In a city full of destination restaurants (at least, they used to be destinations pre-shelter in place), true locals-only neighborhood gems have started to feel fewer and farther between. In Hayes Valley, Arlequin Wine Merchant and its sister Arlequin Cafe have long checked that box, but when the cafe closed last summer, it left room for something new to fill the void.
Now mid-pandemic, The Absinthe Group, which owns Arlequin as well as its namesake restaurant Absinthe and others, has morphed that old cafe space into a new neighborhood spot: Arbor, an iteration on fast-casual Cal-American food, is serving juicy burgers, honkin' salads, and curly fries that seem just right for the takeout age.
(Photography by Sarah Chorey)
Why are restaurant burgers always so much better than the ones we make at home? Arbor does a cheeseburger just right: double Cream Co. grass-fed beef patties, three kinds of cheese, pickles, caramelized onions, and their house special sauce on a fluffy brioche bun.
From chefs Ryan McIlwraith (Bellota, Coqueta) and Kaili Hill (Barcino), Arbor's menu is a study in comfort food with an organic twist, and all of it travels well.
Dig into fresh hearty Cobb or Italian chopped salads; the double cheeseburger; or a crispy fried chicken sandwich. In addition to those curly fries (which also come in a chili-cheese version) and creamy mac 'n' cheese, there's grilled broccoli with green goddess dressing for anyone wanting something healthier on the side.
Speaking of healthy, non-meat-eaters will find a vegan burger, a seeded falafel and stone fruit bowl, as well as some vegan desserts. If drinking is on the agenda (and these days, when is it not?), you've got wines such as Avinyo cava, local beers (think Almanac and Fort Point), and Lillet Rosé spritzes.
When the restaurant reopens for indoor dining, you'll notice that a major redesign with bright colors, arches of woven cane wicker and ribbed wood, and fabric wall art collages. The interior was conceived by Absinthe Group's director of development Jonny Raglin and local firm Piechota Architecture, which also designed Bellota.
"Arbor is reminiscent of a backyard barbecue in Wine Country," says McIlwraith. "We wanted to create a place where everyone feels comfortable, whether on the way to a show or just hanging out in the neighborhood."
If you're wondering about those backyard vibes, yes, the hidden patio garden, known almost exclusively to locals, still remains and will open for sips and swirls...someday soon...we hope.