The galbi from San Ho Won is the best in San Francisco. Each glistening piece of short rib has edges charred to caramelized perfection, and shiny lines of fat running lengthwise that can only be described as luxurious. It’s flat out memorable—just like a meal at San Ho Won.
It’s no surprise that the galbi here is so incredible—San Ho Won is one of the best Korean restaurants in the city. It also has the air of a secret underground club, which certainly helps to create a dinner you won’t be forgetting any time soon. The all-white building in the Mission is practically unmarked. Getting a 7pm reservation less than a month in advance is nearly impossible. And even though the tables in the minimalist-designed space are always full, the seamless and attentive service makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the room.
As soon as you’re seated, a pot of roasted barley tea lands on your table as if it’s been waiting all night for you to arrive. And over the course of the meal, a well-choreographed ensemble of staff in matching blue coats will bustle around the dining room. They'll deliver and then scoop out your personal portion of egg soufflé, and arrange baskets of ssam (leafy greens for wrapping) and banchan, like a refreshing chilled chili tofu or potato salad with minari, on the table like they’re special gifts just for you.
The lychee charcoal grill plays a central role to a meal here. It’s located behind the bar, so you can see people glaze ribs and check in on mackerel fillets from your seat. As you’ve hopefully gathered by now, the epiphany-inducing galbi should be on your table. But so should the chunjang pork ribs and torpedo-shaped beef neck fillet that’s an even rosy pink on the inside. What they all have in common is a slightly smoky flavor from the grill, plus a flawless char. Meat aside, other must-order grilled dishes include corn that’s dressed up with a fat squiggle of honey butter, and housemade rice cakes that get a nice, crispy crust before being drenched in a sticky maple-soy sauce.
Yes, the grilled dishes deserve a lot of attention, but the rest of the menu shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s split into a few different sections, including appetizers, specialty banchan, and soups and stews. One to focus on is the “Korean Rotisserie Chicken,” a cornish hen slowly roasted on the spit that’s also behind the bar. The soy, sake, and garlic marinade gives the meat and skin a perfectly savory and slightly sweet flavor that has effectively ruined all other chickens for us. Another highlight: the spicy chicken tteokbokki, which arrives in front of you still sizzling in a big black pot. It’s loaded with chewy rice cakes and melt-in-your-mouth onions, and each bite builds a warm heat in your mouth. Ordering it is non-negotiable.
San Ho Won is a restaurant we immediately texted our entire contact list about as soon as we finished our meal. Even if you have to wait weeks to get a table here, it’s an unmissable and special dinner we reserve for birthdays, double dates, or other special occasions. Or really, any time we want to put on a nice sweater, feel cool, and indulge in the best galbi in the city.
These mandu arrive with a crispy, lacy skirt and are filled with galbi that melts in your mouth. The skin is so delicate that these dumplings stick together, so the likelihood that one tears and falls apart is high. But for mandu this good, we’ll forgive any structural integrity flaws.
Savory Egg Soufflé
The egg soufflé is light and fluffy. Once our server starts scooping out helpings for the table, it slowly deflates, like a bounce house letting out air or our ego after we realized we’re too inflexible for adult gymnastics. The spicy anchovy broth poured over the top adds comforting heat to each bite.
There are two green onion pancakes on the menu: one with blood sausage, and this one with mountain yam. We prefer the vegetarian version, with its crispy edges and chunks of yam fanned out like a pinwheel.
House Double-Cut Galbi
We’re firm believers that this galbi should be the next EGOT recipient (sorry, Lin-Manuel Miranda). It’s so tender that the only utensil needed to cut into a piece is a spoon. Whether it’s your first time here or your fifth, this must be on the table.
Korean Rotisserie Chicken
This cornish hen gets skewered and slowly cooked on the rotisserie before landing in front of you, beautifully golden-brown and tender. The soy sauce, sake, and garlic it’s marinated in give the meat and skin even, well-seasoned flavor. Order this.
Spicy Chicken Tteokbokki
The bubbling pot of tteokbokki is loaded with housemade rice cakes, chicken thigh, and a blend of soft carrots and onions. The fiery stew is one of the best dishes on the menu. Do not skip.
Roasted Buckwheat Soft Serve
If you like soft serve, you’ll love this. Thick, not too sweet, and an ideal way to cap things off.