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SF

Review

Erin Ng

Abacá

Written by
Erin Ng

When Abacá opened its doors in summer 2021, titas, lolas, and your kuya’s tita’s tita rushed to the lobby of a Fisherman’s Wharf hotel like there was an everything-must-go sale at a Bed Bath & Beyond. After all, this is the first Filipino fine dining spot to ever touch down in the city. And it’s the permanent iteration of the Pinoy Heritage pop-up.

Abacá lives up to the hype. But don’t come here just because you enjoy the “next big thing” as much as you do weekend sleep. Come to taste traditional Filipino flavors that have been amped up and remixed with ingredient combinations that we’ve yet to encounter elsewhere. Out of the many restaurants in San Francisco that surpass expectations, Abacá is the most refreshing.

To eat here, you’ll have to make your way to the waterfront tourist zone, but it’s several blocks from the High! From SF shot glasses and cable car magnets. Once you reach the lobby of the Kimpton Alton Hotel, a host will greet you at the entrance of the semi-closed-in dining room. The space is bright and enticing, mainly from the warm glow of a huge skylight. Hopefully, when you settle into your chair under some hanging faux tropical plants, you’ll already feel like the hard-fought battle with your dining app for a reservation was worth it.

Erin Ng

At first glance, the menu has dishes typically found at other Bay Area Filipino restaurants—pancit, lumpia, BBQ skewers, and fried rice. But this is where the comparison stops. Abacá’s dishes, all intended for sharing, employ seasonings and sauces from regions across the Philippines and fuse them with California signatures. These familiar dishes are made to feel new.

The okoy fritters are lighter than an air balloon and topped with pinakurat and more herbs than you’ll find at the Ferry Building farmers market. The bowl of smoked chicken palabok isn’t simply the saucy, comforting noodle dish you might find served buffet-style at a family get-together. Soft boiled quail eggs, flat green beans, and crunchy rice noodles level it all up. One of the most unexpected dishes is a plate of butternut squash dumplings surrounded by a pond of creamy coconut milk and topped with romanesco, zucchini, and palapa condiment. It’s reminiscent of a bountiful summer salad, and you wouldn’t be the first to gasp when this dish hits the table.

Erin Ng

Presentation is also part of the show here, but form is always at play with function. In the seafood chowder, for example, mussels jut out dramatically like volcanoes rising from a creamy coconut milk ocean. Dig your spoon in deeper and uncover what could likely be every type of seafood at the fish market, yellow potatoes that glisten like gold, and, the ultimate nod to the restaurant’s Fisherman’s Wharf location, chunks of sourdough.

If you’ve been using the same three restaurants over and over again for everything from date night to birthdays to family reunions, mix it up. If you work Abacá into the rotation, you’ll never feel restaurant fatigue again.

Food Rundown

Erin Ng
Sisig Fried Rice

It’s not every day we get to say that fried rice is the spitting image of a bird’s nest, but the imagery works here. A round wooden bowl serves as the vessel for the sisig fried rice, pickled red onions, and microgreens. And in the middle of this cradle, a lone poached egg is waiting to be broken and mixed in. The rice is one of Abacá’s more popular dishes, and one bite of this savory-sweet fluff will make you see why.

Erin Ng
Abacá’s Seafood Chowder

This cioppino-like soup, and the sourdough chunks that are swimming within it, are a nod to the restaurant’s touristy waterfront location—bread bowl not included. The coconut milk and tomato oil broth highlight mussels, calamari, shrimp, clams, and a fish of the day, plus diced potatoes. Get this.

Erin Ng
Squash Okoy Fritter With Pinakurat Sauce

We’d gladly purchase the Abacá Fritter Season Pass (sadly, not a real thing) if it meant we could get this fried kabocha squash dish any time we wanted. The fritters are jagged-edged structures that easily buckle and melt in your mouth like a simple card trick. The genius of the dish is the homemade vinegar that tingles the tongue, plus the cilantro, basil, and pickled cabbage topping for an herby touch.

Erin Ng
Smoked Chicken Palabok

Aside from the usual thick rice noodles and chicharrones, Abacá’s version also comes with soft-boiled quail eggs, summer beans, sliced radishes, and small chicken chunks that almost taste like Lil’ Smokies (yes, that’s a great thing). Crispy rice noodles add a welcomed crunch.

Squid Relleno

When it comes to presentation, this dish has the “damn, how did they do that” factor. The squid is stuffed with a chorizo and comes with a side of yellow melon and calamansi aioli. Given all the glamour shots of this dish you’ll probably take, we really wanted to love it. But the squid was a tad tough, and the chorizo needed a bit more fat and flavor.

Pork Steamed Bun

A word to the wise: this pork bun is only one per order, and will inspire where-are-the-keys-to-my-car levels of drama if you attempt to share. It’s a solid pork bun nonetheless with bacon tocino and pineapple kimchi. Still, at $8 a piece, we prefer other things on the menu to this. Feel free to skip.

Erin Ng
Hodo Soy Yuba Skin With Adobo Glaze

The entire BBQ skewer section is a worthwhile endeavor, but we especially like the crispy yuba skin, which is folded like the bellows of an accordion. The adobo glaze on top is the right amount of sweet. Our only issue here is that one order (two skewers) isn’t enough to split with a larger group.

Butternut Squash Dumplings

The soft dumplings are surrounded by a pond of creamy coconut milk you’ll want to lick clean off the plate. Romanesco, zucchini, palapa condiment, and other herbs are reminiscent of a bountiful summer salad.

Lola’s Pork Lumpia

Standard lumpia that’s well-fried but a bit bland. We do like the fun fermented mango and apple ketchup dipping sauce. But there are so many other great dishes on the menu that you can feel confident skipping.

Cocktails

The drink menu at Abacá is proof that a meal is more fun when the table looks like a punchy rainbow, in case you had doubts. The rum-based ube-colada is a bold lavender dream with cool ube-coconut cream, while the pandan-quiri in lemon yellow is infused with grapefruit and calamansi. We love the galleon trade, a refreshing tequila elixir in a festive ceramic cup that reminds us of an afternoon sailing in our fancy shorts on a tropical sea.

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