The story: SOMA restaurant Radius emphasized the local sustainable dining movement, saying it got ingredients within a certain radius of the restaurant. But after five years, owner Jon Whitehead closed Radius and revamped the space into a Latin-Caribbean inspired small plates spot, which opened in March. He brought in Chef Mark Furr (most recently of Broken Record) to revamp the menu and head the kitchen.
Why I went: I was meeting my niece after work, so was looking for somewhere close to her job in the Union Square area. Also, on a Friday night it was difficult finding last-minute reservations anywhere until I spotted El Capitan.
The vibe: Open and airy, with a clean fresh look with white walls and casual handsome wood trimmings. I never visited Radius but heard it was more fine-dining, so the vibe now is definitely more casual. But for a Friday night it was a bit quiet. (The front bar area where we sat seemed full but the noise level was low-key, almost like people didn’t want to speak over their neighbors because the tables are so packed next to each other.)
The menu: The majority of items on the menu are small plates, with sections specifically for ceviche (raw seafood) and fry bread tacos. All the small plates are under $15 (except the occasional specials like the lobster ceviche that was offered for $20), and there were a couple of large plates (although our waitress didn’t make them sound very large as she tried to sell us the suckling pig, $20). I liked the idea of munching on a variety of things while not getting super stuffed, and that’s the sense I get at El Capitan – you can snack and eat but don’t expect to leave full (although my niece says she was full, but that’s because she had a late lunch).
The booze: A large selection of beer on tap and a few cocktails and wine. I went for my standard small-bite drink, cava, the Spanish sparkling wine that I feel is a great way to start a tapas-like meal.
My favorite dish: All the dishes had diverse flavors and were beautifully plates (except for maybe the large mound of arugula and peach salad), but my favorite was probably the scallop ceviche ($15) with a yuzu sauce and passion fruit emulsion. There was a bit of chili and cilantro, along with shiso, all combining for a unique twist to ceviche (which often just has a strictly sour base).
Insider tip: Happy hour is from 5 to 7 p.m., and you can find $1 oysters. We got there a few minutes before 7 and squeezed in a few dollar oysters to start. Another tip: Keep in mind the fry bread tacos prices listed are for one taco, so plan accordingly.
The last bite: El Capitan is a bit out of the way in SOMA, but it’s a refreshing and casual spot when you’re in the mood to munch on a variety of things and catch up with friends over drinks. While the portions are small, they’re quality ingredients presented beautifully.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: El Capitan, 1123 Folsom St. (at 8th), San Francisco. PH: 415.525.3676. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.elcapsf.com
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