By Betty Yu

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A highly anticipated Filipino restaurant has debuted in San Francisco — filling a great void in the Bay Area food scene.

Abaca, located inside the Kimpton Alton Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf, is the city’s first upscale restaurant of its kind.

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The dining room was bustling and completely full Saturday night — filled with diners who came from near and far to get a taste of the Philippines.

“It’s really amazing, I drove two hours to get here and it’s like – it has a twist,” said Monique Agatep from Carmel-by-the-Sea. “It’s Filipino and yet it has an element of surprise.”

Chef and owner Francis Ang, who is Filipino-Chinese, has spent more than a decade working in fine dining restaurants in San Francisco, but this is the first time he’s putting it all on the table.

“I mean the restaurant industry itself is really hard, and then to gamble a very specific cuisine into it is even harder, and that’s why it took us 7 years to build this,” said Ang.

Ang’s team made several trips over the years to the Philippines, where he grew up, to study the food and cooking techniques from diverse regions.

Highlights from Abaca’s Filipino-Californian menu include the Ube Colada, Sisig Fried Rice, and seafood chowder with coconut milk.

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Abaca evolved from Ang’s successful pop-up Pinoy Heritage.

“I’ve been following Francis’ career while he did his pop-ups, and watching his menus, and just as a fan of food – I’ve been watching what he’s been doing for a while and I’m really impressed, and excited to finally see him have a brick-and-mortar,” said diner Tom Williams of Daly City.

Ang hopes diners of all backgrounds develop a new appreciation for the cuisine.

“More knowledge about the culture – understanding that Filipino doesn’t need to be inexpensive,” he said. “We use high quality ingredients. We shop at the farmers market nonstop.”

Diners like Grace Gomez of Oakland paid a special visit to San Francisco for the elevated experience.

“It’s exciting to have it be mainstream, and in town, it’s major,” she said. “It pays homage to what I know.”

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Ang said he is working on adding breakfast and brunch service at Abaca in the near future.