The long-delayed and eagerly awaited casual Korean project from Michelin three-star chef Corey Lee (Benu, In Situ, Monsieur Benjamin) is making its debut Monday night in the Mission, and it's booking up very fast.
San Franciscans got to preview San Ho Won, the Korean barbecue concept that Lee first announced over two years ago, as a delivery-only restaurant that operated out of Benu's kitchen during the pandemic. But now the full-fledged version of the restaurant is finally opening at 2170 Bryant Street, a.k.a. the former Blowfish Sushi location.
Lee has not said much about San Ho Won, other than that it is the realization of a longtime desire to open a place devoted to his version of the Korean food he grew up with. The restaurant is a partnership with chef de cuisine Jeong-In Hwang who will be running the kitchen day to day, and Hwang tells the Chronicle that while the intent is to be casual, that doesn't mean any shortcuts will be taken with the ingredients or preparations.
"Opening a Korean restaurant in San Francisco is not easy because the Korean restaurants in the Bay Area are very limited," Hwang says. "I see that in the U.S., casual usually means cheap, which is different than how we view casual in Korea."
It's true that San Francisco has not been as well known for Korean food as Los Angeles or the South Bay, but we have had our share, including Brothers, Han Il Kwan, Carbon Grill, and Namu Gaji/Namu Stonepot. In the last couple years there have been new additions as well, including the Soleil Ho-approved Daeho Kalbijim & Beef Soup, Um.ma, and Queens in the Sunset.
At San Ho Won, as Eater notes, you won't find any tabletop barbecuing going on. That's all done in the kitchen, and there's a $95 prix fixe option that lets you experience parts of the whole menu.
The menu, which you can see below, features an array of banchan (kimchi and other often pickled or fermented cold items), grilled meat dishes, rice dishes, soups, and stews — with things like gamjatang (pork back stew with potatoes, artichokes, and perilla seed sauce) sounding just right for this fall weather.
There are also a number of unusual (for SF) Korean appetizers like soondae pajeon (green onion pancake with blood sausage), and a savory egg souffle with spicy anchovy broth and seaweed sauce. And there's a nod to the Mexican food of the neighborhood with the kimchi jjigae pozole — a version of pozole with pork belly, kimchi, hominy, and avocado.
Lee enlisted architect Charles Hemminger to do the spare design for San Ho Won, updating the space that Blowfish Sushi lived in for over two decades. Hemminger also worked on other nearby spots including Tartine Manufactory and Trick Dog, as well as State Bird Provisions and Cala.
While there will be some limited table availability for walk-ins each night, most of the restaurant is reservation-only, and good luck getting a reservation! You can waitlist yourself currently for the rest of November (or there are a couple of late-night tables left), and no tables have yet been put online for December.
Tonight (Monday), appears to be a preview night of sorts, and the rest of the schedule will be Thursday to Sunday the next two weeks, and then Wednesday to Sunday after that.
San Ho Won - 2170 Bryant Street - Open Wednesday to Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.