A PLATE ARRIVES at the table — perfectly charred octopus is resting regally on a deep purple sweet potato puree, adorned by punchy slaw and punctuated with pickled grapes. Every bite brings you closer to the realization that you’re eating something very special. At Abacá, the new San Francisco restaurant by chef Francis Ang, this experience isn’t limited to the octopus alone. Rather, each dish is a piece in a jigsaw puzzle of delicious complexity, representing equal parts tradition and creativity.
“We approach the menu in a couple of ways. Either it’s a traditional Filipino dish, or the complete opposite — whatever we can find at the farmers’ market and ‘Filipinize,’” says Ang, half-jokingly. “The idea is: How do we make a dish Filipino and showcase the ingredients we care about?” The octopus, one of Abacá’s standout main courses, is a prime example — the slaw’s dressing includes a funky Filipino fish sauce, and the same sauce is used to sauté the grapes.
When Abacá opened in August 2021, on the ground floor of the new Kimpton Alton Hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf, it was clear that this was no standard hotel restaurant. Draped in luscious greenery and decorated with woven abacá baskets — abacá, a Tagalog word, is a fiber derived from a banana tree native to the Philippines — the space has a uniquely escapist vibe and lures in plenty of locals. The mix of bar seating, cozy tables, and communal corners invites couples and large groups. Everyone looks great under the shimmering string lights. The place is perpetually busy.
Before opening Abacá, Chef Ang, who moved to the Bay Area from Manila at the age of 19, was running a successful pop-up series titled Pinoy Heritage with his wife and collaborator, Dian. The pop-up started in 2014 as a fundraiser for victims of the 2013 Haiyan typhoon, which caught the couple on a family vacation to the Philippines. Now, years later, amidst a welcome national wave of Filipino fine dining, Ang is operating what might be the only Filipino hotel restaurant in the country. “We’ve been receiving lots of love from the community,” he says. “It’s mind-blowing.”
Alongside innovative dishes like pork BBQ sticks in banana ketchup, Ang has populated the menu with nods to Filipino classics dressed up in fine-dining attire. For the palabok, a common rice noodle dish, Abacá makes chicharron in-house, and smokes the chicken for an additional kick of umami. The pork lumpia includes fermented mango. The banana heart salad, another common Filipino dish, is dressed with smoked coconut vinaigrette and locally sourced pomelo. The bar menu, created by San Francisco Asian spirits connoisseur Kevin Diedrich, features nine elaborate cocktails showcasing ube, jackfruit, curry leaf, and calamansi, a type of Filipino lime.
While many San Francisco chefs will tell you about their daily trips to the farmers’ markets, for Abacá’s team, shopping locally means supporting markets with a strong Asian presence. At the Daly City Market, Ang says, there’s a thriving community of Filipino farmers who have been there for years. “I’ve known some of these people over a decade,” he adds.
Recently, Abacá added a brunch menu to its offerings, as well as a panadería focusing on freshly baked Filipino delights and desserts, from lychee mousse with mango jam to bibingka — the airiest, fluffiest gluten-free cake imaginable, made even more decadent with the addition of brie cheese and salted egg. If patrons are too full — or if you just happened to walk by — the display case is perfect for a to-go situation.
“Filipino food is made for brunch — I mean, eggs, meat, and rice!” Ang says. On the menu, familiar brunch superstars have undergone the Filipino treatment with the addition of classic ingredients. Imagine an avocado toast adorned with tinapa sarsa — an herbaceous sauce featuring tiny smoke-preserved fish ubiquitous in the island country — or a mochi waffle with coconut caramel and passion fruit. For those with a major brunch appetite, Tapsilog, the traditional holy trinity of fried rice, sunny-side up eggs, and beef, is also in attendance.
The most elaborate brunch item might be the ensaymada, a Mallorcan pastry that has become a Filipino mainstay. At Abacá, this coiled, laminated brioche-like creature is breaded and fried to create a unique French toast. “We serve it with fried oysters and caviar Hollandaise,” says Ang coolly. This laid-back attitude, combined with stunning results unlike anything else you’d eat in San Francisco, is the key to Abacá’s magic.
Flora Tsapovsky Writer
Flora Tsapovsky is a San Francisco–based culture, food, and style writer, as well as an editor and educator. Her work has appeared in Elle, Wired, Bon Appétit, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Cayce Clifford Photographer
Cayce Clifford is a portrait and documentary photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she has slowly moved west, spending time in the mountains of Utah and now in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has recently collaborated on projects with publications like Rolling Stone, Wired, and the New Yorker.