San Francisco

Hi Felicia during dinner service is a vibe. Photos by Cole Wilson, courtesy of Hi Felicia.

Dish By DishSan Francisco

Five Dishes That Show Why There’s No Restaurant Quite Like Hi Felicia

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If you haven’t done so yet, please say hello to Hi Felicia.

The restaurant, which started as a pop-up in chef-owner Imana’s home, opened its brick-and-mortar earlier this year in Uptown Oakland, and was named one of Resy’s defining restaurants of 2022. It’s painted bright green on the outside, and it’s dark and dim on the inside with a colorful and eclectic array of artwork that hangs against black brick walls. There are a few counter seats and one long table where everyone eats together — it’s like dining inside someone’s living room.  The music is loud, the energy is high, and the food keeps coming. It’s a dinner party, alright.

If you’ve managed to score a Resy, know you’re in for a treat. The family-style tasting menu restaurant seats just 20 diners at a time and features nine or so courses that change often and with the seasons. To help execute the menu, Imana has recently brought on the talented chef Selasie Dotse, previously of Lazy Bear and Copas. Below is a look at some of the items that you’ll likely always find on the menu. Right this way.

Photo by Cole Wilson, courtesy of Hi Felicia
Photo by Cole Wilson, courtesy of Hi Felicia

1. Queso

One thing that’s always been on the menu that’s never going to leave is the chips and queso. It’s the first bite of the night and starts you off just right. “I love going to a tasting menu eating something that’s finger food and snacky food — it’s just so special to me,” says Imana, who first made the dairy-free queso for a guest with a slew of food allergies during her pop-up days.

Hi Felicia’s queso is cashew-based, made with a blend of roasted cashews, cashew milk, charred onion and garlic, apple cider vinegar for acidity and some secret spices. It’s blended together, then warmed up before plating and is poured tableside over a seasonal accoutrement. The current set features chicken skin chile crunch (!) with compressed persimmons for sweetness. It’s served with a side of persimmon pico de gallo with shiso as well as a side of warm freshly-fried housemade chips, which is part of the restaurant’s masa program (more on that below).

Selasie Dotse. Photo by Jeremy Chiu, courtesy of Hi Felicia.
Selasie Dotse. Photo by Jeremy Chiu, courtesy of Hi Felicia.

2. Masa

Imana started incorporating masa into her meals during her supperclub days when the restaurant was just a pop-up at her house. “Maiz is a staple of food I grew up on in Los Angeles — it’s been cool to play with it over the years,” says Imana. “It’s all very reminiscent of growing up.”At Hi Felicia, she continues that tradition, utilizing fresh masa from Tierra Vegetables, a farm in Santa Rosa that utilizes sustainable methods.

You’ll find masa making its way into the aforementioned chips, but also into freshly pressed tortillas that accompany the main, as well as other dishes like empanadas and tetelas, the stuffed triangular treat that hails from Oaxaca. At Hi Felicia, the tetela is stuffed with sautéed seasonal mushrooms (currently there’s a mix of chanterelles, lobster, and matsutake, along with sweet chard and Oaxacan cheese). It’s seared before plating so that it’s warm and slightly crispy, and topped with a mushroom miso mole and chive crema.

Past masa uses include a sope topped with cream and caviar; Selasie Dotse has future masa plans, too: “On the next menu I’m working on a infladita, which is a little fried puff similar to a pani puri—I’m thinking about doing it with a ceviche.”

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3. Gazpacho

There will always be a gazpacho in some form at Hi Felicia. There was previously a peach version, and as the seasons changed and Dotse joined the kitchen, she changed it to a melon version, which is currently being run. “I always try and keep it seasonal,” says Dotse.

To make the gazpacho, cucumbers, pears, and yellow wax chiles get juiced then mixed in with blended honeydew melon and white onion so that there’s a little bit of body. It’s seasoned with yuzu, lime, and vinegar, and is served over diced pickled watermelon rinds and wax chile for heat. “Our last menu we had watermelon in a dish and I didn’t want to throw out the rinds because I try to have minimal waste,” says Dotse.

The entire thing is finished with mint and basil oil for freshness and color.

Photo by Cole Wilson, courtesy of Hi Felicia
Photo by Cole Wilson, courtesy of Hi Felicia

4. Fish and Meat

The fish and meat courses are special at Hi Felicia. “There’s always fish or seafood in either a crudo form or a sashimi form,” says Dotse. “Or if it’s summer or spring, we’ll have a fish entrée, and towards the fall and winter we’ll have more meatier dishes.”

Currently, towards the beginning of the menu, there’s a togarashi-cured salmon served sashimi-style that’s topped with a salmon roe relish that contains a mix of kohlrabi, cucumber, scallions, chile and apple. It’s also served with a smoked crema that’s garnished with dill. “It’s a play on salmon lox,” says Dotse. Previous bites included hamachi crudo in a coconut and fresno chile citrus broth.

For the meaty main, there’s currently a spicy/smoky barbecue-rubbed lamb belly that contains brown sugar, several chile powders, garlic powder, onion powder, and more secret spices that’s oven roasted, glazed in a pomegranate chile barbecue sauce, and served with crispy fried rapini over a carrot parsnip ginger puree. Tortillas are served on the side to make fun tacos.

Future meaty sets could include a short rib served with uni butter grits and pickled okra, as well as a smoked jerk lamb neck guanciale with yucca gnocchi that’s still in R&D phase.

5. The Wine

Get to Hi Felicia a little early and you’ll be treated to a glass of complimentary sparkling wine to quench your thirst while you wait outside in the parklet. And when you sit down, you might want to order a bottle or glass or two with your meal. The wine at Hi Felicia unsurprisingly focuses on highlighting small producers who utilize sustainable farming practices and minimal intervention in their wine-making with a special emphasis on Eastern Europe, France, and California:

“I really like orange wines, champagnes, pet-nats, and chilled reds—that’s essentially the whole list,” says Imana. “It’s cool to show people wines with little additives and sulfites — things that truly express the grape and climate and the people that make the wine.”

Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.