Azalina Eusope has had an inspiring, methodical trajectory from immigrant street-food vendor — she's actually a fifth-generation street-food vendor of mamak descent, a Tamil Muslim tribe in Malaysia descended from South Indians who are known for their food — to full-service restaurant owner in the last 10 years since she moved to San Francisco. Now divorced from the husband who originally brought her here, Eusope just debuted Mahila, her new restaurant in the former Contigo space in Noe Valley (1320 Castro Street), on Saturday, and it's the culmination of many years of hard work in a notoriously unforgiving industry.
At Mahila, Eusope gets to expand beyond the street food that she began making out of homesickness ten years ago, out of the kitchen at La Cocina. There, and at food festivals and her permanent food stall at The Market in the Twitter building (opened in 2015) she was mostly focused on curries, and now gets to start showing off her vision for a broader menu of mamak cuisine translated for an American audience. As she tells the Chronicle, her "white, American ex-husband was [her] taste-tester" as she developed many of the menu items that now appear at Mahila, including some sardine puffs that are her great-grandfather's recipe. "The one's he made were fucking delicious," she tells the Chron, and when she made her own version, her ex couldn't stop eating them.
In addition to her successful stall at The Market, she's been running a catering business since 2010, and launched her own line of Malaysian food products at local Whole Foods a couple of years later. The 2013 video by Dark Rye, below, tells the story of this chapter in Azalina's own words. She will also have a hand in Calabash, a new Afro-Caribbean-Malaysian-Persian restaurant/market set to open in Oakland.
Back in the fall, longtime owners of Contigo, Brett and Elan Emerson, announced they were decamping to Santa Cruz to open a new restaurant there, closer to where they now live. And Eusope says they approached her, as fans of her food, to tell her the space was coming available and how the location could be great for her business. Eusope tells the Chronicle that the venture is all her own, and she's doing it without investors.
Among her fans she can count Barack Obama, for whom she cooked while he was still in office, the late Anthony Bourdain, and Lin Manuel-Miranda, who came to eat at her food stall repeatedly while he was in town for the first Hamilton tour.
At Mahila, you won't find many of the curry or noodle dishes Azalina has become known for at her food stands and at the Market stall, though there are still plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. There is a salted black cod curry, and mee mamak, which are shrimp and corn fritters. There's also a simmered chicken dish with green tomato chutney called ayam masak merah, and a traditional oxtail soup with roti and Chinese celery.
See it all below.
Mahila - 1320 Castro Street - Open now, hours TBA - 628-867-3570