A fresh batch of Ling Nam Starbread's señorita bread. (Ling Nam Starbread)
There isn’t any place quite like Ling Nam Starbread. For the three decades that the Filipino restaurant-bakery held court at its strip mall location near the border of South San Francisco and Daly City, it was everybody’s favorite late-night pit stop—a place where night owls and early risers could stop in for a bowl of noodles or hot rice porridge or, especially, a box of the pillowy, piping hot deliciousness known as señorita bread. On Fridays and Saturdays, the bakery was open 24 hours, making it a popular first stop for hungry travelers stumbling off a late-arriving flight at SFO.
Until last April, that is, when the restaurant-bakery closed its doors with promises to reopen soon at a new location just a mile up the hill. Naturally, COVID put a wrench on those plans, and so the business stayed closed until just last Friday, when the new Ling Nam Starbread storefront at 980 King Drive in Daly City finally opened—a cause for celebration within the area’s vibrant Filipino American community.
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“We had an overwhelming turnout,” says Alexson Lim, who runs the restaurant along with his father Tony Lim and his brother Brandon Lim, noting the long lines they had through much of the weekend. Late-night customers will need to wait a little longer: For the time being, the bakery is keeping reduced hours, closing up shop at 9pm each night.
For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Starbread is best known for its señorita bread, a kind of sweet, yeasty roll that’s layered with sugar and melted margarine and—this is key—is always boxed up hot right out of the oven.
The bread has made Starbread a local icon. For Filipino families in particular, boxes of hot señorita bread are a staple at almost any big family gathering or celebration, and the chain has a strong cult following among non-Filipinos as well. The bakery has at least a dozen locations spread across Northern California, almost all of which boast long lines from morning to night. But none of the other Starbread locations were late-night destinations the way the Ling Nam combo shop was. And none of them were located in Daly City, which boasts the highest concentration of Filipinos in the U.S. (The closest other Starbread shop is in Pacifica.)
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The fact that the restaurant and bakery closed last April, just weeks after the initial shelter-in-place order, was mostly a matter of coincidence, Lim explains. The restaurant’s 30-year lease had just expired, and the entire lot was sold. (It’s now being turned into a Mercedes-Benz dealership.) Even though the Lims were able to secure a new location right away, it was a former dentist’s office that required a full build-out—a process that dragged out for almost a full year due to pandemic-related construction and permitting delays.
Even before it added the Starbread kiosk to the front of the restaurant in 2009, Ling Nam Noodle Shop was a local institution going on two decades. The restaurant specialized in Chinese-Filipino cuisine, which is to say Chinese dishes like wonton noodles, steamed buns, and rice porridge that were made to cater to Filipino tastes. For families like the Lims—ethnic Chinese who had settled in the Philippines—these were deeply nostalgic dishes. As Lim explains, they were dishes that made first-generation Filipino immigrants who frequented the restaurant say, “That’s home.”
For the time being, however, only the bakery is open. The Ling Nam part of the business, now located in a separate storefront next door, is still under construction and will likely open in the early summer, Lim says. (There’s also a second Ling Nam Starbread location, in Tracy, that’s owned by the Lims—but there, too, the bakery is the only part of the business that’s stayed open.)
These days, of course, the Starbread is probably the biggest draw anyway—especially since it was the only place in the Bay Area where the bleary-eyed could score a batch of hot señorita bread at, say, 3am on a Saturday night. Eventually, once nightlife and air travel (including late-night travel) go back to pre-pandemic levels, Lim expects to once again resume that 24-hour weekend schedule.
“Why not?” he says. “It’s what we’re known for.”
Ling Nam Starbread is open at its new location at 980 King Drive in Daly City from 5:30am–9pm daily. For now, only the bakery storefront is open.
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