When high school friends Evan Kidera and Gil Payumo first started Señor Sisig in 2010, Filipino food hadn’t yet become a popular mainstream cuisine in the Bay Area. There wasn’t an FOB Kitchen or a Pinoy Heritage or an Undiscovered SF night market — or, really, much in the way of any Filipino food businesses other than older-generation mom-and-pops that served traditional dishes mostly just within their own community.
Then the Señor Sisig food truck came along, with its menu of Filipino-inspired burritos and tacos, and suddenly the longest line at every food festival was made up of people who wanted to buy Filipino food. The word “sisig” became part of the average San Franciscan’s vocabulary. Now, nearly 10 years later, the pioneering food truck mini-empire — up to six trucks and counting — passes its next big milestone: Señor Sisig’s very first restaurant storefront will open at 990 Valencia Street in the Mission this Thursday, November 7.
Kidera explains that at the time they started the first truck, he and Payumo were making a big bet on sisig, which wasn’t even one of the best known Filipino dishes at the time: “It was either lumpia or adobo.” But Kidera and Payumo believed that sisig, traditionally made by frying the chopped-up meat from a pig’s face, had the potential, as Anthony Bourdain said years later, “to win the hearts and minds of the world.” They made a meatier version of the dish, using pork shoulder instead of the face, and adapted the marinade to apply it to chicken and tofu as well. Inspired by how Roy Choi was combining Korean and Mexican flavors with his Kogi trucks in LA, Kidera and Payumo thought that sisig, with its salty, spicy, tangy flavors, would be the perfect thing to wrap inside a burrito or to scoop on top of nachos.
The rest, as they say, was history. Janice Dulce, the chef and co-owner of Oakland’s FOB Kitchen, says she remembers when Señor Sisig first came onto the scene in the early 2010s, she started hearing about how long the lines were. “It was exciting for me as a Filipino person because people were interested in Filipino food. People were saying the word ‘sisig’ and ‘tocino,’” Dulce says. “It paved the way for people like myself.”
Kidera says he remembers thinking at the time about how Filipino Americans didn’t really have a food item that the average non-Filipino could easily relate to — the way a California roll might be an American’s first entry point into Japanese food. “What we did was put it into a very familiar concept — a burrito — and made it very simple for people to digest,” Kidera says.
As Desi Danganan, the executive director of the Undiscovered SF night market, puts it, “Señor Sisig is a milestone in showing how Filipino cuisine is constantly evolving and adapting and accepting multicultural stimuli.” Maybe the strongest evidence of the business’s impact? Kidera recalls that about two years ago he visited a dive bar in Manila, in the Philippines, that was serving a meatier style of fusion taco. The name of that dish on the menu? “San Francisco–style sisig.”
Even though the opening of the new counter-service restaurant marks a graduation of sorts for Señor Sisig, Kidera says the main goal was to have the permanent location feel as much like a food truck as possible. It’s why he and Payumo passed on larger storefronts before settling on the 800-square-foot former Blue Fig space, which they’ve decked out with artwork by Aaron Kai — the centerpiece is a large mural that depicts Kidera and Payumo slinging burritos on their first truck.
But the main appeal of the space, Kidera says, is that all of the seating is outside: 40 seats on the back patio and several more in the parklet in front. The idea is for the whole experience to feel the same as buying a burrito from the truck, and then finding a place on the curb or in the park where you could sit down and eat — but with more space to stretch your legs.
Meanwhile, the menu will feature all of the classics that Señor Sisig loyalists have grown to love, but with the notable addition of a few specials that they were never able to offer regularly on the truck. Perhaps most exciting, for those customers who dabble in the occasional Taco Bell binge-fest, is the Sisig Crunchwrap — a griddled tortilla wrapped around a tostada that’s stuffed with your protein of choice, served with spicy nacho cheese for dipping. Other additions include a version of loaded nachos that substitutes fried pork rinds in place of the potato chips, and the “Sisig Cali-changa,” a deep-fried, French fry–stuffed California burrito with nacho cheese inside.
For dessert, there’s ube-horchata soft serve made with buffalo milk, in collaboration with Annabelle Topacio of Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous. Beverage options range from a “freckled calamansi” juice with muddled strawberries to beer from Woods Beer Co., Fort Point, and, for the OG Filipinos, San Miguel pale lager on tap.
Señor Sisig will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. See full menu below: