The Chronicle announced Friday that the paper's new lead restaurant critic will be Bay Area native MacKenzie Chung Fegan, who's lately been a senior editor at food magazine Bon Appétit.
Fegan replaces Soleil Ho, who somewhat surprisingly announced earlier this year that they were done being a restaurant critic after just four years in the highly coveted job. Ho has since transitioned into being an opinion columnist for the Chronicle, and has already made some waves there — most notably with this recent piece in which Ho went undercover to a right-wing dinner event in North Beach full of anti-trans vitriol.
Interestingly, MacKenzie Chung Fegan comes with some serious family history in the SF food world: her grandparents owned the renowned Henry’s Hunan, which opened in 1974 in Chinatown. There are now multiple Henry's Hunan locations around the city that are run by subsequent generations of Fegan's extended family, as she explained in a January 2020 Chronicle piece.
"There is hardly a person in the Chung family who hasn’t worked in one of the restaurants," she wrote. "As a child, I helped out as a tiny hostess or practiced my math by making change for waiters."
In a statement, Chronicle Editor in Chief Emilio Garcia-Ruiz says, "MacKenzie will follow in the footsteps of some of the best restaurant critics in history, continuing the tradition of Michael Bauer and Soleil Ho and adding her own distinctive voice to the job."
Garcia-Ruiz adds, "The restaurant scene in San Francisco is second to none, and our readers demand a smart, discerning voice to help guide their choices."
Fegan enters the job at a tense time in the local restaurant industry in which many restaurants, including well established ones, are struggling to balance the rising costs of food and labor with the need to keep customers from balking at prices. And the last two years have been filled with complaints from restaurant owners about the difficulty of finding experienced staff — especially given the high cost of living in San Francisco, and the large number of service-industry folk who fled to other towns and cities during the pandemic and haven't returned.
Also, there are a number of notable restaurants that have opened in San Francisco in the last two years that never received a proper Chronicle review (e.g. Ernest, Automat, Routier, Marlena, Osito...) — so even though the schedule of new openings has been sluggish, there's a considerable backlog of potential stuff there. Bauer wouldn't have ever let those slip through!
It appears Fegan has been in New York for a few years, but she's come back to write things like this 2020 profile of Mister Jiu chef Brandon Jew for Resy, and a May 2023 piece about Shuggie's Trash Pie & Natural Wine for Bon Appetit, which you can see here along with some of her other writings.
As she says in the bio on her website, "As a queer Asian American, I'm especially focused on representing the underrepresented whenever I can."
"I can’t imagine a better reason to return to the Bay Area than the opportunity to join The Chronicle’s incredible food team," Fegan says in a formal statement. “Soleil Ho’s thoughtful commitment to examining food through the lenses of broader cultural forces changed the face of restaurant criticism — not just on a local or regional level, but on a national scale. I hope to continue that work."
It will probably be a month or two before we see Fegan's first review, but stay tuned.
Top image via Instagram