The Tablehopper

Two big closures on Russian Hill and what is moving in

Isla Vida Afro-Caribbean Grill is making some amazing-looking chicken and Cubanos. Photo: Melissa de Mata


Congrats to Jay Foster, Matthew Washington, and Erin Traylor for getting Isla Vida Afro-Caribbean Grill (1325 Fillmore Street) open in record time. Boom. Isla Vida is serving up wood-fired meats like jerk rotisserie chicken, tostones, Cubanos, and made-to-order churros. Chef Jay Foster says, “With Isla Vida, we explore the next chapter of soul food, through the African diaspora in the Caribbean. We even custom-made a wood-fire grill for the kitchen. Cooking on an open fire lets us prepare the food the way our ancestors did.”

To recap, this black-owned business took over the former Black Bark BBQ space, and they’re interested in hiring people from the Fillmore neighborhood (as they say in a press fact sheet: “Training and mentoring is an integral part to the Isla Vida mission and vision of bringing Black-owned businesses back to the Fillmore neighborhood.”). They are offering a fast-casual experience, and intend to run their own delivery service. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with plans to open at 10 a.m. on the weekends for brunch soon (there’s outdoor seating, too). Welcome to the neighborhood!


Some big news on Hyde Street: After being open since 1994 (as long as I have lived in San Francisco), Andy Debbane and Lucas Gasco’s beloved Spanish stalwart Zarzuela (2000 Hyde Street) will be closing soon for a new project and ownership that is taking over.

Executive chef Michael Pawlik — who has been cooking at Russian Hill neighbor Frascati for the past 12 years — will be moving in with his co-owner and girlfriend Amanda Banks Barker to open Abrazo (which they are defining as “a warm embrace”). Pawlik will be paying homage to what Zarzuela has built there over the past 24 years, offering a Spanish-forward, Mediterranean menu, but it will not include traditional tapas. Banks Barker, who is the bar manager of Mamanoko in the Marina, will be putting together the wine list, as well as offering sherry-based cocktails.

There is not a specific closing date set, so head over for a final paella and tortilla and “gracias” for all the years of great meals while you can. Zarzuela will operate until the transfer process is complete, and the new duo is planning on getting the keys the first week of November. They hope to get a couple soft openings done by the end of November and open to the public the first week of December.

The room will be updated with cosmetic upgrades and new furniture, fixtures, awnings, tabletops, china, glass, and silver to create a warm and inviting ambiance. Pawlik is happy to remain in the neighborhood, and loves the idea of continuing to offer a great dining experience.

Some changes over on Polk Street: After six years in their location, Will and Karen Gioia are moving Gioia Pizzeria (2240 Polk Street) to Hayes Valley, and opening a slice shop in the former Two Sisters Bar & Books space (579 Hayes Street) in early 2019. When they reopen in the tinier 900-square-foot space, they’ll be serving whole pies, pizza by the slice, meatballs, chicken and meatball Parmesan hero sandwiches, salads, and daily specials. You’ll be able to dine in or take out. They are going to miss their neighbors, but wanted to streamline into a smaller space with counter service (like their Berkeley shop, which they’ve had since 2004).

Taking over their space will be a second location of Outer Richmond’s Fiorella, so at least quality pizza will continue from Boris Nemchenok and Brandon Gillis. Look for nightly dinner and weekend brunch, too; stand by for dates and more. Get ready for some fun wallpaper.

After opening in 1994, Brigitte and Andrew Thorpe have closed fondue palace The Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant (2323 Van Ness Avenue) so they can retire (off to Florida they go!). Eater reports “The Matterhorn’s landlord will retain the restaurant’s chalet decor and hopes to find a new operator from Switzerland.”


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Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column, Tablehopper, about the San Francisco dining and imbibing scene; get all the latest news at Follow @tablehopper on Twitter and Instagram for more culinary finds.