out our Yelp app and found out Hard Knox was only a block away. Soul food? I’m always down for soul food so we strolled on over with our hungry, albeit disappointed, stomachs.
Right when I walked in I could smell the soul food – the flavors, the atmosphere, it was all there. The restaurant wasn’t very big but it had a very comfortable, diner-like feel. Apparently it is one of Michael Mina’s favorite restaurants in the Bay Area (see pic above). The guy serving us was super cool, really friendly, and really easy to talk to/joke around with.
We ordered three dishes to share. The first was a crab cake appetizer. The crab cakes were browned well and surprisingly had lots of actual crab meat in it. They definitely didn’t skimp out on that. Really good flavors and the spicy aioli – almost like a chipotle mayonnaise – gave the crab cakes a southern kick in the butt. The lightly tossed salad was a good contrast to the boldness of the crab cake with the strong spicy aioli.
We also got corn muffins that came with our entrees. By far some of the best corn muffins I’ve ever had. When they set it on the table and we cut one open, steam drifted out the top and we knew it was made super fresh when ordered. It had a great corn/butter flavor with a hint of lemon, and it was even better when you spread a little butter over the top.
At this point we were ready for the main course to come. First came the Spicy Fried Chicken with a side of mac & cheese and yam fries (sweet potato fries). The fried chicken was absolutely incredible. The meat was tender and juicy, the skin was crispy and charred, and the spice gave it that really good Southern kick. It was exactly what you would expect if you went down to Atlanta for a home cooked fried chicken meal. The mac & cheese was pretty strong and a little too heavy for my liking, but it wasn’t bad by any means. The yam fries were also good, although nothing really stood out about it.
We also ordered the Braised Oxtails. According to Hard Knox’s menu, the oxtails are “braised so tender, the meat falls off the bone.” And they weren’t kidding! The meat was soooo incredibly tender and it just melted in my mouth. That’s when you know you have braised something to perfection – it falls off the bone with the touch of your fork and the meat melts in your mouth like butter. Not a single complaint about the oxtails.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get better, the whole entree was brought up another level by the sides we ordered with it. Candied yams and stewed cabbage. No joke, the candied yams tasted like Thanksgiving. Although it was super sweet, it tasted completely amazing and I really have no other way of describing it. My mind jumped straight to Thanksgiving and sitting at the dinner table…that good.
And stewed cabbage? I admit, that may sound a bit weird, and we were hesitant in ordering it too. But the guy told us it was their most underrated side dish because people tend to avoid cabbage. I usually dislike cabbage, so I was pretty worried about it. But after eating this cabbage, I have to say I’m converted to a cabbage lover (only when prepared this way though). It was the only thing we actually finished during this whole meal. The cabbage was stewed and had a meaty flavor to it. At first I thought it was stewed/braised with the oxtail and that’s why there was such a strong meaty aroma. But after the meal when we were complimenting the guy for recommending it, he told us their secret to cooking the best stewed cabbage ever. Bacon fat. That’s right, they stew it in BACON FAT. Even though it’s super unhealthy, it was the best cabbage I have ever eaten, bar none.
I had such a great dining experience with delicious food and great friends and I can’t compliment this place enough. So if you’re ever looking to try some soul food or in the Richmond area, I definitely recommend checking out Hard Knox. I am so glad PPQ was closed so I had a chance to try this place. I will be back again, no doubt about it.