After a year and a half long pause in service, Union Square mainstay Colibri Mexican Bistro has landed in a new location: the historic Presidio Officers’ Club, the former spot of Tradi Des Jardins’ Arguello. It’s been a tough ride for the restaurant, which was previously located inside the former Hotel Diva on Geary Street. The restaurant closed down during the March 2020 shutdown, and restaurateur Eduardo Rallo and his partners took the downtime to renovate Colibri. But when the hotel converted into supportive housing for the homeless in October 2020, the group didn’t want to leave the 18-year-old restaurant behind.
They began the search for a new home, eventually reaching a deal with the Presidio Trust to lease out both the officers’ club and a still-unopened spot as part of the in-progress Presidio Tunnel Tops. The move to the officers’ club struck Rallo and operations manager Gabriela Varsic as quite the match. Colibri’s cuisine and design are influenced by Mexico during the porfiriato, a time period where there was a “tremendous amount of French influence in Mexican culture,” Rallo says. The decor, the colors, and the colonial feel only added to that, Varsic adds, noting that the building is one of the oldest in California history.
For those who remember Colibri’s food, expect much of the same Mexican food that it was known for, Rallo says. Many of the former Colibri staff came back on board including chef Edgar Castro, who hails from Mexico and trained under chef Nancy Oakes. Castro helped bring back those flavors that Rallo and his wife were looking for, he says, that they weren’t finding in the restaurant scene back in the early 2000s when Colibri launched. “My wife and I were really just trying to bring something that brought a lot of the memories, a lot of the recipes from the family that represented the authenticity of the cuisine,” Rallo recalls.
The food represents memories of Mexican food that Rallo, Varsic, and Castro want to bring to San Francisco; envision luscious moles, such as in the pato en mole verde pipián dish, with a generous slather of green mole beneath slices of duck breast, topped with pepitas; panuchos de cochinita pibil, a dish of marinated roasted pork over handmade corn shells, topped with pickled red onions; and chamorro de corderro, a lamb shank dish made in Chihuahua, Mexico that’s cooked for more than three hours, Castro shares.
At least 90 percent of the menu is ported over from the Union Square restaurant, but expect new additions such as quesabirria and tlayudas to keep up with evolving trends and tastes. The restaurant will also bring back its weekend brunch, just in time for Mothers Day. And prepare for a tequila- and mezcal-forward cocktail menu, including an impressively smoked Gruñon drink, which arrives tableside with wisps of smoke unfurling from a glass-encased box.
Among the biggest changes to the restaurant is the addition of a tortilla station situated on the adjoining patio; Colibri has made its own tortillas in the past, but this time around it’s a central focus of the patio, where staffers can be seen making tortillas, as well as antojitos. “It is just such an important component of the history and of the roots of what Mexican cuisine is that we really had to highlight it,” Rallo says.
Colibri opens May 1 at 50 Moraga Avenue, Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.