The smell of freshly made french fries and the sound of order numbers being called drift out of Uncle Boy’s door onto the corner of Balboa Street and Fourth Avenue. Inside the Filipinx-owned restaurant, which is open every day except Monday, framed posters and issues of Sporting Green hang on the purple-gray wall, chronicling past victories of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers, and Golden State Warriors. They surround a large monitor displaying the menu, which includes wagyu beef burgers, veggie burgers, chicken sandwiches, and a selection of sides and drinks.
The restaurant is a favorite for some USF students. Maxwell Edmonds-Drati, a sophomore politics major, said, “The food is really good. They got a lot of unique flavor profiles that you won’t find in other places. El Jefe has jalapenos on it with onion rings, stacked mile-high, with chipotle sauce — that’s not something I’ma find at a McDonald’s.”
He continued, “They open hecka late, which is great ‘cause everything in San Francisco closes early.”
Owner and manager John Espejo opened Uncle Boy’s in 2009 after finding the space available to rent. “I started dating a young lady by the name of Christina that was going here to USF,” Espejo said of his now-wife, with whom he has a one-year-old son. “She moved into an apartment on Fourth and Balboa. So, I started seeing her there. And as I went and frequently visited her, I just kept seeing the place for rent right below her apartment.
“At that time, I was working at the gentlemen’s club, actually, on Broadway,” Espejo said. He said that after getting off work at 2 or 3 a.m., “our team would frequent a little burger shop right there on Broadway, and it was smaller than our location. So, after seeing that, I just kind of put two and two together. I was like, ‘Hey, if they can fit a burger shop here, I can fit a burger shop there.’”
The name Uncle Boy’s is an homage to Espejo’s Filipinx culture. “Filipinos love giving out nicknames to family members,” he said. “Uncle Boy and Baby are very, very big, big, big nicknames that, almost guaranteed, one of your family members is gonna get.
“One of my favorite uncles, his name was Uncle Boy, growing up,” Espejo said. “That was just a call to giving my culture a little bit of a shout out.”
Sahara Estinto, president of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, said, “Uncle Boy’s is one of my favorite spots in the city. My favorite things to order are the lumpia and the OG Burger.”
Lumpia, one of Uncle Boy’s sides, is a traditional Filipino food “made with ground beef, vegetables and spices, wrapped in egg roll wrappers, fried to a crisp and then served with spiced vinegar dipping sauce,” according to a blog post by Leah Eveleigh, a bakery owner who won the second season of “Cutthroat Kitchen.”
Uncle Boy’s serves chicken, pork, and veggie lumpias, made by Espejo’s good friend who began making lumpia after losing his job during the pandemic. “I wanted to just show him love,” Espejo said. “I don’t even really make money on lumpias. I still do it to this day because I’m still just trying to support his business, essentially.”
Espejo moved to San Francisco from Mabini, a small town in the Philippines, in June 1998, when he was 11. He said, “I got off the plane in my sleeveless shirt with shorts and flip flops on, and then came out of the airport and the fog hits me, and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is cold.’
“I’m Filipino through and through — Filipino American.” Espejo said. “That appreciation for the simplest things in life, the hard work, and earning everything that you have is definitely something that I grew up witnessing in people that I lived around in the village that I’m from.
“I definitely keep my Filipino pride very strong within me, and I use my platform — being at Uncle Boy’s — to spread some of that as well,” Espejo said.
“Shout out to USF students — a bunch of you guys come and support us,” Espejo said. “Definitely appreciate that from my fellow Dons.”
Uncle Boy’s is open from 11 a.m. to 9:50 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday and from 11 a.m. to 1:50 a.m. from Thursday to Sunday.