Anytime Señor Sisig rolls out a new location, it’s cause for celebration among the pioneering Filipino-American food truck’s legion of fans. There aren’t many Bay Area food items, after all, that can match the enduring popularity of those fusion sisig burritos.
But the newest Señor Sisig outpost opening today in downtown Oakland, as the SF Chronicle first reported, is especially notable: Located at the former Spice Monkey space at 1628 Webster Street, it’s just the second restaurant (i.e., non-truck) storefront for the company — and its first permanent location in the East Bay, where the trucks have a huge following. And it’s also the first location that’ll serve the Señor Sisig food trucks’ original menu and an all-vegan version of that menu, side by side.
In other words, Oakland customers can get their favorite iteration of the Señor Sisig burrito stuffed with pork, chicken, or tocino, as they would at any of the trucks — or, if they prefer, they can get it with a veganized version of any of those meats. Previously, the plant-based items were only available at the Señor Sisig Vegano food truck, which debuted in the Mission District this past November.
“We’ve been getting a lot of East Bay people hitting us up [about Señor Sisig Vegano], saying, ‘Come out to Oakland. Come out to Oakland,’” says co-founder Evan Kidera, who runs the business along with his partner Gil Payumo. “This will be the first location where you can come get both.”
The coronavirus crisis has taken its toll on Señor Sisig, which has built a street food mini-empire over the past decade that already includes six food trucks, including the Vegano truck, and a restaurant in the Mission. As Kidera notes, most of those food trucks were concentrated in downtown San Francisco, where, in pre-COVID times, they did a robust business feeding office workers.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, when it became a dead zone down there, we had to figure out how to pivot,” Kidera says. The answer lay, in part, in moving into places like Daly City and, especially, the East Bay, where many of Señor Sisig’s regular customers lived and where they were now working from home. So, back in May, Kidera and Payumo worked out an arrangement with Spice Monkey, stationing one of their trucks outside the bar so that customers could pick up their burrito and their to-go cocktail all in one shot, perhaps walking over to nearby Lake Merritt to enjoy their meal. The setup was so successful, Kidera says, that when Spice Monkey closed, Señor Sisig decided to take the leap and take over the space.
Since so many Oakland customers had been asking about Señor Sisig Vegano’s vegan offerings, Kidera says he decided it would be a “cool differentiator” if the new restaurant offered both menus in full — especially since, unlike the food trucks, the restaurant had enough kitchen space for two separate grills.
That means vegan customers — or customers who, like Kidera himself, are omnivores who want to reduce their meat consumption — can order a plant-based version of anything on the Señor Sisig menu: the California burritos, the tostadas, the loaded fries, and so forth. Vegan “meat” options will include pork, chicken (the most popular option among Vegano customers, Kidera says), tocino, and longanisa chorizo. The Oakland shop will also be the only location where you’ll always be able to snag a crisp Crunch-a-Dilla — Señor Sisig’s take on a Taco Bell Crunchwrap, which is only occasionally sold on the trucks — in both vegan and non-vegan versions.
For now, the restaurant will function as just a takeout window, but eventually there will be both outdoor and indoor seating. The other bonus, Kidera says, is that Señor Sisig has acquired a full liquor license for this Oakland location. It’ll be a few months before it goes into effect, but when it does, this will be Señor Sisig’s first opportunity to play around with Filipino-inspired cocktails. Expect “tropical vibes,” Kidera says.
The new Señor Sisig joins a slew of buzzy, next-generation vegan spots that have opened in Oakland in the past year, including Lion Dance Cafe (right around the corner), Malibu’s Burgers, and Vegan Mob — all restaurants that have huge social media followings and, even during the pandemic, lines that sometimes stretch around the block.
In fact, it was Kidera’s experience helping Vegan Mob owner Toriano Gordon open his restaurant that gave him the confidence to bring Señor Sisig Vegano to Oakland: “I didn’t really understand the magnitude [of how popular these vegan restaurants are] until we opened that restaurant — and, you know, to see the following and see the folks that would come out really opened my eyes.”
“It’s the next wave,” Kidera says. “We want to be a part of that.”
Señor Sisig’s Oakland storefront will be open for takeout Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and Friday to Saturday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m. This Saturday, January 9, it will close early at 5 p.m.