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Korean Fried Chicken Is the Perfect Late-Night Bar Snack

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Illustration of a man eating Korean chicken wings in a restaurant. He's blowing air out of his mouth because the chicken is too hot.
Zzan’s piping-hot Korean fried chicken wings and other bar snacks are among the best late-night options in San Francisco. (Thien Pham)

The Midnight Diners is a regular collaboration between KQED food editor Luke Tsai and artist Thien Pham. Follow them each week as they explore the hot pot restaurants, taco carts and 24-hour casino buffets that make up the Bay Area’s after-hours dining scene.

Korean food isn’t necessarily San Francisco’s strong suit — not compared to what you can find on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland or in Santa Clara’s sprawling, suburban Koreatown, where the options are vast and better by several orders of magnitude.

But if you find yourself hungry in San Francisco after 10 o’clock on a weeknight, Korean might be your very best bet. That’s thanks to the slew of soju bangs, or Korean pubs, that are sprinkled all over the western part of the city, and in and around the Tenderloin. As a rule, these spots blast K-pop, sell large quantities of cold beer and soju, and serve spicy bar snacks and some of the best fried chicken around. If it’s late enough at night, they might be the only place in the neighborhood that’s still open.

That’s how we found ourselves in Zzan, a low-key, slightly industrial-looking pub on Post Street, right on the edge of the Tenderloin. (It’s part of a little hub of late-night restaurants, with both Pinecrest Diner and Cocobang, another late-night Korean fried chicken specialist, right around the corner.) There’s a big white screen on the wall where they project K-pop and Korean hip-hop videos, but at least during our visit, the vibe was more chill than rambunctious — less big groups of salarymen getting hammered, more VC bro lecturing his date on international banking. (Diagonal mouth emoji.)

Illustration of the yellow-gold exterior of a restaurant, lit up at night. The sign reads, "ZZAN."
Located on the edge of the Tenderloin, Zzan is part of a small hub of restaurants in the neighborhood that are open late every night. (Thien Pham)

Zzan’s main virtues are its fried chicken wings and more-fun-than-average selection of pub snacks, from cheese corn and giant cheese omelets to Spam omurice and fancified instant ramyun. My favorite of these are the creamy rice cakes, a carbonara-like dish that includes bacon, a hard-boiled egg, tubular rice cakes and a velvety, mildly spicy-sweet cream sauce that’s nearly impossible to stop eating — the overall effect falls somewhere between penne alla vodka and lobster bisque. That orange-pink sauce is delicious with the extra-chewy rice cakes; or ladled over white rice, with the egg yolk mashed in for extra richness; or simply spooned directly into your mouth.

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As for the fried chicken, just know that it arrives at the table literally too hot to eat — burn-your-mouth hot. But once it’s cooled a little bit, it has the kind of impeccably crunchy skin and plump, juicy flesh that hits the spot at any time of day, but especially at midnight, after you’ve had a couple of drinks. If you order your garlic soy sauce on the side, as we did, know that those perfectly fried wings come almost entirely unseasoned, so you really do want to dunk it in that sauce — which wasn’t overly gloppy or sweet, as we’d feared it might be. It was just right.

Look, Zzan might not be in the drive-all-the-way-to-Santa-Clara-on-a-whim tier of Korean food. But late on a Thursday night in the city, it was exactly the meal we needed.

Zzan is open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily at 643 Post St., San Francisco.

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