Fénix, a new Mexican-inspired eatery from the Mercer Restaurant Group, is set to make its debut at Seventh and Mission, next door to big brother AQ, this Friday, May 6th.
The name is a nod to the space's past as TBD, another Mercer restaurant that was themed around a flaming hearth and shut its doors in the wake of a fire (well, more like a devastating smolder) in late 2014.
Now, owner Matt Semmelhack and chef Mark Liberman hope their new concept will rise from the ashes to fill a void. "I think there is a lack of sit-down Mexican restaurants in the San Francisco area," said Liberman, who also ran the kitchen at TBD. "There are lots of taquerias and casual places to get a taco or burrito, but not a lot of places to get a full sit-down meal."
Liberman says the focus on Mexican flavors came from a lifelong love of Mexican food, but Fénix isn't trying to be totally authentic. "A lot of the menu is rooted in traditional food, but we tried to do our version of it," he said. "It's different, in a good way—it's very bright, very vibrant, with a lot of heat."
The menu features a selection of small plates priced from $4-$14, ranging from a big-eye tuna cocktail to a cast iron skillet of queso fundido topped with chorizo verde. Entrees like the chicken tinga ($18) and pork shank ($19) all come with 12 "little tastes," inspired by Korean banchan: they include grilled pineapple adobo, pumpkin seed hummus, Mexican-style pickles, and beans, rice and house-made tortillas.
Queso fundido with chips.
Fénix doesn't have full liquor, so don't expect mezcal or margaritas. Instead, general manager Sonja Lukin-Beck designed a sangria-focused beverage list featuring seasonal selections like the refreshing “Fresa Fresca” (rosé, strawberry, mint), plus beer and wine. (See the full menu here.)
Red wine and fresa fresca sangrias.
The space has done an about-face from TBD's urban lumberjack aesthetic: though the layout remains the same as the former restaurant, Lotería-inspired wallpaper lines one wall, and hanging plants lend a lush feel to the space. Diners will also notice another change: the restaurant is adopting a tipless model, with 18 percent gratuity to be added automatically onto the bill.
There's also a new focus on happy hour, with $5 sangria, beer and wine, plus chicken wings, queso fundido and peel-and-eat shrimp from 4:30-6pm. Full hours will be Tuesday-Saturday from 4:30-10pm.
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