SF Street Food Fanatics Unite

| August 24, 2009 | 9 Comments
  • 9 Comments

I Cart Street Food
I Cart Street Food

Street food fanatics descended upon the Mission on Saturday for the San Francisco Street Food Festival 2009, a day-long block party presented by La Cocina.

SF Street Food Festival 2009
SF Street Food Festival: If you grill it, they will come.

With free admission and food/drink costing no more than $8, well over 5,000 eaters of all ages came out to celebrate SF’s vibrant street food community.

SF Street Food Festival Masses
The Hungry Masses

The sheer numbers that turned out was a tad overwhelming, but it was also heart-warming to see what good eaters we have here in SF. Lines snaked up and down the block, but surprisingly, the crowd seemed to be generally good-humored and calm (unlike the foaming-at-the-mouth angries at the Great American Food Fest a few months back).

Patience was handsomely rewarded, and street food, glorious street food, was consumed.

Elotes (Grilled Corn) from Los Cilantros
Elotes (Grilled Corn) from Los Cilantros

Anticuchos Chilenos from Sabores Del Sur
Anticuchos Chilenos (Marinated New York Strip and Beef Heart with Peppers & Onions) and Mushroom/Spinach Empanada from Sabores Del Sur

House-made Hot Dogs from Absinthe
House-made Hot Dogs with Guinness Mustard and Chili Ketchup from Absinthe

Creme Brulee Cart
Lavendar Crème Brulee from the Crème Brulee Cart

I braved the Aziza line and although their Squid Salad with maras pepper, preserved lemon, cabbage, mint and cilantro ($3) was sold out by the time I got to order, I was nicely satiated by the huge Moroccan “Taco” ($8) Chef Mourad Lahlou was serving up. The beverage pairing of iced Sweet Mint Tea hit the spot and cooled off the heat from the taco’s harissa.

Moroccan Taco from Aziza
Moroccan “Taco”: Flatbread with Summer Squash, Harissa, and Yogurt Sauce from Aziza

For dessert, I followed the scent of sugar and fried dough to Endless Summer Sweets’ Funnel Cake with sweet strawberries and cream. If there was any question on whether the line was worth it, my doubts vanished as I saw satisfied customers milling about with showers of powdered sugar on their arms and traces of whipped cream on their faces.

Funnel Cake from Endless Summer Sweets
Funnel Cake with Strawberries and Cream from Endless Summer Sweets

SF Street Food Festival 2009
Gnom

SF Street Food Festival 2009
Gnom gnom

SF Street Food Festival 2009
Curb-side Dining

The beauty of the street food fest was the greater vision of the event. For those who are unfamiliar with La Cocina, it is a phenomenal non-profit organization that acts as a food business incubator for low-income and immigrant entrepreneurs looking to start their own food business. The SF Street Food Festival brought people together, across the spectrum of class and culture, to celebrate in the everyday food that we all eat and love.

SF Street Food Festival 2009
SF Street Food Festival 2009

Leading up to the festival was an amazingly fun and well-orchestrated Scavenger Hunt that had 224 teams roaming the city in search of delicious street eats, and generally assaulting San Francisco’s finest street vendors with their wit and creativity.

Really, it was no joke. Teams like Fatty Boomblatty and Trans-Fatso’s rapped to the Crème Brulee Cart Man

Miso Horny did a funky chicken dance (in public) for the Roli Roti folks…

And I wasn’t above setting up an all out photo shoot at Bloodhound in the name of movie poster perfection with team Lick My Spoon.

Lick My Spoon Bloodhound poster

Oh, San Francisco. You are so special.

Street Food Festival Scavenger Hunt Team Soup Sluts
Team “Soup Sluts”

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Category: events, street food and fast food

About the Author ()

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well. Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine. Stephanie's writing and photography have been featured in Fodor's Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.
  • http://www.yumtacos.com Moses Hong

    Unfortunately I thought it was a massive fail. Horrible venue (just because it is outside the La Cocina office doesn’t make it a good place!), no trash cans that I could find, drinks sold out, much of the food sold out and nobody to manage the 200-person lines – one short one we were in took 1.5 hours to get to the front, at which point we were told the food was sold out. They stripped out the vendors’ own signage and photos and menus, using corporate-looking uniform signage instead, which told you nothing about the food. The whole point of street food is seeing it cooked, and they fenced off the cooking area so you couldn’t even see what you were going to get before you got to the front of the line. On so many levels it was just horrible. The only staff I saw were selling merchandise and crap at various tables, not managing the ridiculously large crowds.

    Hopefully next weekend’s Eat Real Fest in Oakland does it a bit better! At least they’re not making the sellers conform to their sanitized, white-washed corporate look as La Cocina did…

  • http://marriedwithdinner.com Anita / Married with dinner

    I have to agree with Moses. We took one look at the massive crowds and left — thank god we didn’t buy passports. You couldn’t even tell where the lines for each stand were; it was just a mass of people from booth window to curb. There’s no way I could convince my husband to cross the bay and give these organizers another try next weekend.

    Happily, there’s plenty of real street food to be found within walking distance of the SF fest’s venue. We took a stroll and made our own fest.

  • Brad

    I considered heading down until I got a report from a friend, “If you want food, go somewhere else. You’ll never get any here.” Sounds like just as big a miserable failure as the Great American Stand In Line for 3 Hours festival.

  • http://junbelen.wordpress.com/ Jun Belen

    I had an entirely different experience. My partner and I had a wonderful time. I guess if you want great food in a big event such as SF Street Food Festival then you should be prepared to wait. My partner got Jamie’s famous hot dogs at Absinthe and we both enjoyed it while we waited in line for Aziza’s Moroccan tacos. And by the time I got my tacos, my partner got us some funnel cakes from Endless Summer Sweets. I thought it was a success!!

  • hua

    It is often difficult to plan an event, especially one that revolves around food and is the first time it is being put on. There are some things we all should consider before throwing down the gavel.
    1) Profit margins are slim. Most of the vendors here are small businesses that need to properly plan on buying enough inventory but not too much so they aren’t stuck with it.
    2) The majority of the staff are volunteers, not vetted event handlers
    3) The event was free to the public and benefited a non profit organization
    4) The event was blessed with good weather and when good weather hits San Francisco, we all can agree, people come out in masses.
    5) Resources are slim for business owners. It was a nice thing for Street Food Fest to provide signage and tents for the vendors. It is one less thing to worry about and now a small business that sells small batches of cookies can happily sell next to a bigger restaurant like Slanted Door.

    Yes, there could have been better management of lines.
    Yes, there could have been better passport handling
    Yes, there were tons of people
    Yes, there could have been more staff

    I am sure that the La Cocina team are planning how to make improve on these areas to make a better event for next year. You can send feedback to on their site at http://www.lacocinasf.org/.

    I agree with all the above and could have bitched about it but it was a Saturday with great weather, there were interesting people to chat with in line, and I love Street Food.

  • Mary

    I REALLY wanted to like the event, but it was just disappointing on so many levels. We were the lucky ones — we got there as soon as it started, picked up our passports (which they wouldn’t hand out until the stroke of 11, or later) and managed to purchase one meal before the crowds got too big. I had purchased $75 of passports and ended up giving much of it away to other people. The only foods you had a chance of buying were desserts, and even those lines filled up fast. For the most part it wasn’t really street food (VERY few vendors who actually sell out of carts on a regular basis) — just regular restaurants selling to-go.

    I also participated in the streetfood challenge, and was looking forward to some kind of culminating event, but it was so crowded we couldn’t find any of the organizers (they said they’d be wearing orange bandannas), so we just went home disappointed and kind of hungry.

  • emily

    Personally I did not think it was a failure, expecially for having been the first festival. True, it got very crowded, I did get there at 11:03AM and already a surprising amount of people had shown up. Luckily I went with two others, so while I waited for oysters in the Poleng line for almost 45mns, my friends had scored an Absinthe hotdog and a funnel cake which we cheerfully ate while I waited in line. Somehow waiting in line so long really made me appreciate those oysters and I loved every bite. Also I applaud that all the plastic was compostable and that there were many compostable bins & recycling bins at strategic location with monitors who would be sure people put the compostables and recyclables in correct receptacle.

    Hopefully, next year there will be more genuine street food vendors and less fancy restaurants now that the desire for such food is prominent. But I did appreciate eating some of the “fancier” restaurant food at a relatively less-expensive price.

  • http://allfreerecipes.net emily

    Personally I did not think it was a failure, expecially for having been the first festival. True, it got very crowded, I did get there at 11:03AM and already a surprising amount of people had shown up. Luckily I went with two others, so while I waited for oysters in the Poleng line for almost 45mns, my friends had scored an Absinthe hotdog and a funnel cake which we cheerfully ate while I waited in line. Somehow waiting in line so long really made me appreciate those oysters and I loved every bite. Also I applaud that all the plastic was compostable and that there were many compostable bins & recycling bins at strategic location with monitors who would be sure people put the compostables and recyclables in correct receptacle.

    Hopefully, next year there will be more genuine street food vendors and less fancy restaurants now that the desire for such food is prominent. But I did appreciate eating some of the “fancier” restaurant food at a relatively less-expensive price.
    BTW I love your blog!

  • Alita

    Thank you for the the team Soup Sluts shout out! :)

    As the banana in said photo, I really wanted this festival to be amazing, but aside from having to struggle through crowds to finish our scavenger hunt that was absolutely nerve-racking, I have to say I wasn’t thrilled with how it went down.

    We got there at noon and quickly were able to get tacos guisados (part of our trivia questions, so we decided to support them with buying food) at El Buen Comer, but were absolutely tasteless. My horchata was nothing but flat, La Taqueria and several others make better versions. And my Capirinha drink in the bar was too small and nothing impressive. At least Absinthe had awesome Cheddar Corn Peanut Brittle. But I couldn’t get Elote or Funnel Cake like I wanted without standing in an insane, unorganized line. At one point we had to leave to get Wi-Fi to complete our challenge, so part of our team stayed behind for legendary funnel cake. When they met us an hour later, they told us that the lines were so con-jumbled and no one was paying attention so it’s why they were taking so long. Creme brulee, elote and funnel cake were crossing into a giant wait when it could have only taken 20 minutes.

    I didn’t even get to really eat anything from the locals. So sad! :(

    We ran into Creme Brulee dude and his wife at a local bar afterwards, and they said they ran out in 3 hours….they had no idea it was going to be so slammed and didn’t have enough prepared to serve everyone. They felt really bad, I kind of feel like perhaps the vendors weren’t notified of what to expect.

    Oh and I heard at least 8 people ask were trash cans were and none of the volunteer staff knew where anything was or anything about the event or sponsorship. While the branding and imaging looked really organized, I really wonder if it was at all profitable for these businesses and if there couldn’t have been more training/prep involved on the organizations part.

    That being said, I do hope they attempt again next year!