San Ho Won brings Korean flavors, culture to San Francisco

Inside a sleek, non-descript building in San Francisco’s Mission district, you’ll find a critically-acclaimed restaurant that’s impressed diners since 2021. 

"To me, even when I was young as a Korean, opening a Korean restaurant was my lifetime goal," said Jeong-In Hwang, chef and partner at San Ho Won.

San Ho Won is the brainchild and passion project for chefs Hwang and Corey Lee. Together, they bring decades of European fine dining training and experience to the table. While working at a French restaurant, Hwang always dreamt of showcasing his Korean heritage and its unique flavors. 

"I was always wondering why Korean food had never been popular or elevated like French food or Italian food or even Chinese or Japanese food," said Hwang.

In 2016, Hwang joined Chef Lee’s team at Benu in San Francisco, the first restaurant in the city to receive three Michelin stars. Lee was also the world’s first Korean chef to earn three stars. 

"He was always one of my mentors," said Hwang of Lee. "As a Korean chef, he’s one of the ones I really wanted to learn from and work together. I’ve been admiring him for a long time."

Together, the chefs cooked up a plan to bring a new restaurant to the city, one that honored the Korean flavors of home, while adding the flair of their fine dining experience, including using only first-class ingredients. San Ho Won was born. The name literally translates to "mountain tiger origin" – a symbol that runs deep in Korean history and folklore. 

"We wanted to develop a menu that could be approachable even for non-Koreans, so they could really enjoy," said Hwang. "I believe at the same time, we can share our Korean culture."

A menu that includes the ‘banchan’ or side dishes many are familiar with in Korean cuisine. Also, unique takes on Korean barbecue and spicy soup. All of it, meant to be shared. The concept’s been well-received by the community, reservations fill up a month in advance and San Ho Won even earned a Michelin star of its own. 

"We have a great team, and we work together to serve the best version of Korean food and Michelin luckily recognized our effort," said Hwang.

Perhaps even more important than the prestigious distinction for Hwang—the thumbs-up from his mother. 

"Korean moms specifically, they never think their sons will be a great cook," said Hwang. "Indeed, when they dined at my French restaurants, they probably never enjoyed it that much." He went on to say, "When they come to San Ho Won, last year, the first time, they said ‘whoa, you did a good job."

For Hwang and Lee, this is just the beginning. They want to continue sharing the flavor and textures of Korean cuisine with the masses, bringing a taste of home with them wherever they go. 

"Day by day, we’re working hard to introduce  Korean food to the world," said Hwang.