A spread of small plates and salumi. All photos: © tablehopper.com.
Charred asparagus with bottarga and mandarin.
Wintertime bounty: beef short rib potpie.
Jane toast with avocado, sesame seeds, and sea urchin aioli.
Spanish omelet with chorizo and aioli.
Frozen chocolate custard with salted peanuts and olive oil, and buttermilk-vanilla ice cream with honeycomb candy.
Interior of Huxley. Photo: Franklin Clary (Nopalize), courtesy of Huxley.
What is a neighborhood restaurant in this shifting city landscape of ours? ~HUXLEY~ straddles two worlds: on one hand, it’s tucked in the Tenderloin, a small space that feels very urban, with friendly, heavily tattooed servers and West Coast hip-hop dialed up. On the other hand, the urbane one, there’s a New York strip steak for $49, and the third item on the predominantly French wine list is a bottle of Selosse Initial Brut for $328. (Yes, my darling, I am pinching you—you really are at Geary and Larkin.) Huxley is part of a spectrum, let’s say from crack to Champagne, and you decide where you fall on it.
Owner Kris Esqueda has a rather dialed background (Saison and Sons & Daughters), and you see it in the quality glassware and service touches—this may be presented as a casual place, but once you become attuned to finer things, it’s hard to shake. Personally, I love the play between high and low (in life and not just here).
If you’re an oenophile, this list is your romper room. (Who pours Jamet by the glass? Huxley.) It’s also a great venue to discover new wines (not everything is $$$—again, there’s a spectrum here). Ask questions. Taste. Drink some sherry. You’ll espy some low-ABV cocktails, like a michelada at brunch or Aperol spritz, while you can go for their version of a Negroni at aperitivo time.
Chef Sara Hauman comes from Bar Agricole, and her New American menu traipses into the California comfort zone—ingredients are completely synced with the season and well sourced, and can lean to the hearty and homey and rustic. It’s food that has an apparent hand—you can sense that someone is preparing it for you, right there in the open kitchen. (It’s a pocket-sized kitchen, and to fully appreciate what she’s doing here, you should read this in-depth piece in Mise.)
She initially opened with consulting chef Brett Cooper, but is now running the show solo, and I feel like the place has hit a good stride. As if she wasn’t doing enough all on her own, she’s also curing her own meats, like chorizo and sweet-fatted coppa. You’ll also see house butter and smoked and whipped lard (one time I dug it but another time it was too smoky and overpowering) that you spread of Jane bread, a neighborhood bakery that custom-bakes for Huxley.
There’s an appealing selection of small plates and eclectic snacks, ranging from sweet potato croquettes ($6) to headcheese ($6) to a special of salmon in lettuce cups. The neighborhood vibe comes alive in the seats by the kitchen counter and tall bar seats at the window ledge (10 in all)—it feels like a party zone. You can swing by (and hope for an open spot) and order a few bites while the staff helps you decide what to pair with the corned beef tongue. Solo diners have a good perch here too.
Tables that line the other wall, a mix of two-tops and four-tops, have pretty and colorful patterned tops that feel a bit gypsy—Bon Vivants Design+Build is behind the bohemian look, which also has a lot of wood details that make the place feel even cozier than it already is.
Ideally you’re dining with someone who is down to share, because the bistro-style menu works best that way. One night my friend and I made a meal of small plates and appetizers, like charred asparagus ($13) with bottarga and little pieces of mandarin (at first I found the combination odd but soon I adored it), and roasted half-quail ($18) with a brothy base of creamy butter beans and kale.
Larger plates can read as expensive ($29 for king salmon), but when you’re sharing, it works out. Sometimes the seasoning can be a bit over or under, ditto the cooking of the proteins. It’s not perfect, but that’s part of what makes this place feel human and personal, to be honest. (If the food was tweezery, the whole experience would feel too bougie. The rusticity keeps it all grounded.) Dishes change often, but one steady is Hauman’s potpie, with its buttery and peppery crust—currently it’s a classic poussin with peas and carrots. I’m already waiting for winter to bring back the very memorable beef short rib version.
It would be very easy to make fun of the extensive toast menu at their charming Sunday brunch service, but we all like it too much, SF clichés be damned, so order up (the version with avocado topped with sesame seeds and a base of sea urchin aioli is a hit, $8, and another comes with cured salmon, $10).
Brunch is more on the savory side and not very “brunchy eggy”—dishes are more about creatively using up dinnertime vegetables and meats, like a rice and seasonal vegetable bowl ($15) that comes with a poached egg, or a roast pork leg and belly ($17) with wheat berries and fried eggs. And then there’s Hauman’s absolutely pitch-perfect Spanish omelet ($7), a custardy wedge that has her chorizo layered inside with the potatoes. Ay, dios mio.
There are only 25 seats, so tables are quite coveted—ideally you’ll want to make a reservation if you’re planning ahead (you also may wait a bit for your reservation if someone is lingering over their dessert—the small space makes it a challenging ballet for the staff). It’s also worth noting the vibe is upbeat and can get loud, so it’s good for a fun date, but not exactly the ideal location for that private tête-à-tête you’ve been wanting to have with your main squeeze. Well, maybe at the end of the night, when things quiet down, you’ll have a moment as you share the frozen chocolate custard with salted peanuts and olive oil.
This review was based on three visits.