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Baja-style eatery lays claim to ‘the best fish tacos in SF’

Chicano Nuevo specializes in Baja-style fish tacos. | Courtesy Leslie Brook Calderon

Chef Abraham Nuñez has worked virtually every restaurant job one can have—from food runner to bartender to macrobiotic caterer—and he’s the first to tell people to think twice before opening a restaurant in San Francisco. No wonder: He’s been incubating his Baja-style eatery, Chicano Nuevo, for the better part of a decade. A few false starts and countless pop-ups later, Nuñez will finally settle into what he hopes will be a forever home at the bottom of Bernal Heights this fall. 

Leading up to the grand opening, Nuñez plans to do what he does best—a string of pop-ups at some of the city’s buzziest bars and restaurants. The next one will land at Buddy Wine Bar in the Mission on April 26. 

Nuñez told The Standard he’s designed a “welcome back menu” around his seafood staples, along with dishes inspired by a recent six month stint as a chef at Michelin-starred dim sum stunner State Bird Provisions. Those surprise offerings won’t be on the menu; rather, Nuñez’s crew will circulate dim sum plates throughout the bar. 

After popping up at Buddy, Nuñez said he plans to host a series of dinners at several unnamed businesses near Chicano Nuevo’s future home in Bernal Heights, which will give him a chance to conduct R&D on the new menu.

Chicano Nuevo is set to take over the previous location of Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack and El Amigo Bar, where Nuñez first debuted his seafood-forward menu in 2015. Last year, he signed a 20-year lease on the space—with the option to buy the building at the five- and 10-year mark. 

Back in the El Amigo days, Nuñez said one of his first regulars was architect Anne Cervantes, who later became his business mentor. Nuñez said that Cervantes is spearheading the design of the restaurant on a pro-bono basis. 

“She devotes her time to projects that even the playing field for underserved communities,” he said. “And she’s had my back since day one.” 

Nuñez grew up on fresh seafood in Tijuana. At the age of 22, he opened a catering business—a macrobiotic personal chef service—in San Diego with an ex-girlfriend. After relocating to San Francisco in the early 2010s to study journalism at City College of San Francisco, he said he realized there was a dearth of authentic restaurants showcasing the acidic and spicy seafood of his hometown. 

“I ate and drank the shit out of the city,” he said. “And I knew for a fact no one was making fish tacos like me.” 

These days, Nuñez serves his fish tacos with hot consommé and his tostadas with fresh shellfish. Taking a page from his macrobiotic cookbook, he said that Chicano Nuevo’s new menu will skew toward clean eating. As such, he uses juices as natural sweeteners and avoids processed foods as often as possible. 

After two decades in the unpredictable restaurant industry, Nuñez said he’s committed to keeping his grand opening date loose. Once the kitchen inspections are complete, he’ll likely announce the opening with two weeks’ notice. 

“I’m hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” he said. “I’m not doing this over again, so we’re going to do it right.” 

Chicano Nuevo