While nothing can be called "back to normal" yet in the restaurant world, things are at least inching in a positive direction. And maybe the Bay Area's continued success with vaccinations and indoor masking in most circumstances will translate to a fall and winter that are relatively low-stress, pandemic-wise.

One sign of the improving outlook is that several high-profile and long-delayed restaurant openings are aiming to get officially open before the holidays. These include the much-anticipated Korean spot from Benu chef Corey Lee, and a buzzed-about project from a former Lazy Bear sous chef that had its first seeds as a pop-up a full two years ago.

Also, two longtime, long-beloved restaurants are getting back open in their previous shape for essentially the first time since the pandemic shut them down, with one of them boasting a fresh look.

Photo via Automat/Instagram

We've been talking about chef Matthew Kirk's brick-and-mortar iteration of his Automat pop-ups since January 2020, and featured it in our February 2021 list of places to look forward to this year too. But now, at last, we have an opening timeframe, and it's late October-ish. It's coming to the former Green Chile Kitchen space at 1801 McAllister Street, and it will no doubt feature some of the fabulous breads that Kirk has been slinging throughout the pandemic. The plan is for an all-day, three-meals-a-day restaurant, with "casual" but "ambitious" fare, as Kirk tells Eater — and he wants it to be a place where people feel comfortable bringing their kids. Also, Kirk says, he may revive his bread subscription service at some point too. 1801 McAllister Street at Baker

Boulevard (reopening)
Nancy Oakes's storied, 28-year-old Parisian/Belle Epoque-themed restaurant Boulevard reopened briefly last fall, only to close again ahead of the holidays. But it will reopen on September 29 with the same executive chef, Dana Younkin, who's worked alongside Oakes for nearly a decade, and a revamped menu, look, and structure. As the Chronicle explains, there will be two nightly prix fixe options, with an a la carte menu only available at the bar and in a new more casual lounge, where walk-ins are welcome. And designer Ken Fulk, with whom Oakes has been working along with restaurateur Anna Weinberg on last year's revamp of Tosca, has just done a remodel of Boulevard's interior — which includes a new blue onyx bar top, and "whimsical" murals. 1 Mission Street, reservations here

Frances (reopening)
Chef-owner Melissa Perello announced the long-awaited reopening of Frances a few weeks back — sort of... things start with a series of special, one-off, chef's choice prix fixe pop-ups that Perello will be curating and cooking herself. The three already scheduled weekends are nearly sold out (check for tables here), but more are coming, and these pop-ups are running at least through November, Thursday through Saturday only. Following on the successful June reopening of younger sister restaurant Octavia, and Frances's loyal following of fans both in and outside the Castro neighborhood, you can expect it to be tough getting a table there once more after it's fully reopened, hopefully by late fall.* Check for updates on the restaurant's Instagram and look for the reservation books to open here soon. 3870 17th Street

Photo via Handroll Project

Handroll Project
The former Izakaya Yuzuki/AL's Deli space at 18th and Guerrero is becoming a new grab-and-go temaki (handroll) sushi concept from the Ju-Ni team, as we learned over the summer. And the update is that chef Geoffrey Lee and partner Tan Truong are aiming for an early December opening, per Eater (though we've heard that given as a timeframe for a lot of projects over the years, and that can always end up meaning January). The plan is for a concise menu, with handroll options you can take with you to Dolores Park, or take home for dinner. 1499 Valencia Street

Penny Roma
Just today we learned of the new, more rustic Italian concept taking over the Central Kitchen space, Penny Roma, from the Flour + Water Hospitality Group. It's coming up soon (with a planned mid-October opening), and the team of chefs Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow say they want to make a pasta place that's affordable and accessible, where you can "drop in" multiple times a week, with a couple of larger plates and seasonal vegetable sides. Also, the attached former Salumeria space, which became the Flour + Water Pasta Shop during the pandemic, will become a new counter-service wine bar at the same time. 3000 20th Street at Florida

L.A. restaurant investor Erik Sun (Bestia) is opening a buzzworthy new ramen bar in SoMa this fall that boasts a $60,000 noodle-making machine from Japan. Sun told the Chronicle that the plan is to serve multiple types of ramen with multiple noodle types — "noodles of various widths and gluten levels, including a hand-cut, pappardelle-like wide noodle and a medium one that took nearly four years to get right." There will be a 15-seat ramen bar at Pursuit, as well as a 45-seat restaurant serving yakiniku, or Japanese barbecue. (Sun is also a purveyor of Wagyu beef, and rare cuts of meat will be the star.) The space at 715 Brannan Street was originally slated to become a different concept back in 2016 called Arsenal, but that project has been scrapped. Look for the opening to happen sometime in the coming weeks, with "early fall" still being the word.

Pork gukbap (rice soup) at San Ho Won. Photo: Instagram

San Ho Won
Benu chef Corey Lee, with three Michelin stars under his belt, has been promising to open San Ho Won for two years now — intending to explore his Korean heritage, outside the more refined bounds of Benu. During the pandemic, Lee put PPP funds to use by starting a delivery-only kitchen under the San Ho Won name at Benu, and now, finally, it's planning to be open in October in the former Blowfish Sushi space. There will of course be twists and riffs on other cuisines — like a promised kimchi pozole — but the Chronicle says we can also expect traditional-style "charcoal-grilled dishes, banchan, stews, rice dishes, and other Korean fare." 2170 Bryant Street

More to come...
It's been a while since we've had an update on Shuggie's Trash Pizza & Natural Wine, which we first learned about last fall. The Chronicle now says they're aiming to open in November after a relocation from an initially reported North Beach spot to 3349 23rd Street in the Mission. Stay tuned for more on that!

Hoodline previously reported on the upcoming October opening of Osito (2875 18th Street at Florida), a new live-fire-focused, tasting menu restaurant from former Bar Agricole and Mister Jiu's chef Seth Stowaway, and that is reportedly still on track for late in the month.

A new Russian-inspired spot called Birch & Rye is headed to the former Contigo/Mahila space at 1320 Castro Street in Noe Valley. Chef-owner Anya El-Wattar will be joined by former Commonwealth and Rich Table sous chef Amiran Tskhvaradze, as the Chronicle reported in July, making dumplings, borscht, meat pies, and more, possibly by November.

And we are still waiting on a timeline update for Hilda & Jesse (1665 Powell Street at Union), the all-day breakfast restaurant borne out of a pop-up from Kristina Compton and Rachel Sillcocks, which was slated for a fall opening.

Top photo courtesy of Boulevard

*This has been corrected to show that Frances is not planning a fully reopening in October, and the actual full reopening is still TBA, with the pop-ups continuing through November.