Photo Gallery

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Eats of San Francisco: A Whirlwind Eating Spree At Stands, Carts & Trucks

Forget diets and eating resolutions I decided to start off the new year right by indulging in some of the many great food options on the streets of San Francisco. To accompany me I enlisted my BFF (Best Foodie Friend) of choice, Stacie Tamaki.

However, traveling all the way from Santa Cruz I was also determined to catch a glimpse of Mill Valley and finally make it to the Tyler Florence culinary store in Mill Valley. I mean what's not to love about the cozy bungalow of Mill Valley with its strong presence of unique small businesses and notable absence of cookie cutter big box chain stores.

Speaking of cookies we plotted our e.t.a. early enough to include a quick bite at the French bakery cafe right next door to Tyler's shop. It's called, Champagne and lives up to its name with lots of tasty sweets and eats.

My obvious choice for a breakfast snack at a French bakery was their Almond Raspberry Croissant with a hot chocolate to take the edge of the chilly winter morning air.

When Tyler Florence Mill Valley opened at 10:00 a.m. we were the first through the doors. Merchandising is definitely their forte with an intriguing mix of practical cooking gear and tasteful design items. One corner boasts a fully working kitchen where demos are obviously a regular event.

Stacie posed here at their gourmet-to-go counter which was chocked full of bottled sauces, spice rubs, dried pasta and other hand crafted stuff to jump start the home chef's efforts.

My favorite room was the cookbook library in the back of the store. A fireplace and comfy leather seating seduces you and could easily have me just loitering around there all day long. The whole atmosphere of this place gives you the feeling that some culinary icon is going to just drop by any minute.

As much fun as we were having I noticed the clock and it was time for takin' it to the streets. After all, our designated destination was The City to chase food trucks. Our first truck target was the famous Empanadas Argentinas of El Porteño. We crossed the Golden Bridge and were headed to another one of our favorite places in the entire universe, The Ferry Building. To our huge dismay there was no sign of El Porteño at The Ferry Building. Tracking food truck locations is part of the joy and pain of this culinary lifestyle. Many of them use Twitter and Facebook to alert their followers. Somehow we failed doing our homework on this one. Hungry at The Ferry Building? No Problem. This place is first and foremost a food destination both inside and outside the building where food vendors congregate. You couldn't miss the line stretching for one-half block at another wildly popular food truck from Roli Roti.

Being the veggie lovers and long line haters that we are Stacie and I opted for the stand right next door, Hapa Ramen.

These cooks just COOK! They have a very short window of serving time and a huge demand from customers who pour out of office buildings descending upon them at lunch. It's cool to walk behind their stands and catch the all the bustle and energy that emanates from their mobile kitchens.

And who are the winners? The lucky ones like us who get to dig into some of the best Ramen ever. We both tried the vegetable version which was loaded with interesting stuff like squash, nori and grilled brussels spouts. Sipping the hot broth warmed our souls on this chilly winter day as we watched the line move slowly next door at Roli Roti. :-) This cup of goodness is definitely what I'd call TOP Ramen.

As comfy as we were it was again time to run off to our next stop. These street food vendors are only open during the key eating hours and we had to make it down to the FiDi (Financial District) ASAP. Our next target was actually a dessert stop at The Creme Brulee Cart.

Creme Brulee is perfect street food because it can be made ahead and then just torched before serving. This little cart needs only a small propane tank to make it happen.

And Voila! My Honey Vanilla Bean caramelized perfectly. It was a great texture combination of hot and crunchy on top with cool and creamy underneath.

Stacie chose the Dark Chocolate Peppermint so our contrasting flavors made for the perfect Duet of Brulees.

The FiDi has a wonderful vibe yet off we had to run to get to another popular neighborhood called SoMa District which stands for South of Market Street. We were seeking the French Take-Away truck called Spencer On The Go. I was especially excited about tasting Spencer's fare after following their progress on a recent Food Network food truck competition show. But we came up short again not being able to find the Spencer truck anywhere. Oh well, it will just have to wait until next time.

We had just one more stop on our itinerary and it was close by near the Gift Center. Stacie had mentioned Liba Falafels to me in the past but I had yet to try them. I finally found out what I've been missing.

Although our main objective was to try food trucks this last stop was actually the first truck at which we ate. This shot is the side of the truck that opens to the customers and features a great bar of toppings for your falafel.

The difference in a Liba falafel is the great crunch on the outside and noticeably missing green color inside. Their recipe uses less parsley thus the lack of green coloring. At this point in our eating expedition we were getting full so we opted for the small size falafel for $5.00. Other choices include a larger size for $8.00 or a low carb salad version in a bowl with no pita bread for $9.00. Each comes with their basic chimichurri and tahini dressings.

What really makes Liba unique and delicious is their incredible choice of toppings that you help yourself to at their topping bar. Check out their website menu and you'll find 15 handmade toppings to customize your falafel. Each ingredient makes perfect sense in a Mediterranean flavor profile but Liba pairs them in such unique ways that it takes the falafel to a higher place.
My finished falafel was so well dressed it looked like a Chicago style hot dog but a whole lot healthier to nosh.

My parting shot is of Gail Lillian, the owner of Liba. Her engaging personality and helpful hints about her food made the Liba experience a delightful one we won't forget anytime soon. Thanks to Gail and all of the other purveyors of street food for making our first adventure so fantastic. We will be returning to other neighborhoods and reporting back on more mobile deliciousness soon.

More Food Adventures:

January - The Eats of San Francisco:
February - A Tasty Tour of Santa Cruz
March - The Cowgirl Creamery
April - Confessions of a Sushi Virgin
May - Best of the East Bay
June - Palo Alto Eateries
July - Cheap Eats & Secret Menus


  1. Ok, when I come out, and I AM going to....will you take me around and show me these places too? Guess we're going to need at least two days Carl. Your fault you know. You keep enticing all of us with these wonderful eateries. No definite date yet but as the time gets closer I plan on being in touch.

  2. Such a fun day! We have to do this more often :D