Press: Budget Travel
San Francisco's Best Street Food
Bay Area foodies are sidling up to trucks, carts, and tables serving everything from authentic Neapolitan pizza to dark-chocolate creme brulee.
By Grace Bastidas
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Note: The location of these trucks and carts varies from day to day. We've listed where you are most likely to spot the delicious grub, but if you want more-specific locations, sign up for each establishment's Twitter feed.
Manned by chef Kevin Ballantine, who trained at the California Culinary Academy, the big red truck known as Sam's ChowderMobile is the nomadic outpost of Sam's Chowder House, located in Half Moon Bay, 30 minutes south of San Francisco. The lunchtime specialty is a Maine lobster roll that's cooked on the spot and served "naked"—with no mayo to disguise the crustacean's natural flavor. It's a pricey $15, but the toasted hot dog bun is stuffed full of tender meat tossed in a drizzle of melted butter (Ok, so it's not totally naked). A clam chowder loaded with littleneck clams, Yukon gold potatoes, and bacon goes for a more affordable $5, and the delicious fish tacos, fish-and-chips, and calamari are reasonably priced at $5 to $11, too. Twitter feed.
Magic Curry Kart
'Hood: Mission District
Pulled together from the spare parts of three bicycles and equipped with a checkered tabletop, two burners, and a Buddha statue for good luck, Brian Kimball's Magic Curry Kart is a roving, oddball kitchen serving up the former psychotherapist's Thai curry. Kimball learned to make the dish while traveling in Southeast Asia, and he limits his menu to chicken or tofu simmered with veggies in a homemade red, green, or yellow pumpkin curry paste, all heaped atop a bed of steaming white rice. Once a month, a Vietnamese rice porridge (or chao) covered with chicken, fried shallots, green onions, and mung beans makes it into the rotation. The best part: Kimball will deduct $1 from the meal if you bring your own food container. From $6.
Crème Brûlée Cart
'Hood: Mission District
A carpenter by trade, Curtis Kimball was busy remodeling San Francisco's iconic Edwardian houses before he turned his attention to building the Crème Brûlée Cart over a year ago (inspired by his brother Brian's cart, which debuted one week earlier). Dressed in chef whites and armed with a butane torch, Curtis adds unusual flavors to the basic crème brulee recipe with splendid results: Try the orange creamsicle, the dark-chocolate peppermint, or the Baileys Irish Cream, all of which are listed on a bistro-style chalkboard on the front of his cart. Served in a three-inch tin, the creamy dessert has a caramelized top that cracks delightfully with a spoon. Fabric8 courtyard, 3318 22nd St., between Guerrero and Valencia Sts. 6 p.m–8 p.m. Fridays. From $4.
Liba Falafel Truck
'Hood: The base of Potrero Hill
Amsterdam's falafel stands were the inspiration for chef Gail Lillian's 7-month-old Liba-mobile. Decorated with bright flowers and lime-green signage, the truck has a self-serve condiment bar with 15 different toppings made from scratch, like an olive-orange relish with thyme and a dill-and-cardamom pickle. For her own favorite falafel, Lillian uses a wheat pita and layers the organic chickpea fritters with hummus and a kicky harissa; then she adds pickled onions and homemade tomato ginger chutney before tossing in rosemary peanuts for extra crunch. A side of hand-cut sweet-potato fries with cilantro, garlic, and lime makes for a satisfying meal. 155 De Haro St. at Alameda St., 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Fridays.Falafel sandwich from $5, sweet-potato fries $2.
Thomas Odermatt grew up working at his dad's butcher shop in the Swiss Alps. He now operates the RoliRoti rotisserie truck, with its 26 smoothly rotating skewers that can roast up to 80 free-range chickens at a time. Odermatt cooks his meat selections (including seasonal choices like lamb in the spring and duck in the winter) at the same low, even temperature for up to two hours, and the meat bastes itself with the drippings from higher racks. But it's the porchetta sandwich—roasted pork loin wrapped in crisp pork belly and doused in pinot grigio—that has tourists lining up at 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays at his Ferry Building Marketplace location. He can sell about 350 of the juicy sandwiches on a good day. Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Building, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Thursdays, 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturdays.$6–$12.
Kung Fu Tacos
'Hood: Financial District
Traditional taquerias are plentiful in San Francisco, so when drinking buddies Jonathan Ward and Tan Truong decided to launch a taco truck last August, they went with a Chinese twist and dubbed it Kung Fu Tacos. Their weekly lunchtime spot (in an unassuming parking lot around the corner from the Transamerica building) draws hungry office workers who favor the tortilla packed with lean and juicy roast duck and topped with mango salsa, hoisin sauce, and green onions. Steak and chicken tacos come dressed in a spicy Asian salsa made with ginger and carrot; other taco options are char siu (barbecue pork), mu shu veggies, and the unlisted menu item "dork"—a duck-and-pork combo. Three tacos washed down with a Coca-Cola from Mexico—sweetened with real cane sugar—generally get the job done. Sacramento St. between Montgomery and Kearny Sts., 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.From $2.
Chez Panisse alum Joel Baecker and his chef-wife Naomi Crawford were honeymooning in Italy when they got the idea for Pizza Politana. Upon returning, they imported an authentic Neapolitan wood-fired oven and had it mounted on a motorcycle trailer. In no time, they were peddling perfectly blistered nine-inch pies outside trendy bars and at farmers markets in the Bay Area. The pepperoni—made with artisanal sausage—is a staple, and the farmer's pizza is topped with seasonal, local ingredients like Meyer lemon, stinging nettles (no ouch factor here—the nettles don't sting after cooking), and green garlic. Half the fun is standing curbside and watching as Baecker and Crawford stretch and top the dough on your very own pie. Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Building, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Thursdays. $8–$12.
Good Foods Caters
'Hood: Bernal Heights
Good Foods Caters owner Dontaye Ball developed his famous pulled pork recipe while working as a cook at Google. He marinates the meat in a spice rub for two days, smokes it for six hours, braises it for another six and a half hours, then pulls it into shreds. The all-natural pork is slathered with a homemade, secret-recipe bacon barbecue sauce and spicy coleslaw, and served up in a dripping kaiser roll. To really up the ante, ask for "The Eliminator": pork, brisket, and bacon piled atop a whole-wheat bun. Ball works over his portable grill at the same farmers market he visited as a kid—when sizzling with hot links, smoked chicken wings, and pork belly chunks, the grill can reach a temperature of 600 degrees Fahreinheit. Alemany Market, 100 Alemany Blvd., 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturdays.$3–$10.
Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.