Five years after introducing San Francisco to the bold flavors of Guamanian cuisine — and a little more than a year after the restaurant’s original Mission District location shut down — Prubechu reopens today in the 2224 Mission Street space formerly occupied by Commonwealth.
The new iteration of Prubechu marks a homecoming, then, but it’s also a testament to how far the popular restaurant has come. When partners Shawn Camacho and Shawn Naputi first opened Prubechu in the Mission in 2014, it was the only Guamanian restaurant in the city. Many customers had never heard of Chamorro food, the traditional cuisine of Guam — some even came specifically because they were drawn to a menu made up of words they didn’t know how to pronounce, Camacho says. “Now,” he says, “people are walking down the street craving Chamorro food, which is the most proud we can be.”
As Camacho explains it, Chamorro cuisine is an amalgamation of the Marianas Islands’ indigenous foods and a mix of Spanish, Japanese, and American colonial influences. Even today, Prubechu remains the only place in San Francisco proper that serves it. But the restaurant also never set out to serve traditional Guamanian food, strictly speaking. Naputi, the chef, came from a fine-dining background, and the first incarnation of the restaurant was probably best known for offering one of the most unique tasting menu experiences in the city — “like grandma’s food done with a little finesse, with a nice lipstick and a beautiful perfume,” Naputi explains.
So, for instance, Naputi would make tinaktak, a dish of stewed ground beef (“like a high-acid stroganoff,” Camacho says), but he’d serve it with seasonal vegetables and handmade noodles instead of green beans, tomatoes, and rice — the traditional accompaniments you’d find in Guam. But he also wouldn’t shy away from serving a stew made with pig’s blood; even with a fine-dining approach, he says he never felt like he watered down the cuisine.
At Prubechu 2.0, the approach to the food will remain the same, but if anything, the restaurant will aim to be more casual and approachable — more in keeping with the tradition of the “fiesta tables” that people in Guam have for large community celebrations. Toward that end, Naputi and Camacho have done away with Prubechu’s formal tasting menu option and have replaced it with a $55 per person “fiesta table” option: about 10 dishes served family-style in three “waves” — first, some starters like Guamanian-style sweet rolls and kelaguen (a Chamorro raw fish preparation that’s analogous to ceviche); then a spread of meat and vegetable dishes to be eaten with red rice; and finally something sweet to finish the meal. A full a la carte menu is also available.
“I think we’re just kind of over that word, the ‘tasting menu.’ ‘Fiesta’ fits us well. We grew up on that, you know?” Naputi says. The music will be loud. The atmosphere will be more like a party.
The redesign of the former Commonwealth space, as overseen by D-Scheme Studio, was more of a “buff-up” than anything, Camacho says: “The bones of the building were great; the kitchen was well kept.” The overall aesthetic is a “juxtaposition of industrial and natural elements,” Camacho explains. All told, the 1,500-square-foot space will seat about 40 diners, split between a standard mix of two-tops and four-tops and, in the bar area on the other side of the restaurant, a long communal table — made with live-edge wood — that can seat 10 or 11.
In the kitchen, Naputi says he’s especially excited about the shiny new multi-function smart oven that they’ve installed, which he says will allow him to smoke food indoors — an important part of Chamorro cuisine.
Camacho and Naputi are also planning at least one last finishing touch. The partners acknowledge there was some controversy in the neighborhood when they painted over the old Hunt’s Donuts sign on the exterior wall of the restaurant — a decision they say they made because the sign was getting tagged repeatedly and they didn’t have the budget to properly refurbish and maintain it. For now, they’ve painted the wall a bright sunflower yellow, but they’re hoping to eventually cover it with a new mural. Ideally, Camacho says, they’ll commission two artists to collaborate on the project — one based in the Mission and one from Guam.
Prubechu is open for dinner Monday to Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday to Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m., with lunch and brunch hours to come. See the full opening menu below:
menuprubechu by Luke Tsai on Scribd