After a year-and-a-half long hiatus, Union Square mainstay Colibri Mexican Bistro has landed in a new venue: the historic Presidio Officers’ Club, Tradi Des Jardins’ former Arguello spot. It’s been a tough race for the restaurant, which was previously located inside the former Diva Hotel on Geary Street. The restaurant closed during the March 2020 shutdown, and restaurateur Eduardo Rallo and his partners took the time to renovate Colibri. But when the hotel turned into supportive housing for the homeless in October 2020, the group didn’t want to leave the 18-year-old restaurant behind.
They began the search for a new home, eventually striking a deal with the Presidio Trust to lease both the officers’ club and a yet unopened location as part of the ongoing Presidio Tunnel Heights. The move to the officers’ club struck Rallo and COO Gabriela Varsic as quite the game. Colibri’s cuisine and design are influenced by Mexico during the porfiriato, a time when there was a “tremendous amount of French influence in Mexican culture,” says Rallo. The colonial decor, colors and vibe only added to that, adds Varsic, noting that the building is one of the oldest in California history.
For those who remember Colibri’s food, expect the same Mexican food he was known for, Rallo says. Many former Colibri staff members have returned on board, including Chef Edgar Castro, who was originally from Mexico and trained by Chef Nancy Oakes. Castro helped bring back those flavors that Rallo and his wife were looking for, he says, that they couldn’t find on the restaurant scene in the early 2000s when Colibri was launched. “My wife and I were really trying to bring something that brought back a lot of memories, a lot of family recipes that represented the authenticity of the kitchen,” Rallo recalls.
The food represents memories of Mexican cuisine that Rallo, Varsic, and Castro want to bring to San Francisco; imagine succulent moles, as in the dish of pato en mole verde pipián, with a generous layer of green mole under slices of duck breast, garnished with pepitas; panuchos de cochinita pibil, a dish of marinated roast pork on handmade corn shells, topped with pickled red onions; and chamorro de corderro, a lamb shank dish made in Chihuahua, Mexico, cooked for more than three hours, Castro shares.
At least 90% of the menu is carried over from the Union Square restaurant, but expect new additions such as quesabirria and tlayudas to keep up with changing trends and tastes. The restaurant will also bring back its weekend brunch, just in time for Mother’s Day. And prepare for a menu of tequila and mezcal-based cocktails, including an incredibly smoky Gruñon drink, which arrives at the table with billowing smoke billowing from a glass canister.
Among the biggest changes to the restaurant is the addition of a tortilla station located on the adjoining patio; Colibri has made its own tortillas in the past, but this time around it’s a patio focal point, where employees can be seen making tortillas, as well as antojitos. “It’s such an important part of the history and roots of Mexican cuisine that we really had to highlight it,” says Rallo.
Colibri opens May 1 at 50 avenue Moraga, Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.