Fans of fried eggs with corn tortillas and sauteed mushrooms and slow-cooked carnitas tacos, rejoice. Chef Maria Elena Esquivel and her husband Ignacio Perez are opening Xica, a Mexican restaurant, in Levi’s Plaza, the 9.4-acre and 930,000-square-foot office campus and community park on San Francisco’s Embaradero. It’s a sort of homecoming for the duo: Chica, Esquivel and Perez’s now-closed Oakland restaurant, began as a takeout window in Levi’s Plaza in 2015, but this is a new restaurant from the pair. Chica closed in late September so the two could get ready to open Xica.
The new restaurant will bring tacos, chilaquiles, and XICA Bowls made with rice, black beans, quinoa, mixed greens, veggies, and the business’ Chingona sauce, topped with steak. The hope is to open for lunch in the first month of the new year, then open for dinner and brunch down the road. It’s a special opening for owner Esquivel as she returns to Levi’s Plaza after six years. “Now, we’ve come full circle back into Levi’s Plaza, where it all started,” Esquivel says. “The confidence to be in a space this large is all from the community. It’s that nervous kind of excitement.”
In 2015, Esquivel’s business was firmly in the then-booming pop-up scene in San Francisco — though pop-ups are definitely in vogue once again. Her initial run in Levi’s Plaza came after five years working at the Vestry and El Techo. Her prowess in Mexican American cooking is no joke, and her sourcing has always been pro-level; her business in the East Bay served Proyecto Diaz Coffee, an Oaxaquenero roaster in San Leandro. She and Perez sat down for this new restaurant to compile what she called “Chica’s Best Hits.” The eggs benedicto, for example, is top of that order, and gluten-free chicken and waffles, too; Esquivel says she’d like an entirely gluten-free kitchen.
The couple’s fanbase grew when they moved to Oakland in 2016, but Esquivel says they simply outgrew that location. This new space is also pretty big; it’s about 4,000 square feet and seats 80 to 90 diners, inside and outside. This new (sort of old) location has a much larger kitchen, too. So, the couple is feeling primed to take on the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s waterfront. “It truly feels like a butterfly breaking out of their cocoon moment,” Esquivel says. “That area needs some breakfast love.”
Xica will open at 1265 Battery Street in early 2023.