Perennially popular Namu Gaji (499 Dolores at 18th) is temporarily closing its restaurant on the corner of Dolores Park while the building it occupies undergoes a mandatory seismic retrofit. While that’s going to be earth-shattering news for regulars of the innovative, Korean and Japanese influenced restaurant from brothers David, Dennis, and Daniel Lee, it’s not the end of Namu Gaji — and they’ve got to do the retrofit to make the building safe in case of an actual earth-shattering quake.
Namu Gaji will return when repairs are complete, though the process will take several months. The last night (for now) to get dinner of okonomiyaki, burgers, dumplings, and stonepots is this Thursday, March 14. They’ll also do lunch on Friday and Saturday.
To get their fix in the meantime, customers can visit the Lee brothers’ fast-casual offering, Namu Stonepot, which opened on Divisadero in 2017. The Lees will also be be at their usual Ferry Building farmers market post, doing online deliveries as normal, and adding more pop-ups during the closure.
“It’s a huge pain,” says chef-partner Dennis Lee of the closure. Seismic retrofits can spell the end for a business, and Namu Gaji’s path forward is “a conscious choice of ours to not let it do that.”
Fortunately, Namu Gaji is nimble. “We have a pretty varied business,” says Lee. “We’re able to move people around, and we’ve done a lot of pop-ups in our restaurant and around the city, so we have a pretty good handle on it.”
The Lees opened Namu Gaji in 2012 as a followup to their original Balboa restaurant, Namu, which ran from 2006 to 2011. When it returns, Namu Gaji should look and feel similar to its current state, says Lee, though the space will need to be rebuilt.
In the past year, Lee has moved the restaurant’s menu towards predominantly vegan and vegetarian dishes (without making a big fuss about it) as the Chronicle reported. “That’s a big part of my philosophy now,” says Lee, who clarifies that his cooking is far from 100 precent vegan. “But first and foremost, environmentally, it’s something that makes a lot of sense, and really is going to be the future of cuisine in general.”
Another note: Namu Gaji isn’t the only temporary casualty of the seismic retrofit in the building. Beloved ice cream shop Bi-Rite Creamery has also seen its service disrupted. While the creamery is closed, Bi-Rite will offer ice cream from a truck at the corner of 18th and Dolores — and there’s also their creamery outpost on Divisadero (right across from Namu Stonepot for total continuity).