It's hard to say the words "San Francisco" and "barbecue" in one sentence without hearing something derogatory in return. "San Francisco does not have barbecue," they'll say, rolling their eyes. "Not real barbecue, anyway."
Well. Always up for the challenge of defending my fair city against any and all culinary naysayers, I'm pleased to announce that I have a brand new pocket ace in my arsenal. Hi Lo BBQ, the long-awaited project from Scott Youkilis and Dave Esler, is now open for business on 19th street.
Youkilis, the man behind perennial favorites Maverick and Hog & Rocks (Hi Lo is directly across the street), has already shown this city that he can do right by Southern food—Hog & Rocks, in addition to slinging tasty ham and oysters, must be given due credit for informing the Mission set about the wonders of pimento cheese.
And at Hi Lo, he's not messing around when it comes to the barbecue. Chef Ryan Ostler is at the helm of the Hi Lo kitchen, after slinging 'cue at Broken Record and Bruno's, not to mention stints at Boulevard and Range.
Ostler hails from Austin (and is a self-professed Smitty's guy), but wants to be clear that he's not just aping Southern barbecue for the California set.
"I love Southern style, I grew up with it," he tells us. "And I can cook great American barbecue. But we're going to be doing a lot more than that here—I want to borrow from a lot of different styles."
So, while Ostler's making a classic Texas-style brisket ("Texas is definitely all things beef, so brisket is what defines a barbecue place for me"), and St. Louis-cut spare ribs, you'll find elements of Asian cuisine on the menu ("Pho 'Cue," featuring Chiang Mai sausage and Thai chilis; a sake-braised smoked pork belly), and a lot of California love, as well.
"I've been here since 2005. When I came to San Francisco for the first time, I went to the farmer's market and I was like... 'F*** it, I'm moving!'" Ostler says. "Here, we're trying to get to the market every day."
Dedication to local produce, and to supporting the area's farmers, is important to Ostler. Meaning vegetables aren't stiffed on this menu—from a medley of rainbow carrots tossed in miso brown butter to a warm dino kale salad studded with smoked sweet potatoes, sides and starters are treated with a similar dedication to quality and creativity.
Ribs, ready for Precious.
Of course, meat remains the star of the Hi Lo show. A massive 7,000 lb J&R smoker, brought in from Mesquite, TX and named "Precious," is an integral part of the restaurant team; Ostler pats her affectionately as we're introduced. She goes through 120 pounds of California white oak per day.
Currently, the meats are portioned and priced accordingly; a by-the-pound system may develop in the future. Ostler hopes the space leads to a convivial atmosphere—the sleek, high-ceilinged restaurant evokes a funky, minimalist barn, with an upstairs mezzanine and warm wood communal tables to ensure maximum space to chow down.
"We're going for elevated counter service," Ostler says. "I want this place to make people feel good, and happy, and excited."
Ostler's menu, and overall approach, seems to harken a new category of barbecue, rife with local and global influences: San Francisco-style.
"My first job was working in a gumbo shop in Austin. And I love that food," he says. "But there's so much more here. That's why I came to California, to San Francisco specifically."
Check out shots from the Hi Lo menu in the slideshow above!