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Bespoke SF Summer 2011 : Page 28

Food trucks serve up fine flavor on the streets of San Francisco. By Tiffany Maleshefski Movable Feast souThern sandwich coMpany On any given afternoon, adventurous foodies can sniff out Korean tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, lumpia or even waffles. No, this is not lunch or dinner at one of San Francisco’s most buzz-worthy restau-rants. More than a novelty, the food dished out at these mobile marvels features high-end ingredients, unique recipes and interpretations, and the dishes mirror the city’s culinary diversity. The era in which lunch from a truck meant a person was settling for mediocrity has certainly passed. “The food trucks here are delicious and provide diners a more afford-able way to eat the local, seasonal and ethnic foods of the city,” says Karen Palmer, San Francisco editor of DailyCandy (dailycandy.com/san-francisco), a trendy blog with a keen focus on local food trends. “Plus, they each have their own distinct personality, which just makes them flat-out fun.” Most of these San Francisco food truck operators are trained chefs, who worked for years in traditional, stationary restaurants before deciding to strike out on their own. The same high-quality ingredients and sophisti-cated techniques they’d showcase in a conventional restaurant are instead plied on a truck. Hit the Road, Chef Serving from a food truck is a significantly less risky move than opening a full-service restaurant. Restaurateurs can bring their dining concepts to the table, so to speak, without investing their life savings. Carolyn Alburger, editor of one of the city’s most popular food blogs, EaterSF (sf.eater.com), explains that entrepreneurs who felt hopeful after the economic crash looked to food trucks for the lower overhead, little—if any—staff, and mobility. “Wonderful organizations like La Cocina (lacocinasf.org) and Off the Grid (offthegridsf.com) help streamline the process for newbies, so it’s not so daunting,” Alburger says. But not all truckers are new to the food game. Take for instance, brothers Brett and Nathan Niebergall. The duo opened Southern Sandwich Company (southernsandwich.com) after they were forced to close their former restaurant, Frisee, an eatery located in the city’s Castro neighborhood that served up California cuisine. Not wanting to leave the restaurant world completely, Nathan says going into the food truck biz was a great alternative. “Everything you have is right there; you know what to expect every day,” 28

Movable Feast

Tiffany Maleshefski

Food trucks serve up fine flavor on the streets of San Francisco.<br /> <br /> On any given afternoon, adventurous foodies can sniff out Korean tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, lumpia or even waffles. No, this is not lunch or dinner at one of San Francisco’s most buzz-worthy restaurants. More than a novelty, the food dished out at these mobile marvels features high-end ingredients, unique recipes and interpretations, and the dishes mirror the city’s culinary diversity. The era in which lunch from a truck meant a person was settling for mediocrity has certainly passed.<br /> <br /> “The food trucks here are delicious and provide diners a more affordable way to eat the local, seasonal and ethnic foods of the city,” says Karen Palmer, San Francisco editor of DailyCandy (dailycandy.com/san-francisco), a trendy blog with a keen focus on local food trends. “Plus, they each have their own distinct personality, which just makes them flat-out fun.” <br /> <br /> Most of these San Francisco food truck operators are trained chefs, who worked for years in traditional, stationary restaurants before deciding to strike out on their own. The same high-quality ingredients and sophisticated techniques they’d showcase in a conventional restaurant are instead plied on a truck.<br /> <br /> Hit the Road, Chef <br /> <br /> Serving from a food truck is a significantly less risky move than opening a full-service restaurant. Restaurateurs can bring their dining concepts to the table, so to speak, without investing their life savings. Carolyn Alburger, editor of one of the city’s most popular food blogs, EaterSF (sf.eater.com), explains that entrepreneurs who felt hopeful after the economic crash looked to food trucks for the lower overhead, little—if any—staff, and mobility. “Wonderful organizations like La Cocina (lacocinasf.org) and Off the Grid (offthegridsf.com) help streamline the process for newbies, so it’s not so daunting,” Alburger says.<br /> <br /> But not all truckers are new to the food game.<br /> <br /> Take for instance, brothers Brett and Nathan Niebergall. The duo opened Southern Sandwich Company (southernsandwich.com) after they were forced to close their former restaurant, Frisee, an eatery located in the city’s Castro neighborhood that served up California cuisine.<br /> <br /> Not wanting to leave the restaurant world completely, Nathan says going into the food truck biz was a great alternative.<br /> <br /> “Everything you have is right there; you know what to expect every day,” Nathan says.<br /> <br /> Southern Sandwich Company specializes in— you guessed it—Southern cuisine, a natural choice for two guys who were born in Texas and raised in North Carolina. The menu typically features beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, hush puppies and sides of pork and beans. The truck is even rigged to offer sweet tea on tap from a small cutout to the right of its main service window.<br /> <br /> Although the truck goes it alone throughout the week, setting up shop at various locations throughout the Bay Area, it’s also a frequent sight at events designed to bring several food trucks together to make a greater experience for foodies.<br /> <br /> Three’s Company <br /> <br /> Off the Grid (offthegridsf.com) is the organization most responsible for elevating the food truck trend into a wildly popular movement. It was founded as a way to promote the street food movement that took San Francisco by storm a few years ago, eventually evolving into a beacon for food truck vendors and their fans. On scheduled days, Off the Grid organizes events that bring together between five and seven trucks in one spot. The pooling of trucks, so to speak, always draws a steady crowd of regulars and newcomers, eager to see what the buzz is all about. Most of the events also feature live music and seating. Since one of the drawbacks of grabbing a meal from a truck can be the lack of seating, offering the amenity in a convivial atmosphere really draws the crowds. And with that, new food trucks continue to spring up at Off the Grid events on a regular basis.<br /> <br /> On Fridays, beginning in late March or early April, Off the Grid hosts a weekly event at Fort Mason and pulls together a large number of food trucks, making for a very festive event.<br /> <br /> “Events like Off the Grid give diners a way to sample bites from several different food trucks,” Palmer says. “I think they’re just going to get more and more original, which gives foodies yet another way to experience the local, seasonal and ethnic foods of the city.”<br /> <br /> Flavor Fusion <br /> <br /> Julia Yoon, the self-proclaimed “BBQ Princess of Yoon, from the province of Yummi,” serves up Korean classics at one of the more popular trucks. The Seoul on Wheels (seoulonwheels.Com) menu includes bulgogi, Korean barbecued beef, to-die-for “sammys,” which are barbecued meat, such as spicy pork, served in a soft roll, or more unusual fare, such as the Daniel Burger: a double cheeseburger topped with spicy Korean pork and kimchi.<br /> <br /> Another crowd favorite is Curry Up Now (curryupnow.Com), the first food truck in San Francisco to offer Indian food. One bite of the chicken tikka masala burrito from Curry Up Now—a flour tortilla burrito stuffed with succulent chicken, curried basmati rice and mint chutney—and it’s easy to see why the crowds gather.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Chairman Bao (mobimunch.Com/chairmanbao) has developed a cult following largely for its steamed buns, but a tiff in early 2010 helped its popularity as well. When it first opened, the truck found itself at the center of controversy as a bun slinger named Eddie Huang of New York’s Baohaus accused the truck of completely ripping of his bun concept and his name.<br /> <br /> Brass Knuckle (brassknucklesf.com) is another truck that’s nurtured a strong following based on its unique offerings. For instance, the Snoop Dog is a hotdog that can be either slathered with salsa, grilled onions, jalapeno, green onion or smothered with spicy teriyaki mayo, furikake, slaw, daikon sprouts and bonito flakes. Other eclectic fare includes the “Elvis Pressedly”—bacon, caramelized banana, jalapeno, and peanut butter and jelly on brioche. The overall food concept at Brass Knuckle is certainly innovative, and one that’s guaranteed to get a steady stream of both curious and adventurous eaters at it’s take-out window, but might have a harder sell as a full-fledged restaurant. Why not take a risk on fully original fare when only a few dollars are at stake?<br /> <br /> Trucking Along <br /> <br /> Many of the food trucks in San Francisco began their life as taco trucks. In fact, it was the El Tonayense (eltonayense.com) taco truck—still a fixture at Off the Grid and street food events— that is considered the original food truck that kicked off this entire trend. Not only was it one of the first trucks to roam the city’s downtown streets, pitching a menu that outshone the typical cellophane-wrapped sandwich fare, it was one of the first to allow customers to rent trucks to cater parties. And, it continues to be a popular favorite among locals.<br /> <br /> But for non-taco vendors, who want their trucks to be pimped out with more gourmet fixings, such as rotisserie grills and baking ovens, the original food truck format won’t do. And now, food truck manufacturers have been tasked with redesigning motorized vehicles to carry the more complicated equipment needed to whip out items such as chicken biryani or Filipino sisig, seasoned pork shoulder, cheeks and jowls.<br /> <br /> And with the competition to woo diners heating up, some vendors are getting even more creative with their trucks.<br /> <br /> For instance, Le Truc (eatletruc.com) has been successfully setting itself apart from the pack by operating from within a renovated school bus, which incidentally allows it to offer diners something most trucks don’t have: limited seating—12 to be exact. Downtown diners with time to spare can take their lunch inside and sit on one of two benches that flank either side of the bus—seating that offers a direct look into chef Hugh Schick’s galley kitchen.<br /> <br /> The “bustaurant” showcases an eclectic menu featuring twists on American standards, such as a meatball sub made with chicken meatballs or a cheesesteak sandwich that dares to add bleu cheese. But Le Truc’s co-owner Chef Schick, who earned his degree from the Culinary Institute of America, also throws in some zingers such as Prik King Chili (grass-fed beef, coconut milk and red curry over jasmine rice).<br /> <br /> “It’s great for San Francisco because we’re seeing so many new genres of food on the street,” Alburger says. “Early last year, for example, there was almost no good BBQ in San Francisco, and now we’ve got about five different food trucks putting out really good BBQ all over town. There’s also this new phenomenon where Indian and Filipino vendors are putting their foods in the guise of Mexican eats like burritos and tacos to make it portable. So the food truck boom is spawning new genres of cuisine. Very exciting stuff!” <br /> <br /> Note that most of the trucks are cash only, so come prepared. Also, nearly every truck has a Twitter handle, so if you follow a truck on Twitter, you are sure to get up-to-the-minute updates on daily menu items and locations.

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