In a dark alley in the (South of Market) district of San Francisco other wise known as SOMA
something seductive and quite magical happens for local diners hungry for variety, value and some good old fashioned camaraderie.
Once a week at 5th and Minna a diverse pool of culinary talent converges in such a way that you’ll feel as though you stumbled into a market in Marrakech or some back alley in Bangkok. The only difference on this journey is you can forgo the security screening, leave your passport at home but – bring your appetite.
Our gracious guide to everything food truck related and creator of Off The Grid SF Matt Cohen agreed to be my tour guide. Setting the state for yet another spectacular event Cohen and his team manages to out together an amazing array of international culinary selections.
I had my pick from everything ranging from Sushi inspired Ahi Tuna sliders prepared and served from a kitschy shiny silver Air Steam truck called “Eat Curbside” to baked Chairman Baos Red Sesame Chicken Buns.
I decided I’d base my selections for Day 2 of our San Francisco food truck odyssey on Matt’s recommendations. As a matter fact, I managed to sit with him for a few minutes before a throng of hungry diners appeared. Cohen shared his inspiration to launch Off The Grid SF and his long standing commitment to support the exploding food truck community in the bay area.
That interview will be published next week.
Let me say that I consider myself virgin when it comes to sushi so my first pick was truly an adventure. Again based on Matt’s recommendation I decided to try Ahi Tuna sliders – $9 served at “Eat Curbside”. The sandwich consists of two slices of fresh Ahi tuna seared just long enough to create a slight crust on the outside while the flesh of the tuna remains rare on the inside.
Seasoned with sesame oil the tuna is placed on a soft roll that’s been dressed with Wasabi aioli, shredded purple cabbage and a few slices of fresh jalapeno.
The sandwich comes with your choice of fries or a fresh spring green salad. I opted, for the salad.
If you love sushi then you’ll probably love this sandwich. I can honestly say that I did as well despite the rare temperature of the tuna. Overall I appreciated the clean flavor of tuna and combined with the complex flavors of Wasabi and toasted sesame oil dressed greens I found the meal to be a welcome respite from so many fried options I’ve consumed of late.
I’d give this meal a five for quality of product and presentation.
Who knows perhaps I’m the road to fully embracing a true appreciation for Sushi.
Next up on my international dining carnival is Middle Eastern inspired Liba’s Falafel truck.
I was first introduced to Liba Falafel via the Cooking Channels food truck focused show “Eat Street”. As a matter of fact it’s hard to miss the bright lime green painted truck. But even if you’re color blind you certainly can’t miss the consistent line of people many of whom I’m certain are regulars who obviously come back week after week to indulge their craving for everything Falafel.
Owner and creator of Liba Falafel Gail Lillian turned a traditional staple food for vegetarians and lovers of Middle Eastern cuisine food into an art. Gail prepares her Falafels fresh daily and shapes them into golf ball sized nuggets by hand finally frying them until golden brown.
Her most popular menu item is the Falafel sandwich ~ a pita pocket filled with several bite size balls (the exact amount depending upon the size of your sandwich) Liba offers two – small and large. After you’re served your sandwich you can then step over to the Falafel Bar where you’re find an array of home made toppings to dress your sandwich to your hearts desire.
As a matter of fact many of her fans consider the variety of exotic toppings ranging from Roasted Eggplant in Tomato Sauce, Tomato Cucumber Salad with Mint, Red Cabbage with Black Sesame Seed, Olive-Orange Relish with Thyme, Rosemary Peanuts and Spiced Carrot Ribbons just a name a few the best part.
In addition there’s a variety of sauces like Harissa Hot Sauce, Yogurt Raita and traditional Hummus.
Pace Is Important:
Having filled up on tuna sliders I couldn’t manage a full on sandwich but that wasn’t my only reason. My primary motivation was my desire to save room Liba’s signature sweet potato fries $2.
Before I describe these wonders of deep fried goodness first let me start off by saying that I was over the moon pleased with my choice. The best way to describe the flavor of the fries is to say they’re like a savory dessert.
Gail slices the sweet potatoes shoestring style and fries them until their golden brown ~ slicing them thin intensifies the caramel like flavor of the potato’s, then while still hot from the fryer, they’re seasoned with garlic and cilantro and placed in a paper packet and finally topped with a quarter wedge of lime.
I’ll tell you know that even if you’ve resisted sweet potato fries in the past you’ll want to try these.
For the piece de resistance Gail serves the fries in a paper pocket that’s been rubber stamped with the words “To: (your name) hand written and Love Always, Liba” and to that all I’ll say is a heart felt ~ thank you, the feeling is mutual.
Next up: Chairman Bao Bun Truck @chairmantruck – Again I originally discovered Chairman Bao Bun Truck highlighted on another Cooking Channels show called “Easy Chinese” the host Ching-He Haung prepared the trucks signature pork belly buns.
Tender pieces of slow cooked pork belly are delicately sliced and served on a Bao Bun that’s prepared either steamed or baked. But once I spotted the Red Sesame Chicken on the board menu and I felt that might be a nice alternative to the pork bonanza I experienced from Bacon-Bacon SF truck from day one.
One bite and I knew I made the right decision. The chicken was quite moist and full of flavor as a matter of fact there was a slight kick from the spicy marinade that was a little unexpected.
Small pieces of the seasoned chicken are placed on a Bao Bun, (imagine a delicately light and baked fluffy pillow soft) that’s the best way I describe the bun. Even the bun is baked it retains it’s white color. Finally the bite size sandwich is topped with pickled paper-thin sliced cucumbers and carrots. – $3.25 each.
If you’re really hungry you’ll probably need three or four of these suckers to fill you up but isn’t that the best part about street food? You have a smorgasbord of options that will not only satisfy your appetite but your wallet as well.
Of course the perfect meal wouldn’t be totally perfect without having the perfect dessert and so I knew I couldn’t end the day without locating the Creme Brulèe Cart.
I won’t waste any time and get right to the point but OMG!
If you’ve ever indulged in a well prepared crème brulee then you know what I mean, if not, imagine a velvety custard made with fresh eggs, cream, sugar and vanilla then encased in a hardened caramel shell.
Traditionally served in high-end restaurants crème brulee cart creator Curtis Kimball decided the time had come to remove the pomp and circumstance and take the “she-she” dessert out of the stuffy dining room and bring it to the masses on the street – literally.
His decision proved to be right on!
Kimball can easily attract the attention of new customers by doing two simple things. Place a propane torch to a sugar covered individual serving of creamy custard and let the wind do the rest.
The intoxicating aroma created during the caramelization process is like a siren song luring you to nirvana. But unlike a haunting melody designed to lure ships to destruction the only devastation you might experience is to your waist line ~ but what a way to go.
On my first visit I ordered “The Yes Please” (Nutella and strawberry) brulèe. – $4. Served in individual foil cups the brulèe was the perfect amount and worth every spoon full. I actually had to pace myself in order to savor every bite – hell ~ I licked the container – free of shame.
It took everything I had not to go back to order another and only reason why I didn’t was because he sold out of the only two flavors I wanted to try: Honey Vanilla and Cham-Wow (chocolate and Chambord) but I promised to come back soon and sample the other varieties.
Speaking of variety Kimball offers many – far too many to name in this article, so I’ll just direct you to his website menu to review the complete selection.
And with that this wraps up Day 2 of Stitches tour of San Francisco. If you missed Day 1 you can read it here. Also be on the lookout for San Francisco food truck tour Day 3 coming early next week plus an interview with Off The Grid SF founder Matt Cohen.
In the mean time, enjoy, please leave comments AND stop missing what you could be eating…
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