San Ho Won, the highly anticipated new Korean restaurant from star chef Corey Lee, finally opens today, November 1. Corey Lee is the acclaimed chef of Benu (three Michelin stars), the recently closed In Situ (one Michelin star), and the locally beloved Monsieur Benjamin. But while Benu underscored Lee’s fine-dining approach and Monsieur Benjamin’s serves impeccable brasserie fare, with San Ho Won, the chef is digging deeper into his Korean heritage with homey comforts and charcoal barbecue. Fans got a teaser during the pandemic when he offered takeout boxes of braised short ribs and cabbage kimchi. Now, he’s opening the sit-down restaurant in the Mission, for the full experience.
Read on for a first look at the soulful and smoky menu.
San Ho Won is actually a partnership between Corey Lee and Jeong-In Hwang, one of his longtime chefs and collaborators, who’s worked at fine dining restaurants around the world, for the Pierre Gagnaire group in Seoul, Hong Kong, Paris, and London, and a stint at the Fat Duck in Berkshire. Corey Lee opened Benu in 2010; Jeong-In Hwang moved to San Francisco in 2016 and has spent the past five years helping to open In Situ and leading the kitchen at Benu. Both chefs are originally from Korea and say they’ve wanted to open a dedicated Korean restaurant for many years, despite interruptions with other projects and of course the pandemic. Together, they’re opening the Korean restaurant they always wished existed in the Bay.
The menu digs into Korean charcoal barbecue, inspired by home cooking, but leveraging local seasonal ingredients and fine dining techniques. There’s a “central” barbecue stove — to be clear, no tabletop burners here — that burns lychee wood charcoal specially produced for the restaurant. The menu includes starters, banchan, barbecue, stews, and rice dishes. There are familiar comforts, such as ribeye and galbi beef short ribs for folding into lettuces with toppings. As well as more unusual cuts and rare treats, including a spicy pig ear salad, beef tongue, and jook with abalone.
A tasting menu option hits all of the highlights, with soft serve for dessert, for $95 per person. And for drinks, there’s wine, beer, soju, Korean makgeolli and plum liqueur, and a couple of light cocktails, including a highball. It’s worth noting this may not be the best restaurant for vegetarians, given the focus on barbecue, or the gluten-intolerant — a disclaimer on the website says the soy sauce includes gluten, and given the aging, fermenting, and marinating, it’s hard to avoid. But for all those who love meat and wheat, peruse the full menu, below.
San Ho Won is located in a restaurant-rich area of the Mission, in the former Blowfish Sushi space on Bryant at 20th, just around the corner from Trick Dog and the new Penny Roma. Blowfish Sushi inhabited that space for a good run of 20 years, but it appears that the black-and-white sushi party has been replaced with handsome dark blues, natural woods, and generous booths. Architect Charles Hemminger, also behind the large complexes that include Trick Dog, Central Kitchen, and Tartine Manufactory, as well as standalone restaurants such as Cala, State Bird, and Outerlands, built out the new restaurant, so it’s sure to be beautiful. Catch one of these coveted early reservations while you can.
San Ho Won opens Monday, November 1 with limited hours Thursday to Sunday the first couple of weeks. On November 17, that will expand to Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.