My favorite eating experience in San Francisco was also the most fortuitous. Three days before we departed for the West Coast, I came across a tweet linking to this post from Serious Eats, and just like that, Off the Grid was bumped to the top of my list.
A regular gathering with street vendors, live music, and a cash bar, OTG is possibly the best time you’ll have in a parking lot all year.
The locations vary, depending on the day—we opted for Friday night at Fort Mason Center, by the Marina.
We got there a little bit later than intended, and as we surveyed the already-lengthy lines at some of the trucks, I realized we were losing daylight. Quickly. The perils of traveling without a seasoned photographer as a companion; when the lightbulb finally came on, I suddenly understood why Jill had been in such a hurry during our last food outing in Vermont.
Lucky for us, we were in and out of the line quickly at our first stop, Venga Paella. We hopped on line just as a batch of the namesake paella was coming off the pan—each takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, with two going at once to keep the hungry hordes happy.
Piping hot and studded with clams, shrimp, and chorizo, each portion was drizzled with a finishing touch of oil and handed over; it was all I could do to keep from snatching mine out of the poor server’s hands. A stellar first plate—the bar was set high.
Our next stop didn’t quite measure up, but it was solid nonetheless: a beef taco from TaKorea.
The meat, marinated bulgogi-style, was well cooked and flavorful, but there wasn’t enough of it—you know things are out of whack when your taco is overwhelmed by excessive romaine.
The line was longer, but I was much more impressed with the fusion offerings at Kung Fu Tacos. The roast duck was perfectly punctuated by a drizzle of hoisin sauce and a spoonful sweet mango salsa; the Asian asada combined strips of steak with the classic (onions, cilantro) with the nuevo (ginger-carrot salsa with a slight kick). On any other occasion, I might’ve complained about the portion sizes, but there were so many trucks to try that I was almost grateful for the restraint shown here.
While I made my way from Korean taco truck to Korean taco truck, the Carnivore very patiently waited on the longest line in the place. (Don’t worry, I was a great runner, bringing food and making sure his glass was full.)
Chairman Bao is obviously one of the popular kids, for good reason. The infamous pork-belly buns were sold out by the time he made it to the counter, so we had to make do with a serving of the red-sesame chicken with scallions and bok choy.
Not exactly a hardship.
Our last bite wins the award for least photogenic, but it was one of the tastiest too, in a classic, New American kind of way: seared ahi-tuna sliders with wasabi aioli and sesame slaw from Eat Curbside. Trust me, my photo doesn’t do these little guys justice.
We were full way before I was ready to stop making the rounds—I didn’t even get to see how San Francisco’s Filipino food, in the form of Señor Sisig and HapaSF, measured up to what Jill and I had in situ, and I’m still kicking myself for it. And by the time we wanted something sweet, the créme brulée truck had sold out and shut up shop, and the queue for these amazing-looking s’mores was prohibitive. If I could’ve returned for the next installment of Off the Grid, I would’ve in a heartbeat.
Once again—because it bears repeating—four days in this food-loving city is just not enough time.