by Ray Aguilera
Everyone knows about the big food names in San Francisco, whether it’s Coi’s high-end Michelin-starred California cuisine, or Bar Tartine’s amazing sandwiches that have foodies and hipsters queued up on Valencia Street. The other day, a family of tourists from Korea stopped me on the street and asked the way to Ike’s Place for one of their (apparently internationally-famous) delicious gut-bomb sandwiches.
But in addition to our beloved collection of well-known eateries, there are tons of places off the beaten path –or even not really on the path in the first place– to get a good plate of grub, usually accompanied by a cold beer or a cocktail to wash it all down.
Food trucks are all the rage, but until recently, there hasn’t been a regular spot to find your favorite wheeled purveyors of designer grilled cheese sandwiches and fusion cuisine served in taco form. You used to have to stalk food trucks on Twitter, but thanks to SoMa’s Streat Food Park (Ha, see what they did there?), you can wander down to 11th Street and Division almost any time and find a constantly-rotating collection of trucks slinging all manner of tasty eats. It’s reminiscent of the permanent pods scattered throughout downtown Portland, but with less rain and things with birds on them.
The Streat Food Park usually boasts at least a half-dozen food vendors, hawking all sorts of tasty treats, from Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches to handmade popsicles. A recent dinner service featured everything from gyros and made-to-order drip coffees to southern-style BBQ with traditional sides like mac and cheese. The worst part about it is making up your mind, but thankfully you don’t have to. Part of the fun of having so many options is putting together a “tasting menu” from a few different vendors.
If the promise of unusual and delicious food isn’t enough to lure you this far South of Market, Streat Food Park also features free Wi-Fi, lots of bike parking, a beer garden, and plenty of space to sit down and enjoy. Lunch is served Monday-Friday from 11am-3pm, with dinner from 5pm-10pm. On weekends, Streat Food Park is open from 11am-10pm.
Also in SoMa, beardy fellas and those who love them have been bellying up for “meaty boy” burgers with all the accouterments at Truck (1900 Folsom Street). There are Gardenburgers for vegetarians, as well as a house-breaded chicken option. Fries, sweet potato tots, and delicious fried pickles round out the bar eats.
Truck’s kitchen is generally open from 4-9pm, but Fridays the burgers start hitting the grill at noon and meat party doesn’t stop until 9pm. Afternoons are relaxed, as the bar fills with nearby office workers, freelancers, and other day-drinkers.
But burgers deep fried stuff isn’t the only thing to eat at Truck. The monthly Swallow party features a rotating menu of gourmet goodies made by Ben and Dino, the titular tarts behind Two Tarts and a Stove (facebook.com/eatups). A recent menu included a Southwestern flatbread with chorizo and cilantro cream, and the ever-popular cheeseburger egg rolls. Swallow happens monthly on the third Wednesday from 5pm-10pm. The next Swallow will be happening on October 17.
On the second Friday of the month, the Tarts also invade Truck’s kitchen, turning out affordable and delicious pub food during Rarebits, a monthy rotating DJ night where the selectors change every 15 minutes. In keeping with the “rarebits” theme, the eats are English-inspired dishes, including a banger sausage on a soft bun with caramelized onions and tomato relish, classic fish and chips, and of course, a take on Welsh rarebit, an ale-infused cheese sauce served over hearty toasted bread. The next Rarebits happens on Friday, October 12.
But Truck isn’t the only bar kitchen doing double duty. Over at Lookout (3600 16th Street), the kitchen turns out wings, sliders, quesadillas and other bar faves six nights a week. On Tuesdays, Lookout’s kitchen gets taken over to the folks from Down to Grub, who turn it with southern-style favorites from 6-10pm. The menu changes weekly, but you can often find ribs and down-home specialties like DTG’s shrimp and grits, with mustard greens and grilled peaches. The fried chicken sandwich is another standout, topped with honey-jalapeño slaw and a spiced aioli.
For something a bit more sophisticated, check out Mugsy’s Wine Bar, a sporadic pop-up wine bar that happens on “occasional” Fridays at El Rio (3158 Mission Street), everybody’s favorite outer Mission indoor/outdoor dive bar. When Mugsy is in the house, expect affordably-priced pours from urban wineries, and wines made by women and vintners of color. Featured wines are around $7 a glass, and hail from exotic locales as near as Oakland, and as far away as Italy. Of course, they pair nicely with the free oysters El Rio dishes out every Friday starting at 5:30pm. To find out when Mugsy’s will be popping up next, check their website at mugsywinebar.tumblr.com.
On the other side of town, Amante (570 Green Street) is a sleek bar with a lounge-y vibe, and drink names ending in “-tini” that Herb Caen probably wouldn’t approve of. But drinks go better with food, and it’s hard not to love Chubby Noodle, the restaurant-within-a-bar tucked into this North Beach watering hole.
The noodle dishes are delicious, of course, in particular the Peppered Duck, a seared breast atop a pile of perfectly chewy chow fun with seasonal veggies. Keeping with the “chubby” theme, pork belly fried rice is served with spicy housemade kimchi, and a sunny-side up egg adds even more decadent richness.
Speaking of decadent, the organic fried chicken is delicious, and comes in either wing or strip form. It’s brined in buttermilk, and paired with a spicy, creamy sambal sauce for a little bit of a kick.
On the lighter end, Chubby Noodle offers small plates that go well with Amante’s libations, including salt and pepper shrimp, Korean-style pork tacos, and tombo tuna poke.