There may be no neighborhood more densely packed with top restaurants than the Valencia Street corridor near Dolores Park. Within just a few square blocks, there are iconic bakeries, line-inducing hand rolls, Cal-Italian pioneers, and destination bars. But the team behind the newest iteration of Luna, the restaurant that took over the former Luna Park space in June 2021, hopes to cater not to tourists or fine dining fanatics. They want to feed the neighborhood.
Andrea Boyd, marketing manager for both Luna and Wayfare Tavern in FiDi, says after opening the restaurant two summers ago — “right in the middle of the pandemic but what we thought was the end of the pandemic,” she says — the team found they misunderstood what Mission District residents wanted. “We just didn't feel like it was resonating,” Boyd says of the original Luna concept. “Being hospitality people, we were like, ‘We want this to be more fun. We want it to be a place we would all go eat after work.’”
So Luna rises again, and this time the American brasserie idea is out the door. Instead, owner Tony Marcell, new executive chef Michelle Mathews, and the rest of the team hope to make Luna an approachable neighborhood haunt, the kind of place where you can reserve a table for dinner, pop in for a drink for a night in the neighborhood, or belly up for something to eat after knocking one back at one of the nearby bars.
Mathews comes to Luna after working at high-end New York restaurants including La Grenouille, Restaurant Daniel, and Eleven Madison Park though most recently she was at Kaiyo in Cow Hollow. The chef says the menu starts with familiar dishes like mac n’ cheese, poutine, fried chicken, and pot roast — then boosts them with global influences and local ingredients. For example, the braised brisket Reuben gets a Korean twist with a layer of kimchi, while the chicken wings take a spin through the Philippines picking up adobo seasoning and crispy garlic. And don’t expect the pot roast to taste like anything you make a home: Mathews gives its Snake River Farms brisket a full 48-hour marinade and serves it in a rich demi-glace.
The most personal dish for the chef, who’s Korean American, is the Korean fried chicken. “That's an homage to me and my mom, and my family and my heritage,” Mathews says. As part of her commitment to using local and sustainable ingredients as often as possible, she’s using Mary’s Free-Range Chicken, which gets marinated in a koji seasoning before being double-fried. The final touch is made-in-house gochujang, which Mathews grants a touch of sweetness with honey and pear.
On the beverage side, look for a small list of drinks that keep things relatively simple as a sort of retreat from the trend toward cocktails laden with a dozen or more obscure ingredients. At Luna, the cocktails combine familiar spirits and flavors — think, a Bee’s Bonnet made with gin, yuzu, blueberry, and lavender or a Shiso Crazy that combines bourbon, shiso, strawberry, lemon, and mint. There are also large format drinks meant to be shared between 2-4 people and for brunch, which will be offered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, diners can indulge in bottomless mimosas.
The space, which formerly sported warm woods and grey walls, got a refresh thanks to interior designer Jon de la Cruz. Mathews calls the new look “very Twin Peaks” so expect bold red accents, patterned wallpaper, and other quirky touches and art.
With the overarching goal of making Luna a true neighborhood staple, affordability was front of mind for the team. So, on top of a dinner menu where snacks come in at under $10 and almost every entree costs under $20, Luna will also offer happy hour from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays with discounts on drinks and small plates and Night Owl Happy Hour from 9 to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights. The team hopes the second option will appeal to those in the industry, who might want a place to get a bite to eat after work.
“It's for everybody,” Matthew stresses. “As a neighborhood place, I think it’s very important to be accessible for everyone. I think it’s what the Mission needs at this moment in time.”
Luna (694 Valencia Street in San Francisco) is open from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until close Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant will celebrate a grand reopening on Friday, January 20.