Chef Benu’s expected SF Korean barbecue restaurant is here and is already booking


The wait has increased for the opening Monday evening of Chef Corey Lee’s Korean barbecue restaurant in San Francisco, San Ho Won: it is already nearly full for the rest of the month.

The dinner-only restaurant at 2170 Bryant Street will initially open Thursday through Sunday, adding Wednesdays later in the month.

The heart of San Ho Won’s menu is charcoal barbecue dishes, which are served with Korean condiments like ssamjang (soybean paste) and jjngajji (pickled vegetables). Diners can add lettuce to make ssam, wrapping grilled meats inside, as well as a range of banchan and appetizers. Mushrooms, homemade rice cakes, and honey butter and chili corn are also given the grilling treatment.

The Mission District restaurant has been around for a long time. Lee dreamed of opening a more casual restaurant after launching his three Michelin star Benu in 2010. He wanted to “open a place that could reach more people, embrace friendliness and celebrate his native culture,” according to an announcement. Lee eventually teamed up with chef and partner Jeong-In Hwang, who worked at Benu and In Situ, now closed, to create this restaurant.

This is a major opening considering Lee’s reputation, but also for the growing Korean food scene in the Bay Area. San Francisco is often relegated to the abundance of Korean restaurants in Los Angeles or New York, or the deep roots of Korean cuisine in Santa Clara. Newcomers including, Queens and now San Ho Won are hoping to change that.

“Opening a Korean restaurant in San Francisco is not easy because Korean restaurants in the Bay Area are very limited,” Hwang said. “I see in the US, casual usually means cheap, which is different from how we think of casual in Korea.”

Chilled beef tendon and vegetables with acorn jelly at San Ho Won in San Francisco.

Provided by San Ho Won

For Hwang, that means using high quality ingredients, like premium cuts of meat, and taking “no shortcuts” in their preparation. The aim of the restaurant, he said in a previous interview, is to serve both traditional Korean dishes and localized variations. Iconic of this is kimchi jjigae pozole, a mission-born mashup of spicy Korean tofu stew and Mexican soup. (Luis Perez, the restaurant’s longtime butcher, often makes pozole for staff meals.) The dish marries pork belly and kimchi with hominy and avocado.

The San Ho Won menu also features Korean dishes like bibimbap, stone bowl crispy rice dish, and mandu beef, or dumplings. Drinks include soju, Korean plum liquor, local beer, and wine.

The dessert is both playful and elevated: San Ho Won serves a soft banana milk cream, but also a marjoram cake from Lee’s French restaurant, Monsieur Benjamin. French pastry is made up of layers of hazelnuts, chocolate and custard.

Guests can order à la carte or opt for a fixed menu at $ 95 / person with two starters, two grills, two sides and a dessert. (The entire table must order the set menu.) Prices for the à la carte menu vary from $ 14 for starters to $ 46 for large dishes.

For the grill, San Ho Won imported 15,000 pounds of white lychee charcoal from Vietnam. Lee fell in love with lychee charcoal years ago in China, impressed with how “clean and warm” it burns. Diners who manage to snag seats at the counter will be able to watch the cooks working on the charcoal grill.

Notably, San Ho Won is joining the wave of Bay Area restaurants that are ditching tips. Instead, the restaurant will open with an automatic 20% service charge.

The restaurant accepts reservations from Thursday to Sunday during the first two weeks of opening (November 4-7 and November 11-14), then Wednesdays from November 17. Only a few places are reserved for people without an appointment. This week is the only time San Ho Won will be open on a Monday.

San Ho won. 5 pm-9pm Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. 5 pm-10pm Friday and Saturday. 2170 Bryant Street, San Francisco.

Elena Kadvany is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ekadvany

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