When Matt Ho’s family restaurant Bodega Bistro in the Tenderloin shut down in 2017 after 14 years in business, the plan in the back of his mind was always to reopen the restaurant — it was just a question of when. Bodega Bistro was a longtime favorite of the neighborhood, serving up Northern Vietnamese and French dishes, run by Ho’s father and uncles. By the time Ho’s father decided to close up shop, Ho was working two jobs — running front of house at Bodega while also working to open the Palo Alto location of Nobu — before eventually focusing his attention and time at Nobu and working his way into the manager role.
Ho’s father temporarily relocated to Vietnam following the closure of the restaurant, but when he returned in 2019, the family decided to bring back the restaurant for a one-night-only pop-up in the Mission that December. Plenty of people attended the event and plans for more pop-ups began. Those ideas quickly folded during the shutdown in March 2020, but eventually, Ho and his uncle, who runs the kitchen side of the operation, decided to do a different sort of pop-up. The pair sold weekly meal kits of their food out of the Rooster and Rice location in the Castro starting in August 2020, while Nobu shifted to takeout-only. When Ho was eventually furloughed at Nobu two months later, he shifted his focus to working at Bodega fulltime, renting space from Rooster and Rice and serving up Bodega dishes, such as dry hu tieu noodles, six days a week.
But it was at the Bodega Bistro pop-up where Ho began reconnecting with former customers from the Tenderloin location. Ho says they already felt the restrictions of sharing a kitchen, which limited the dishes they could make, and they began to think about formally finding their own spot. “When we were doing the pop-up and seeing a lot of our old customers return, they were telling us how they missed the restaurant and how much they missed us,” Ho says. “And I thought, ‘Oh man, maybe this is the time.’”
Ho wanted a sit-down restaurant to showcase Vietnamese cuisine, rather than the fast-casual operations they ran as a pop-up, and eventually, they landed their current location at 138 Mason Street. Now, the family is gearing up to reopen the new restaurant as Bodega SF on Friday, June 10, bringing back some menu favorites of the original, but with some new tricks up their sleeve. Ho’s mother, father, and uncle are back and involved on the culinary side, while Ho and business partners Eugene Kim and Adrienne Fornier are running the front of house side of operations.
The restaurant will open for both lunch and dinner; lunch will be similar to the restaurant’s former lunch menu, with shareable items and larger format items such as the shaking beef, Hoi An chicken rice, as well as various types of pho, such as Bodega beef pho, made with beef bone broth, brisket, meatballs, rare filet, and rice noodles. Ho points to a few of his favorites on the dinner menu: the restaurant is known for its bun cha, Vietnamese meat patties made with heritage pork belly; there’s also banh cuon rice rolls, which Ho says can be difficult to find in the city; cha ca, a whole branzino fish deboned, butterflied, and served with dill, turmeric, and galangal; and bo tai chanh, which Ho describes as a beef carpaccio, with Thai basil, Maui onion, crispy shallots, and citrus fish sauce.
One of the bigger changes for the restaurant is the addition of a bar. Ho says the drink menu will feature Asian-inspired cocktails with ingredients such as pandan, lemongrass, rau ram, or Vietnamese coffee. The Club Bodega, for instance, is made with rum, pandan, and lemon; One Night in Saigon mixes Hennessy with Vietnamese coffee, and a Frangelico-Fernet Menthe foam. There will be a few non-alcoholic options as well, including fresh sugar cane juice or a sugar cane calamansi drink.
Ho held down a number of industry jobs outside of Bodega Bistro, like The Melt, Patxi’s Pizza, and Nobu, but it also taught him more about himself and the family business. “I just did a little bit of everything in hospitality, and working Bodega at the same time showed me that I cared more for my family restaurant because I wanted to see it do well and it had to do with our family’s name.”
Bodega SF (138 Mason Street) debuts Friday, June 10 and will be open 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Sunday, Monday, and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and closed Tuesdays.