New Mexican and Japanese flavors are joining the Bay Area this month — and sometimes at the same time! In a pre-Prohibition-era building on Mission Street, Japanese-inflected cocktails and small plates are served with a heaping helping of hi-fi vinyl, while across the Bay, one enterprising chef is making Mexi-Japanese street food so creative, you’ll have to taste it to believe it. In the Tenderloin, meanwhile, a fifth-generation Malaysian cook is giving street food flavors a fine dining spin. Here are San Francisco’s best new restaurants right now.
After three years in the works — and following the sad shuttering of Mahila, her love letter to Mamak street food — Azalina Eusope, a self-designated fifth-generation street food vendor from Penang, has finally opened the Malaysian restaurant of her dreams. Inspired by local night markets and home kitchens, the restaurant’s four-course $100 prix fixe doesn’t just include dishes from the chef’s own Mamak community, whose centuries-old Indian roots have paved the way for a delightful use of spices. Instead, Eusope marries her own beloved, nostalgic fare with recipes from all over the country, so offerings may range from the coconut-filled sweet potato dumplings so beloved at her previous restaurant to a fried chicken bun with coconut sauce or turmeric mee goreng with shrimp. A vegan option is on offer for each course, and each also includes both an alcoholic and zero-ABV pairing option. The menu changes every three weeks, so go often.
499 Ellis St. (map)
Chef Daniel Tellez, formerly of Sausalito’s Copita, is bringing authentic Mexican fare to his new contemporary cantina. The menu is rife with Mexican street food specialties, like al pastor shaved from a vertical spit and a taco arabe with marinated pork, cilantro labne and chipotle salsa stuffed into a pita. Hearkening to the 1960s trend of restaurant by day, club by night, the cantina — which boasts ornate crystal chandeliers and a curated collection of eclectic California décor — evolves into a lively honky-tonk each evening, serving up fresh, house-made cocktails like a mezcal spritz, spiked agua fresca and a whole host of Margaritas against a backdrop of themed music nights. (Plus, you can snag a taco from the takeaway window until 2 a.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.)
1500 Broadway (map)
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Oakland’s newest darling is the most creative mashup of Japanese and Mexican drinking and street food culture imaginable. At the helm of this “izakaya cantina” is chef Matthew Meyer, who has reimagined such classics as elote, here boiled in dashi and bathed in uni butter before being rolled in cotija, tapatio and furikake. Okonomiyaki is revisited as a baked potato stuffed with carnitas, tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayo and topped with nori and bonito. Tacos may be filled with Japanese curry sausage and soft-boiled jidori egg, while tostadas could be topped with hamachi tartare, shiso and hazelnut salsa macha. At the bar, you may find tequila infused with seaweed and married with mezcal, cucumber, yuzu and sesame. Or for something simpler, grab a Japanese beer paired with a Mexican shot (or vice versa). With its spaghetti western soundtrack and dining room governed by a ’70s palette of muted yellow, brown and lime, it’s one of the most unique – and enticing – restaurants to join the Oakland dining scene of late.
1915 San Pablo Ave., Oakland (map)
After five long years at Anchor Public Taps, Cali-Mexican Frank Grizzly’s finally has its own brick-and-mortar in Bayview. With a four-day-week soft opening soon slated to become five, the team is offering up loads of faves from its pop-up days like quesabirria or roast duck tacos with spicy hoisin sauce and mango salsa. And don’t miss the Grizzly nacho fries, topped with all the classic fixings, not to mention your choice of proteins including chipotle chicken, beef birria, roast duck and garlic shrimp. But not everything on this menu will be familiar to longtime fans. In honor of the new location, they’re also launching a breakfast menu, with choices like chilaquiles or a breakfast birria hash served over a bed of hash browns and topped with a fried or scrambled egg.
5698 3rd St. (map)
Audiophiles have a new home base at Yokai, a restaurant and cocktail bar with a hi-fi soul. In a century-old brick building — the first permanent structure built on Mission Street following the 1906 earthquake — a backdrop of jazz on vinyl broadcast through vintage mint JBL Pro Series studio speakers accompanies your discovery of Japanese dishes and cocktails. In collaboration with executive chef Marc Zimmerman, chef de cuisine Jessie Lugo is serving up creative plates like Shigoku oysters with beet mignonette or broccoli paired with Dungeness crab, bonito emulsion and a jidori egg for a bright and richly-flavored salad. Skewers like Wolfe Ranch quail or baby Spanish octopus are cooked over Japanese binchotan coals, and larger plates designed for sharing may include wild boar baby back ribs with tonkatsu barbecue sauce or koji-cured Sonoma duck drizzled with wildflower honey. Pair your choices with creative cocktails from Jordan Abraham, like the Plum Pirate with ume-infused rum, Cynar and sour cherry.
545 Mission St. (map)
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