Cocina Canares, South San Francisco
Mel Canares doesn’t really have a name yet for his fried chicken sandwich joint — at least one that’s printable in a family blog (ahem), as evidenced by his Instagram handle. Cocina Canares, another moniker by which he sometimes refers to it, actually doesn’t even have a real bona fide structure, either.
Instead, Canares, a former corporate chef for Genentech, cooks and serves his fried chicken sandwich out of his backyard in South San Francisco.
He serves one thing, and only one thing — that sandwich.
And he does so only one day of the week — Sunday.
You direct message him on Instagram to order, and he will reply back with his address. As you drive there on Sunday, you’re asked to call him when you’re 30 minutes away, so he can assure your sandwich is hot when you get your hands on it. You pay for the $10 sandwich in cash or via Venmo.
Every Sunday, between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., he sells about 300 of them. Yup, you read that right. Because they are just that good.
It feels a little illicit — albeit in a wink-wink amusing way — as you park your car in this residential area, and walk into his backyard, where you’ll find Canares and a friend, dressed in masks, hoodies and baseball caps, with rap music blaring, as they flip and assemble the sandwiches.
Made with a buttermilk brined chicken thigh that’s fried in a coating of whole wheat flour, these sandwiches are huge. My husband had packed potato chips in the car, but honestly, these sandwiches are so bountiful, you won’t need anything else. What you will need to pack, though, are your own drinks, because like I said, Canares sells nothing but this sandwich.
We enjoyed ours in the car, after parking in the nearby lot of a sporting goods store. It pays to come armed with plenty of napkins and Wet Ones, too, because this is one drippy, messy sandwich. Oh yeah, and don’t wear white, either.
It’s the whole shebang together that makes this sandwich so delicious. There’s a substantial crust on the chicken that’s stacked on a brioche bun with house-made jalapeno cabbage-cilantro slaw, honey vinaigrette and an outstanding adobo aioli. In one bite, you get a huge hit of smokiness, creaminess, and spiciness. This is a sandwich that announces itself with a brash hello.
Pro Tip: Plan on arriving before noon, if you want to beat the crowds. And remember, Canares doesn’t sell to walk-ins. Customers need to contact him through Instagram ahead of time to order.
How did he come to start this venture? Like other former Silicon Valley corporate cafe chefs, he was forced into Plan B when he was laid off during the pandemic. Find out more about him and others doing their own food startups in my story in the latest issue of the Nob Hill Gazette.
Four Star Seafood, San Francisco, Bay Area, and Beyond
San Francisco chefs Adrian Hoffman and Ismael Macias started their company, Four Star Seafood, in 2015 to source and deliver the finest, freshest seafood to local restaurants. But the pandemic capsized that model when restaurants were forced to shutter or operate at greatly diminished capacity.
So the two chefs, who worked together at One Market restaurant in San Francisco, reached out to consumers instead, creating a site where locals could pick up their order at Four Star Seafood’s San Francisco warehouse or get it delivered locally to their door (free with an order of $100 or more) or shipped nationwide (overnight for a flat rate of $100 for perishable items).
Let me tell you, this site is dangerous — in the best sense. It’s like going into Trader Joe’s — you might intend to buy only two things, but you end up walking out with three bags full.
Same with Four Star Seafood. Come for the seafood, of course, which is offered fresh and frozen, and at quite good prices — everything from whole striped bass ($14.95), shima aji ($17.95 for 8 ounces), and even something called ribbonfish ($9.95 per pound).
But stay and linger on the site for so much more — from sizeable Wolfe Ranch quail ($24 for two) to heritage pork cheeks ($10 per pound) to Journeyman sausages ($14.99 for a 4-pack). Or fresh Moro blood oranges (2 pounds for $8) or white asparagus ($31.95 for half a pound).
Because the founders are veteran chefs with so many industry connections, they’ve also sourced such finds as black garlic shoyu ($19.95), Half Moon Bay fresh wasabi root ($40.50 for two 3-ounce pieces), and fresh Tierra green corn masa (1 pound for $12).
Besides offering their own cooking kits for tuna poke ($46 for two) and cioppino ($80 for two), they also provide an additional outlet for One Market to sell food from its Jewish deli pop-up, Mark ‘N’ Mike’s. That means you can also order its matzo ball soup for two ($21) or classic Reuben sandwich kit ($21 for one). You can also snag three different frozen pizzas from San Francisco’s Zero Zero restaurant ($15.95 to $20.95). Just be sure to read the heating directions, as these pies come fully baked. You just need to thaw them for half an hour, then pop them into a hot oven for a minute or two.
You can even get gelato. Not just any, but Morsey’s ($9.50 per pint), which is made with water buffalo milk. The company, which tends a herd just south of Sacramento, also operates a creamery in Palo Alto (temporarily closed), and a cafe, Morsey’s Farmhouse in Los Altos.
You might think that getting gelato delivered could be a risky proposition, since who knows in what shape it will arrive. But Four Star Seafood really goes the extra mile. Each pint is wrapped tightly inside a a plastic bag filled with crushed ice, then the whole thing is wrapped again snug in butcher paper. It provides great insulation, so your gelato arrives frozen solid.
Because water buffalo milk is so high in fat, this is very rich, smooth and full-bodied gelato. The raspberry gelato is streaked with pink. It doesn’t taste so much like fresh raspberries as it does raspberry syrup from an old-fashioned soda fountain. The hazelnut choco puffs tastes like Nutella mixed with vanilla ice cream with crunchy pieces of malt ball-like chocolate pieces.
It’s worth scrolling the Four Star Seafood site regularly, as it’s always adding new products. It’s a site where enthusiastic cooks can be like kids in a candy store.
Pro Tip: If you’re up in San Francisco, stop by Billingsgate, the seafood counter and cafe that Four Star Seafood opened in the Noe Valley neighborhood during the pandemic. You can purchase seafood to cook at home or get takeout of specialties such as Kampachi crudo ($18), New England clam chowder (8 ounces for $6), Dungeness crab salad ($24), or oysters on the half shell.