San Francisco was one of the first U.S. cities to welcome food trucks into its dining community, although taco trucks had long been a part of the Mission’s street culture. Now, at street fairs, farmers’ markets, and other locales, food trucks are everywhere, offering everything from cupcakes to ceviche.
Street food is nothing new; people have been noshing offerings from food stalls worldwide for hundreds of years. But according to food writer Jonathan Gold in Smithsonian magazine (March 2012), Los Angeles celebrity chef Roy Choi really kicked off the mobile food trend in 2008 with his Kogi truck offering Korean short-rib tacos and kimchi dogs. According to Mobile-Cuisine.com, there were more than 4,000 food trucks in the United States in 2015 with annual revenue of $1.2 billion.
OFF THE GRID GROWS UP
The granddaddy of San Francisco’s food truck revolution, Off the Grid, now six years old, was founded at Fort Mason with the goal of bringing communities together through shared experiences. What started as a simple, seasonal Friday evening affair with a gathering of third-party mobile food vendors, and eventually, live music and alcohol, has grown into an operation of more than 50 weekly markets for lunch and dinner throughout the Bay Area including the East Bay, Marin, the South Bay, and throughout the city from Mission Bay to the financial district. According to Off the Grid, it is “the largest network of gourmet mobile food markets anywhere in the U.S.,” with hundreds of vendors each week creating community and supporting small businesses.
Off the Grid has launched a sister company, The Whole Cart, a food truck service that can be customized for corporate clients; Google was its first. Off the Grid is also launching Instrucktional.com, a 24-month educational training program/incubator for entrepreneurs in the mobile food industry.
The original Off the Grid at Fort Mason (2 Marina Boulevard, 415-339-5888, offthegridsf.com) is open Fridays from 5–10 p.m., featuring 30 food vendors in both trucks and tents, D.J.s playing tunes from 5–7:45 p.m., and local bands from 8–10 p.m. Each week a different vendor is featured: for example, An the Go, serving Vietnamese specialties such as lemongrass chicken and beef, vegetable stir fry, and crispy rolls with dipping sauce. Other vendors include KoJa Kitchen (Korean, Japanese/Asian fusion); Bini’s Kitchen (Nepalese); PB & JG (sandwiches); Frozen Kustard; The Crème Brûlée Cart; Lobsta Truck (lobster rolls), and A16. Beverages include wine, beer, and a variety of cocktails along with kombucha, juices, and coffee from the likes of Ritual and Red Whale Coffee.
Another popular Off the Grid production is the Presidio Picnic, a spring and summertime affair that pops up from April until the beginning of October. Presidio Picnic takes place on Sundays from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. on the main parade ground, offering not only food and drink from 34 local vendors but also lawn games and music. The weekly event is co-sponsored by the Presidio Trust and also has retail tents selling fresh produce, cold-pressed juices and nut milks, and gourmet chocolates. Picnic attendees can take a yoga class, and families can visit the “Roving Ranger” mobile park visitor center with information about Presidio wildlife, arts and crafts for kids, and stickers and animal tattoos.
Summer evenings are made for Presidio Twilight, a similar event running from May to early October also on the parade ground and featuring lantern-lit cabanas, blanket-side cocktail service, fire pits, and live music along with local food and beverages. (Use Off the Grid’s designated ride-share zone and save 20 percent with Lyft.)
SOMA STREET FOOD
South of Market is home to the SoMa StrEat Food Park (428 11th Street, somastreatfoodpark.com), a self-described “magical place with flavors and fun for every fancy.” The food park, open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m., features a wide variety of food trucks as well as beer and wine, TV screens for viewing local sporting events, carnival games, WiFi, and heat lamps for chilly nights.
Founded by young entrepreneur Carlos Muela, the SoMa park began with a few dozen food trucks and now has more than 90, including Bacon Bacon, Cheese Gone Wild (grilled cheese, soups, salads, and desserts); Curveball (sliders); Fiveten Burger (Oakland-based burgers); Izzy’s Cheesesteaks; Roli Roti (roasted meats); Street Dogs; and Waffle Roost (fried chicken and waffles).
SoMa StrEat Food also sponsors events such as Very Vegan Sundays usually held on the second Sunday of each month and focusing on vegan offerings from vendors including Southern Fried Vegan, Tacos Venganza, NoNo Burgers, Torraku Ramen, and Curry Up Now (vegan Indian cuisine). On Tuesday nights, the park hosts a trivia night in collaboration with Brainstormer, a popular pub quiz team-based trivia company.