Food-obsessed San Francisco has been at the front of the food truck and food cart revolution. The Bay Area boasts about 150 roaming vendors of nouveau street food, an annual street food festival and Off the Grid, weekly convergences of mobile food trucks and carts dishing out everything from Asian tacos to salted caramel cupcakes. Off the Grid sessions happen at Fort Mason, Civic Center, the Upper Haight and elsewhere.
Here are some of the best of San Francisco's active food truck/food cart fleet, with Twitter handles so you can track their whereabouts. Excluded are trucks run by restaurants or stores (e.g., Chez Spencer, Kara's Cupcakes).
Korean fusion (think kimchi quesadillas, bibimbap burritos and spicy pork tacos). The nice proprietor likes to experiment with his menu. Help-yourself condiments include kimchi, cucumbers, and mango, wasabi and other sauces.
San Francisco’s most eye-catching truck, revolutionary red with the profile of a Mao-jacketed giant panda and Communist and traditional Chinese symbols. The buns, baked or steamed, hold fillings such as duck with mango, crispy garlic tofu and pork belly--but during Off the Grid evenings, be prepared to wait in line for them for an hour.
Crème Brulee Cart
With more than 13,500 Twitter followers, the torch-wielding Crème Brulee Man (aka Curtis Kimball) has become a cult hero. But with such high expectations, some customers end up disappointed. Rotating flavors include vanilla, coffee, chocolate and coconut and more unusual ones such as s’mores, lavender and chocolate peanut-butter cup.
Launched in August 2009, Cupkates says it’s “the Bay Area’s first mobile cupcakery.” Standards like vanilla, chocolate and red velvet, supplemented with flavors such as key lime, s’mores and salted caramel. The Guiness chocolate cupcake is dense and toothsome. $3 apiece.
Started in 2007, El Porteno is a regular at Bay Area farmers’ markets. The oven-hot Argentinean, flaky-crust pastries come with savory or sweet fillings such as Prather Ranch beef/raisins/olives; corn/red bell peppers; mushrooms/cheese/crème fraiche; and dulce de leche/bananas. $4 each. Sides: Cookies; dulce de leche; horchata.
Real taco trucks, roving around San Francisco since 1993. The al pastor (pork) and carne asada tacos are long-time favs. Other filling options for your taco or burrito include chicken, prawns, vegetables, tripe, tongue and head. Sides: Nachos; quesadillas; chiles rellenos; guacamole. El Tonayense trucks frequent the Mission and SOMA, especially Harrison Street.
Virginia Ramos is to tamales what Curtis Kimball is to crème brulee (see Creme Brulee Cart, above)--although Ramos is a veteran mobile food vendor with 17 years of experience. The Mexican mom inspired a film and a CD. Her tamales put five of her kids through college. Chicken mole (the most popular), pork, vegetable, black bean/sweet potato, and bell pepper/cheese tamales come with motherly advice, though some people grumble they’re overpriced at $4. Find Ramos after dark at Zeitgeist and other Mission and SOMA bars.
Authentic, Belgian Liege waffles, hot off the press. They're crisp on the outside and thick and comfortingly doughy inside. The waffle guy gets points for finding and filling a unique niche.