Rich Report Recommends This Restaurant in San Francisco: San Ho Won
Jeong-In Hwang and Corey Lee team up for Korean barbecue at Michelin three-star Benu.
With Benu, Corey Lee struck out on his own in 2010 after nine years of working with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and Per Se. This was an inopportune time to open a restaurant. Since the country was still recovering from the Financial Crisis, opening something with Benu's ambitions, a tasting menu-driven restaurant with influences from Korea, China, Japan, and his time in French fine dining, was a tense experience. The storm he weathered turned him into one of the most talented chefs of his generation, earning him three Michelin stars.
In spite of the uncertainty surrounding another crisis, Lee has launched a new restaurant in San Francisco, San Ho Won, earlier this month. While the anxiety associated with this opening may be familiar, the restaurant itself is quite different from what he experienced before. Lee is going a more casual approach this time and is drawing more directly from his Korean heritage. The pandemic delayed and shaped this project for years.
In 2015, Lee moved to San Francisco and began working with Korean-born chef Jeong-In Hwang, establishing San Ho Won as a partnership. Their restaurant was conceived as a tribute to the country where they both were born and as something that was lacking in the Bay Area at the time.
With Lee and Hwang, they dined at barbecue restaurants in Japan and Korea in 2019. They wanted to bring the casual vibe of the restaurants back to San Francisco with them, even though there was no one restaurant that stood out above the rest along the way.
The first thing they did was barbecue. Not the kind of Korean barbecue where grills adorned every table, but where the chefs cooked over charcoal in an open kitchen overlooking a minimalist dining room. San Ho Won was launched as a takeout only restaurant when the pandemic delayed opening. For a year, they cooked to-go, changing the restaurant into what it is today in a subtle way.
It is not afraid to break from tradition when they feel it is warranted, says Hwang, who will lead the kitchen day-to-day. This can include tweaking a technique to create a crispier rice, such as using a cast iron pan (gamasot) for bibimbap rather than a stone pot (dolsot). They can also adjust the way they cut their short rib galbi so it cooks evenly on the grill.
In some instances, San How Won may depart even further from tradition, as with its kimchi jjigae pozole, which combines Korean stew with Mexican soup filled with hominy. Hwang and Lee think of their new restaurant as a celebration of their Mexican heritage and the Mission District, where delicious wins out over doctrinal.