Every month I cover the top new openings out of all restaurants and bars that have opened that month in the Bay Area (as I visit almost all of them recent months here). Often these are mid-range or affordable, but sometimes a new opening is a “cheap eats” kind of gem but not necessarily one of the top 2-5 new restaurants of the month. Here are five such recent San Francisco newcomers, all under the casual, even take-out umbrella, offering quality food.
1. Kosher, Israeli Bakery: FRENA, Tenderloin/SoMa
Open in December 2016, Frena (named Taboon when it first opened) is a treasure: a kosher bakery serving Israeli rarities beautifully baked and from the sweetest staff. Located on the gritty Sixth Street stretch of the Tenderloin at the edge of SoMa, three friends from Israel, Isaac Yosef, Avi Edri and head chef Yanni ensure a warm welcome, while fourth generation baker Yanni bakes recipes from his great grandfather’s Jerusalem bakery and beyond.
Eat This: They serve classics you may know like babka and rugelach alongside house baked pita with a range of toppings. But I stock up on savory treats like sambusak (filled with the likes of mozzarella and pickled jalapeno or feta and green olives) or flaky bourekas stuffed with ingredients like cheese, spinach, potato or hard boiled eggs.
2. Korean-Mexican Taqueria: TACOREA, Union Square
Hitting Lower Nob Hill near Union Square over the summer of 2016, Tacorea capitalizes on the well-established, California-invented (by LA’s Roy Choi) Korean-Mexican tacos with a convenient, grab-and-go menu and friendly staff in a cozy taqueria. This is one of the best Korean-Mexican taquerias around serving hearty, filling burritos and tacos, with no menu item topping out at more than $10.95.
Eat This: Say “yes” to tator tot nachos, killer Mama Lee’s spicy pork tacos and the kimchi burrito laden with spicy pork, kimchee, Spanish rice, cheese, pico de gallo (there is also a California burrito decadently packed with carne asada, tater tots, cheese, salsa, guacamole, crema and pico de gallo).
3. Neighborhood Korean Gem: HWARO, Mission Terrace/Excelsior
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Hitting the outer reaches of Mission Terrace/Excelsior in August 2016, Hwaro is the kind of neighborhood Korean spot I wish was in my ‘hood. Going the hipster route with beloved modern day classics like Korean tacos, chef Ryan H. Lee working with his sister and owner Jung In “Ina” Lee also plays nicely with traditional Korean dishes.
Eat This: Chef Lee does right by bibimbop ($14) and seafood pajeaon ($16) as well as other Korean favorites of mine like japchae ($15 cellophane sweet potato noodles). Fried chicken comes in a welcome garlic-heavy marinade or a sweet-and-spicy version ($17 each). More cultural mash-ups happen in the Korean-Japanese combo of Korean ramen ($11 + add-ons) with add-on options like kimchi and spam.
4. Modern Mexican: GLENA’S, Dogpatch
Just open February 15, Glena’s does add up quickly for “cheap eats” (e.g. $5 for each small taco) but the tiny, airy spot in whites and bold green tiles is inviting and the kitchen utilizes quality ingredients. For now, Glena’s is only open for weekday lunch but will expand soon and eventually offer cocktails, beer and wine.
Eat This: Run by former Kin Khao chef Michael Gaines with GM Stephanie Gaines (formerly of Plow), the menu is short and sweet but tasty, from a fried chicken torta ($12) to three vibrant salsas served with guacamole and chips ($10). Taco standouts include a refreshed version of traditional al pastor (marinated and grilled pork shoulder in pineapple salsa verde) or the pescado/fish taco in chipotle mayo.
5. Pakistani/Indian Goodness: ZAREEN’S, Palo Alto & Mountain View
These two casual Silicon Valley eateries include the original Mountain View location (open since March 2014) and the newer Palo Alto branch open in October 2016: Zareen’s is now one of my South Bay favorites opened by Zareen Khan, whose family hails from Karachi, Pakistan, and Bombay and Punjab, India. The restaurant’s aromas make my mouth water as I walk up to the building and a line already begins to form (but moves quickly) for weekday lunches and weekend brunch.
Eat This: Utilizing family recipes, efficient order-at-the-counter service makes it as easy to dine-in as to take out, while classic recipes benefit from modern twists and ingredients. There are wraps, salads and popular masala fries, but even mainstream chicken tikka masala ($10.75) is great here, tasting freshly made with tender chicken and comforting house naan to sop it up. They also do right by traditional offerings like aloo samosa burgers ($8.25 with masala fries or salad), a smashed potato samosa layered with chutneys and cheese on a toasted bun.
Bonus: Zhan is also a food and animal rights activist, supporting farmers rights via the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Funds, and protecting farm animals from cruelty via Farm Sanctuary. Her Giving Program is a great model for the dining and catering world.