Ismoil Ochilov is having a summer of firsts. A first-time restaurateur, he recently opened Halal Dastarkhan — San Francisco's first restaurant devoted to Uzbek cuisine.
Halal Dastarkhan is located at 1098 Sutter St. (at Larkin), formerly home to Yemeni Restaurant. Ochilov began talking to Yemeni's owners about taking over last August, and officially got the keys in February. After a renovation that was delayed by the shelter-in-place order, he opened his doors in late July.
Originally from Bukara in central Uzbekistan, 29-year-old Ochilov went to school in Tashkent and first came to San Francisco to attend Golden Gate University.
He's been dreaming about becoming a restaurant owner since 2015, building a business plan while finishing school. Driving for Caviar and Doordash helped him understand busy people's reliance on delivery, and motivated him to open his own takeout-ready restaurant.
"Dastarkhan" is the Turkic word for "great spread," which can also refer to a space where food is eaten. The menu includes traditional Uzbek beef and lamb dishes, as well as Central Asian cuisine, with items like golubtsi, borscht, and pakhlava — Azerbaijani-style baklava.
Plov, also called sofi osh, is the most ordered menu item so far. A well-known Uzbek specialty, the rice pilaf dates back to the Timurid Empire in the 1300s.
The menu also features an array of kebabs, which Ochilov says are popular across Central Asia and the former Soviet bloc.
Halal Dastarkhan hasn't done much marketing so far, as word-of-mouth recommendations in the city's Russian-speaking community have helped the business take off.
The restaurant now has a permit for outdoor seating, and does a brisk takeout business, with lunch orders rolling in around 1 p.m. and the dinner rush picking up after 9 p.m.
Opening during a pandemic hasn't been easy — especially in the early months of shelter-in-place, when the city barred nonessential construction and stalled the restaurant's renovation.
Ochilov once worked in construction in Moscow, so once it was allowed again, he was able to make many of the improvements himself. The exterior building signage has been updated, and the awning bears a hand-painted version of the restaurant's logo.
"I invested everything in this," Ochilov said. He sold his car and his scooter. Several friends from school invested, and so did his parents and brother.
But he has a good relationship with his landlord, and says so far, business is meeting his projections. "I'm a very positive person," he said.