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SF’s only Georgian restaurant is a love letter written on cheesy bread

Cheeseboat is named for a traditional Georgian dish called khachapuri. | Courtesy Shalva Dzotsenidze/Cheeseboat

For decades, North Beach and Chinatown have been adjacent dining destinations for pizza and dumplings. Next month, Cheeseboat opens at Grant and Columbus avenues, offering the best of both culinary worlds. The twist? It’s neither Italian nor Chinese; San Francisco’s only Georgian restaurant will bring a taste of the Black Sea and the Caucasus to this diverse neighborhood.

Shalva Dzotsenidze, the owner of Tamari Authentic Georgian Cuisine, is getting ready to open an SF outpost of his successful San Carlos restaurant. If all goes well with the remainder of the build-out, he plans to open Cheeseboat during the first week of February.

The San Francisco Business Times spilled the tea about Dzotsenidze’s expansion late last year, noting that unlike his flagship full-service restaurant, Cheeseboat is a fast-casual concept serving lunch and dinner.

As Dzotsenidze told The Standard, he named Tamari after three strong women—his daughter, a grandmother who partly raised him and Queen Tamar, who ruled Georgia during the 12th and 13th centuries.

The new restaurant’s name refers to khachapuri, a Georgian comfort food that resembles a boat fashioned out of fluffy dough, with cheese with a raw egg in the center. The hot cheese melts into the dough, cooking the egg sunny side up.

Dzotsenidze said he’s wanted to open a restaurant in San Francisco for a long time. It’s a dream he’s kept even in the face of discouragement from friends.

“They told me not to come here because of the high crime, and it’s not very clean, but I think we need to get together as a community to make it better,” he said. “I like the energy of the city and the diversity.”

North Beach may just be the ideal place to introduce a new cuisine to San Francisco. The historic neighborhood is experiencing something of a cultural renaissance. Cheeseboat is located a block from 70-year-old literary landmark City Lights Books. 

Georgian dumplings are called khinkali. | Courtesy Shalva Dzotsenidze/Cheeseboat

Georgia is a small country of less than 4 million people, and there’s been a small community of Georgians in San Francisco since the 1920s. A country known for its food, wine and hospitality, Georgian cuisine is particularly popular among Russians and Ukrainians in both Eastern Europe and the U.S. Dzotsenidze hopes his restaurant will also cater to other San Franciscans who are curious to try new dishes—like khinkali, or Georgian dumplings. He said the dumplings usually contain meat, but he plans to serve mushroom and potato khinkali to appeal to vegan diners.    

As far as Dzotsenidze knows, Cheeseboat is the only Georgian restaurant in San Francisco.  Over in Noe Valley, Russian eatery Birch & Rye serves khachapuri, and there’s a Georgian ghost kitchen in Daly City called Mimino. Still, Dzotsenidze said he feels a big responsibility to represent his native cuisine well here. 

“I think of San Francisco as the food capital of the United States,” he said. “We’re taking this very seriously.”