When chef Brandon Jew first opened Mister Jiu’s in 2016 and started what has become his life’s project of reinventing and pushing the boundaries of Chinese-American cuisine, you probably would have never caught him putting takeout-style sweet-and-sour chicken on the menu. But tonight, when the Michelin-starred chef opens his newest restaurant, Mamahuhu, at 517 Clement Street in the Inner Richmond — for delivery only at first — the entire menu will be made up of Jew’s takes on those kinds of Chinese-American takeout classics: kung pao chicken, beef and broccoli, crispy egg rolls, and more.
The restaurant will launch its delivery-only trial run on Caviar tonight, from 6 to 9:30 p.m., and will be open for delivery during those hours at this through this weekend. If all goes well, Jew expects to officially open the 35-seat restaurant to the public next Thursday, January 9.
“I would have never told you that I thought I’d be making this kind of food when I first started. It was probably just the opposite of what I wanted to do,” Jew, a Richmond district resident, tells Eater SF. But as he developed the Mamahuhu project with his partners (Ben Moore and Anmao Sun of Shanghai-based Hunter Gatherer) over the course of the past two years, a couple of different things caused him to have a change of heart. The first was his desire to serve food that would be more accessible to a greater number of people, compared to, say, the food at his flagship, Mister Jiu’s, where it’s easy for diners to spend $100 a person for a meal. At Mamahuhu, everything on the menu is less than $20, and a solo diner might be happy just ordering the $15 combo plate, which comes with a choice of entree, rice, and a side of wok-cooked greens.
The other factor, Jew says, was the fact that as he spent more time in Chinatown, he gained a greater appreciation for the history of the Chinese-American standards that he grew up eating — how dishes like mushu pork and sweet-and-sour chicken came to be, and the ways they allowed generations of skilled Chinese immigrant cooks to make a living in their adopted homeland.
“I started to feel a lot of pride in how these dishes broke down a lot of walls in getting people into Chinatown, and how a lot of these dishes were the vessel in getting people to accept the Chinese community,” Jew says.
And so, Mamahuhu leans into all of those Chinese-American classics that you might normally expect to find at a Panda Express. They’re “elevated” versions insofar as Jew and chef Noah Kopito (who will handle most of the day-to-day operations) have put a lot of thought into the technique of how to keep the sweet-and-sour chicken crunchy, for instance, and because Jew is sourcing the produce from many of the same farms he uses at Mister Jiu’s. Many of the sauces are made from beef and chicken stock reductions that are all made from scratch in-house. The base of the wonton soup is salted local rock cod. The glaze for that sweet-and-sour chicken is made with hawthorn and honey. There’s also a vegan mapo tofu that’s loaded with shiitake mushrooms.
At their core, though, Jew says these are dishes that are made with humble ingredients — with carrots, celery, turnips, and radishes. The name, Mamahuhu, translates to “so-so” in English; Mandarin speakers often use it in a kind of self-deprecating way to downplay their own accomplishments. In that way, Jew explains, the name is his joking nod to the notoriously high expectations that Chinese immigrant parents have for their kids. So, he might tell his Chinese elders that the food at his new restaurant is just mama huhu — even if he believes he’s done his best to make it pretty great.
After its initial delivery-only period, Mamahuhu will be open for dinner five nights a week (probably Thursday–Monday), before eventually extending its hours to both lunch and dinner service seven days a week. See the opening menu, which goes live on Caviar at 6 p.m., below: