Nopa/Western Addition residents have been (im)patiently waiting for updates on when the Namu Gaji crew was going to open their latest project on Divisadero, NAMU STONEPOT, and that time is sooooo close: Thursday July 27th! Last night, the Lee brothers gave me a sneak peek of the space, menu, new dishes, and adult beverages, and let’s just say I’ve found what’s going to become my new neighborhood fixation.
They did quite the transformation of the former Jay’s Cheesesteak space, thanks to designer Brian Ford of Metropolis Design (who designed Namu Gaji, his first restaurant project) and woodworker Sebastian Lane, who cleverly outfitted the narrow space with walnut counters and 22 seats across from an open kitchen. Local artist/muralist Victor Reyes is behind the Cuban-style distressed plaster with pops of color throughout, and the Lees are continuing their tree-themed artwork commissions with Mike Giant, who is going to be doing a custom piece on the front left wall.
The menu is going to be such a hit—it’s generous (fast-casual service helps), unique to the neighborhood, and perfect for a quick bite, takeout (there’s even a dedicated pick-up counter), and should travel well for delivery as well (they are launching on Caviar and Postmates). Take a first look at a preview menu here—which is still being tweaked, btw.
The stonepot concept is inspired by their signature Namu stonepot rice at Namu Gaji—here you can get a piping hot dish in two sizes (regular is $10, large is $18) with Koshihikari rice, seven vegetables (ranging from shimeji and enoki mushrooms to tamari-marinated eggplant from their farm), egg, silken tofu, kimchee, sesame, Other Brother Co. local EVOO, and nori, which you can add grass-fed bulgogi beef ($5) or organic soy-marinated chicken thigh ($3) to—it all sizzles in front of you as you let the rice on the bottom brown to your desired crispness before you mix it all up. In a rush? You can order it all mixed up bibimbap-style (without the stone) for $8.95.
The stonepot is also making appearances with their kimchee okonomiyaki ($12), another Namu favorite, and they are bringing back a Namu original from when they opened on Balboa Street: their sisig ($18)! It comes in a stonepot full of crispy and crackling pork (both ground pork and pork head and jowl, rendered twice!), its richness cut by green cabbage and pickled onions, jalapeños, and celery.
There’s also a creative spin on ramen ($15): a stonepot comes with Tokyo-style ramen noodles, which get a little golden in the sizzling pot with a hit of oil before they are covered with a rich chicken bone broth, and then it all starts bubbling and cooks the noodles more. The ramen also comes topped with slices of sous vide organic chicken breast, a slow-cooked egg, bean sprouts, toasted sesame seeds, and a hit of fried garlic. While it’s a less-brothy version of ramen, it’s rich and full-bodied and really hits the spot.
Another stonepot play is instead of the traditional kimchee stew (kimchee jjigae) presentation bubbling in a bowl, it comes bubbling in the flatter stonepot here, with pork and kimchee broth, rice cakes, silken tofu, and pork belly ($14)—and you can add ramen noodles for $3, hell yes.
A new addition will be a daily poke ($12), with fresh and well-sourced fish (right now it’s yellowtail from the Channel Islands), plus tamari, chile flakes, sesame, garlic, ginger, chive, and lettuce.
Namu favorites like their gamja fries and Korean tacos are on the menu, plus a couple salads too. They have engineered a gluten-free fried chicken, their Mochiko chicken ($10), with crisp brined thigh bites and your choice of having it dry-spiced “tatsuta style” or KFC “Korean Fried Chicken” style. Crunch crunch. Shout-out to the addition of the budget bap: rice, slow-cooked egg, Other Brother Co. local EVOO, and kimchee, just $5.95. They also offer gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan versions of dishes when and where they can, just ask.
Desserts include a matcha milkshake (made with Lush gelato) and a dairy-free version too, and then there’s butter mochi: warm-baked mochi with burnt sweet miso, dark chocolate ganache, and whipped cream, which will be perfect after getting out of a show at The Independent across the street and you have the munchies.
The Lees worked with another great Lee (well, minus an “e”) on their wine and beer list: Trac Le of Bi-Rite Market. There are three local beers on tap (Fort Point’s KSA , Fieldwork’s Painted Gold Pale, and Old Kan’s Dark), and the wines include a couple Tendu wines by Steve Matthiasson, Poe Wines pinot rosé 2016, and a few more selections, which you can also order by the carafe—same goes for some of the sakes on the list. Well, except for the sparkling sake, Dewazakura “Tobiroku/Festival of Stars,” which you’ll want your own bottle of anyway.
If space is tight, or maybe you’re craving a cocktail with your Korean tacos, the fine folks at Waziema (the neighborhood bar just next door) are cool with you bringing your food over. Cheers to that.
On a personal note, I remember these guys when they were slanging hot dogs in Golden Gate Park, and then opened their restaurant on Balboa—it was 11 years ago, and it’s so satisfying to watch how they have evolved their business over time, from their Namu Farm and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market stand to Smaak Edibles. They even just launched a new branding look—you’ll definitely note the three branches (“gaji”) that represent the three brothers. Keep it up, guys!
Hours will be Tue-Sun 11:30am-1am (yeah, late-night baby!), and look for an abbreviated breakfast to come soon too (including a rice porridge with panchan and an egg, sign me up). 553 Divisadero St. at Hayes, 415-926-8065.
Original Namu Stonepot rice. All photos: © tablehopper.com.