First Look: Alba Ray's in San Francisco's Mission District

New Orleans' good food and good times has arrived in one of SF's bustling dining neighborhoods
January 24, 2017
by Trevor Felch

The gist: Jambalaya and Sazerac-filled good times are ready to roll at the Mission’s Cajun-Californian restaurant, which had its debut last night. Alba Ray’s is the third project for owner Alvin Garcia and chef-partner Adam Rosenblum. It departs substantially from the burgers and American comfort fare that have made their first two establishments (Causwells and Popsons) popular with city diners. Garcia has always dreamed of opening a Cajun restaurant, and over the years he’s hosted several Cajun pop-up parties around town. Meanwhile, Rosenblum has spent time in New Orleans, cooking with James Beard Award–winning Donald Link at his original restaurant, Herbsaint. The name, Alba Ray's, combines Noah Ray (Garcia's son) and Alba (Rosenblum’s daughter), so this really is a family affair and a family-friendly restaurant.

Boudin balls; courtesy of Pierce Larick/New Revolution Media

The food: New Orleans classics are everywhere on Rosenblum’s opening menu, from a bowl of chicken and andouille gumbo topped with crispy okra to barbecue shrimp with plenty of bread on the side to sop up the smoky-buttery sauce. Small plates are highlighted by oysters — both as a half-dozen raw or a half-dozen charbroiled and drenched with herbed butter and Romano cheese. Cajun staple boudin sausage comes fried as boudin balls with a Creole mustard aïoli, and the three salads include a distinct California–New Orleans hybrid with blue crab, green tomato and avocado.

Chicken and sausage jambalaya; courtesy of Pierce Larick/New Revolution Media

Entrees range from traditional shrimp and grits or rabbit stew with milk biscuits to blue crab–stuffed flounder and a mixed pork plate. Jambalaya rules the large entrees section, priced per person (all the better for more sampling). The restaurant’s whole-hog butchery comes into play with the housemade sausage in the jambalaya with chicken while a vegetarian version includes smoked eggplant and carrot. Savory dishes are rounded out by finger-licking seafood boils (right now with head-on shrimp but will have crawfish in season) and a selection of sides including the essential red beans and rice (and mac 'n' cheese fans should keep an eye on this version with guanciale). Don’t forget to save room for cinnamon bread pudding.

Courtesy of Pierce Larick/New Revolution Media

The drinks: It wouldn’t be a New Orleans dining experience without a bar. The city’s rich drinking culture is highlighted with selections including a Sazera, a passion fruit–heavy hurricane with a dark rum float, a Vieux Carré, a French 75 and a Ramos Gin Fizz. Bar manager Mike Henderson (Delarosa) also has some off-the-beaten-path creations like the herbal-forward Bywater, boasting green chartreuse, amaro and falernum supporting the rum base. If you’re not into cocktails, don’t worry. Louisiana’s beloved Abita beers show up on draft and in bottles, accompanied by local and international brews. The wine program also has a tidy, concise blend of California and French labels, put together by Tom Patella (California Wine Merchant) and Rafael Souza (Lolinda).

Courtesy of Pierce Larick/New Revolution Media

The space: The theme and tone are set initially from the exterior windows sporting a golden fleur-de-lis and writing promising "good food, good drinks and good times." Oakland-based ARCSINE (best known for Calavera and Duende) designed the 2,400-square-foot space that can hold 100 patrons. The wood-heavy furnishings of short-lived predecessor Hapa Ramen are out. Instead, the lighting is brighter, and New Orleans elements can be found throughout the dining room, including a hand-painted mosaic floor mural, iron arches, vintage chandeliers, plus jazz on the soundtrack. A 16-seat zinc-topped communal table by the kitchen's open window is perfect for a group crawfish boil, while more casual white marble–top tables near the bar and front door beckon walk-ins. The bar includes old-fashioned wooden bar chairs (with backs!) and an interior framed by grand wood corbels that Garcia found during one of his research missions to New Orleans.

Alba Ray’s accepts reservations and is open for dinner nightly 5:30 PM–11 PM and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. The bar is open until 12 PM weeknights and 1 AM Friday and Saturday, with a snacks menu available.

2293 Mission St.; 415-872-9409

new orleans
cajun food
classic cocktails