Skip to main content
Food & Drink

This cult Japanese izakaya in the Mission is exactly what San Francisco needs right now

a bowl of lobster ramen with the shells poking out, shot from above
Chome’s $28 “fiery lobster ramen” is plenty spicy, but the heat feels organic, embedded in the richness of the broth. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

San Francisco’s in a dour mood, and the cure for what ails it is found at Chome, a quirky, recently reopened Japanese restaurant whose approach might be summed up as “serious fun.”

Having built a dedicated cult following over two years at 18th and Mission Streets—in the spot once occupied by Weird Fish and now home to a project called “Undingable”—Chome relocated in November to a bigger space on 26th Street, where Chinese restaurant Wild Pepper used to be. 

It’s still BYOB for now, but with essentially the same menu and the same offbeat charm. There’s no online presence apart from Instagram, and a sign posting the hours of operation is a wordy quasi-apology explaining that they’re closed “Monday and some weird days.” (The sign also warns that sometimes Chome shuts early if no one comes in, but judging from several recent visits, that is an unlikely occurrence—the place is already packed.)

Co-owners Judy and Kevin (they do not reveal their last names) are taking full advantage of the bigger environs. Judy manages the front-of-house, while Kevin operates the kitchen. They refer to each other by animal alter egos: Kevin is the Fish, and Judy is the Pig. The only biographical snippet Judy would disclose in a late-night Instagram message is that Kevin is young and a little temperamental, leading to occasional bickering behind the scenes.

“He opened his first restaurant before he turned 21,” Judy said. “Kevin's very talented, but he drives me nuts.”

a ceramic bowl of udon carbonara with a serving spoon poking out
Japanese-Italian fusion reaches its apex in a bowl of udon carbonara, the thick sauce adhering to the fat wheat noodles. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Japanese cuisine frequently emphasizes mastery and craft, but here, instead of hewing to any one tradition, the Fish and the Pig lead with humor—and abandon. Every diner receives a small plate of potato salad when they sit down, and another small plate of fruit after the meal. Paddle-shaped wooden boards on the wall encourage diners to “Learn some Japanese,” with translations of helpful phrases like “Shut up” and “Bite me.”

Desire for semi-anonymity aside, it’s clear that this kitchen is anything but shy or modest. The philosophy is “more is more,” and almost everything is full-flavored. It’s also kind of an omni-Japanese operation. There's an entire page of nigiri and hand rolls for anyone who wants sushi, and plenty of charcoal-grilled meats for anyone leaning toward yakitori.

Having trouble deciding? “Mambo to the combo” with a $36 selection of seven individually seasoned skewers, from wagyu beef and cumin lamb to shiitake mushrooms and Brussels sprouts.

two servings of egg with eel, artfully presented as a duo
Unagi tamago yaki, an omelet-like preparation with freshwater eel, is artfully plated. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Egg is the linchpin of Chome's menu, showing up all over, and the high-Euro fusion dishes are clever without being contrived. As light as a quiche, unagi tamago yaki folds an omelet around a portion of sweet freshwater eel, dotted with sesame seeds ($8). Udon, the wheat noodles as thick as a coaxial cable, merge with yolk and cheese to form the basis of a wintry, satiating duck carbonara ($28).

While nearby ramen temple Taishoken made a lot of hue and cry about its $35 lobster ramen, putting out only 10 bowls a day at its Mission location, Chome’s $28 “fiery lobster ramen” doesn’t feel like a dare. It’s plenty spicy, but the heat feels organic, embedded in the richness of the broth.

The truly opulent things are almost a sneak attack, like “tipsy oysters” larded up with uni, caviar and other decadent toppings accompanied by a sake shot that’s meant to be poured-on. Those sea baubles are $15 each.

a wall-mounted paddle with translations of tongue-in-cheek Japanese phrases
Chome's decor includes a lot of tongue-in-cheek elements, like this wall-mounted paddle with sassy Japanese translations. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Chome 1.0 was a very small operation, with seven tables packed tightly together in a narrow space. Chome 2.0 has almost three times the seating, and at 9:30 p.m. on a rainy Saturday night, every table was occupied—pleasantly lively for early-to-bed SF. 

Judy revealed scant details about the reason for last fall’s closure, except to say that it happened while she was traveling. She got back into town, took possession of the keys and went to work. They opened a week later, and while it’s clearly a labor of love, it’s still labor. Judy betrayed a hint of exasperation mixed in with her love of the game.  

“I just really like it when people have a good time and smile, because maybe I don’t get that much of that in my life,” Judy said. “When I see people happy, it just passes on.”


📍 3601 26th St.
☎️ 415-655-9623