Uma Casa chef Telmo Faria grew up in the Azores region of Portugal, and Khalid Mushasha (of Black Cat and Lolinda) was raised in London, but the duo will celebrate a shared feature of their geographically diverse upbringings — the worldly Portuguese dish piri piri chicken — with a new casual restaurant, Piri Pica. Their business, opening in late spring at 590 Valencia (at 17th Street), will offer Portuguese food for dine-in, take-out, and delivery, all centered on the flame-grilled chicken with a spicy pepper sauce.
Piri piri, literally “pepper pepper,” originated with an African pepper imported to Portugal. Now versions of the dish have travelled far and wide, including to Mushasha’s native England. It’s garnered an even wider audience thanks to the internationally expanding South African chain Nando’s.
“We’ve always talked about it, and then when I opened [Uma Casa], I had it on the menu,” says Faria, who was executive chef and partner at Tacolicious before venturing out on his own with his full-service Portuguese restaurant last year.
Piri Pica translates roughly to “pepper sting,” but Faria promises several varieties: plain for kids, garlic and herb for those who don’t like spicy, and a “blow-the-roof-of-your-mouth-off spicy version” for those who do, all in quarter, half, and whole chicken sizes. Sides will include salads of couscous, mixed greens, and wild rice, as well as seasonal vegetables, braised greens, and fried potatoes. To match the food, Mushasha will have a menu of local beer and a Portuguese-inflected wine list — expect a refreshing Vinho Verde or two.
Their space, with 1,800 square feet and 60 seats (including room for outdoor tables) is the former home of Belgian restaurant Frjtz, which recently closed and is moving around the corner to 3412 17th Street. They’ve hired Craige Walters, the designer behind Black Cat’s upscale elegance, to create a more relaxed atmosphere with consideration for both dining room guests and take-out and delivery operations — an increasing source of revenue for local restaurants.
“We’ve built out a section just so delivery drivers can be off to one side, as well as anyone picking up to go,” explains Mushasha. “We want it to be welcoming and clear for people to figure out what to do.” And in a competitive market for value with inexpensive taquerias nearby, they’ll work to keep prices from $12 to $14 for a full meal. “San Francisco guests — the people out there know what their money is worth,” Mushasha says.
Piri Pica arrives on Valencia at a moment marked by more closures than openings on the typically trendy and well-trafficked corridor. But another exception will be their new next door neighbor: Bon Voyage, a cocktail bar with snacks and dumplings from the Trick Dog founders that’s currently under construction.
Faria thinks the “timing is favorable” for the move, “with Lisbon and Portugal just getting so much tourism and attention on the food travel scene” in a phenomenon he compares to a wave of travel to Spain in the early 2000s. “People’s familiarity with the concept or idea — the timing works well. Now that San Francisco has a Portuguese restaurant,” he adds, as Uma Casa is the city’s only dedicated Portuguese kitchen, “there’s a year’s worth of people who might have come in [to the restaurant] and have had the chicken, or know the flavors.”
Mushasha and Faria are bound for Portugal themselves, leaving for a final research trip to Lisbon. “I learned from my time at Tacolicious — whether it was Mexico City or Guadalajara, immersing yourself in an environment gives you inspiration,” Faria says. They’ll visit neighborhood restaurants and Lisbon where “it’s just some guy manning a grill, brushing piri piri onto chicken.” Establishments like those serve as neighborhood take-out spots, or places for locals to get a quick meal with their kids. “It’s a no fuss meal, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
As Faria turns an eye to Piri Pica, he’ll promote Uma Casa sous chef Nicole Marin to chef de cuisine — a cook he praises as “a rock over the last year.” Before Uma Casa, the young chef ran the kitchen at Tacolicious North Beach, and has worked for Eduardo García at Maximo Bistrot in Mexico City. “She’s been with me since we were doing pop-ups,” says Faria admiringly. “She’s earned her stripes.”