Sunday, August 21, 2011

San Francisco Street Food Festival 2011

So yesterday was the "food event of the year in San Francisco," or at least that's what several blogs were saying leading up to the 3rd Annual San Francisco Street Food Festival.

This food event dedicated to the celebration of street food -- from established food trucks and local restaurants to newcomers working under the festival sponsor LaCocina -- takes place in the Mission neighborhood, on Folsom Street. This year the block party atmosphere extended two blocks, running from 22nd to 26th Streets.

The promotional wheels for the festival were in full gear prior to the one-day event, with the promise of more vendors and more space. So you know what that means? Major clusterfuck.

It's like the tradition of the street festival as people created lines from the booths on the residential-sized streets and curving onto the sidewalks. (As an added treat, several spots along the new areas of Folsom between 22nd and 24th stank of urine, making standing in line in those areas a real test of my foodie reserve.)

Despite the crowds, unorganized lines, and Mission street smells (I'm not talking about the grilling), the festival is a wonderful way to celebrate the city's love affair with street food. (I just agree with a few people who I chatted in line as some suggested that the crowds allowed into the blocked off areas be limited to avoid overcrowding.)

So I got there early when the festival began at 11 a.m. and made a beeline to Azalina's Malayasian because I bought into the early promos, with many raving about the Penang Curry Bomb, a chicken curry bun that's deep-fried to make the bun crispy. And while I don't eat deep-fried foods, I couldn't resist everyone's description. This actually was the furthest from the bomb, mostly because the bun was leaking oil. Just touching it got my fingers glistening with oil. I ate one of these two buns and had to pass on the other. The curry itself was a complex spice, a bit on the spicy side.

Wandering around checking out the other booths, I landed at Commonwealth, which served up a delicious and refreshing watermelon gazpacho and this lamb cheeks skewers over quinoa salad. Both items were perfectly done, and really raised the definition of street food.

There were several visiting food trucks from other parts of the country, including the famous Nom Nom food struck from Los Angeles, which was featured in the first season of the Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race." Because I was early, there wasn't much of a line, but I had just had that Penang Curry Bomb so wasn't ready for Nom Nom's pork banh mi. Big mistake, because just an hour later, this is what the line looked like...

Hands down this had to be the longest line for any vendor at the event. So I didn't bother getting something from Nom Nom. Luckily, Nom Nom opened a food truck in San Francisco a few weeks ago, so I knew I could try Nom Nom's banh mi on another day without the crowds.

Saw this sign with such sage advice.

Last year the food festival had a few streets south of Folsom set aside for a line of food trucks and a dedicated dessert area. I actually liked that concept, but they didn't repeat that this year. But they did take over the courtyard of a nearby school and I did like checking out the food booths set up there along with the cool murals. What a fun setting.

One of the booths in that special section was A16, the popular Marina-area restaurant. I got its duroc pork meatball (nice texture, good sauce) and its miniature cannoli with chocolate and pistachio (crunchy but the cream inside seemed a bit too thick).

As I continued to wander amongst the crowd, I bumped into my food blogging buddy Foodhoe, who had just stood in line for 25 minutes for this plate of arepa from The Arepa Lady. Foodhoe saw the Arepa Lady (who's from New York) featured on the Food Network and wanted to try her arepa, but it turned out to taste like a big pancake and Foodhoe was a bit disappointed, especially after standing in line for 25 minutes.

I asked Foodhoe if she had any interesting food items so far, and she took me to the Don Bugito booth where she said she had this sweet toffee crisped mealworms. The mealworms were sold as toppings on vanilla ice cream in some kind of weird dessert. I did try one mealworm, which tasted like toasted nuts because they were so smokey and crispy, but I didn't feel like standing in line for a vanilla mealworm sundae. Still, it was the most interesting food item so far.

Foodhoe and I ate a few other items and were nearing our full factor, so we decided to split the porchetta sandwich from Flour + Water, another Mission restaurant. I enjoyed the sandwich, which had some nice crispy skin bits along with the tender porchetta meat. If I included Flour + Water's version in my recent porchetta taste off, it probably would have ranked No. 3.

There were several booths with colorful uniforms, but I have to give the award to most creative costumes to the guys at the Seoul Sausage Co. who dressed up in T-shirts with the words "Fear the Sausage," a play on the San Francisco Giants' motto "Fear the Beard" (for closer Brian Wilson and his famous beard).

There were several deep-fried foods that I avoided, including this platter of Scotch eggs, which is a whole hard boiled egg encased in beef (or was it pork?) and then deep-fried.

Another popular item that sounded unusual was this Elote corn from Los Cilantros. Foodhoe was more adventurous to try this grilled corn that's brushed with butter and then dipped in cheese. The cheese smelled like parmesan, so the saltiness actually seemed like a nice accent to sweet corn.

I stuck with safer fare, like this scrumptious Thai iced tea from Lers Ros.

Since I was winding down, I went looking for dessert and wanted to check out these jello creations from Sweets Collection. Owner Rosa Rodriguez uses traditional Mexican techniques to create these extraordinary gelatin cups. They were almost too pretty to eat.

This year's Street Food Festival didn't seem to have as much pop as last year. I think it was because, now in its third year, I'm starting to see the same booths, offering the same things. (How many steamed buns can Slanted Door sell every year?) I know there were some new booths, but they offered usual fare or lots of fried stuffs. Still, it was perfect weather for a street fair, with some moments of bright sun to warm us up, but moments of San Francisco overcast skies to give us a break and keep us cool. So in other words, a little bit of everything for everyone.


Passionate Eater said...

Even though I live nearby, I've never ventured out to the SF Street Food Fest. Yikes, you are daring to try those meal worms (and daring to stand in line for all that food and brave the angry SF foodies)!

Single Guy Ben said...

PE, next year you should call me up and Foodhoe and I would definitely help you ease into the street food craziness.

Carolyn Jung said...

My gawd! Look at those lines. You guys are brave -- especially for downing those meal worms. ;)

Anonymous said...

For someone who says he stays clear of fried sure eat a lot of it!

Single Guy Ben said...

Carolyn, I only ate a small speck of fried mealworms. Foodhoe is the more adventurous one.

Anonymous, I blame having this blog for pushing me to try more fried foods and sweets. ;-)

Claudine said...

Hi there, Ben - I've always stayed away from the SF Street Food festival because I've been afraid of the crowds/ lines. My husband and I prefer Oakland's Eat Real festival and have plans to go again this year... but wow - kudos on the mealworms and Don Bugito for breaking them out! Nice report and so nice to see the high-end, high profile restaurants (flour+water, A16, Commonwealth) participating as well...

Kim said...

Gorgeous photos, as always.