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Friday, January 7, 2011

Gourmet Meat Street Food & Vegetarian Food Truck Favorites

Yesterday I was part of a great food adventure. I've been reading online articles about the many gourmet food trucks in San Francisco and wanted to try some of them out. I'd been sending the articles to my Wedding MC and DJ, home chef and foodie friend, Carl Mindling. Yesterday we were going to be up near the city so we decided to make an afternoon of it...

Hapa Ramen's Vegetarian "Miso Market Bowl" ($8)

We began just outside the Ferry Building on the Embacadero. We had hoped to try El Porteno's famous empanadas... I'd already checked out their online menu and knew which empanadas I wanted to try:

HUMITA
Organic Super Sweet Corn, Roasted Red Bell Peppers.

FUGAZZETA
Aged Cheddar, Shaved Organic Onions, Oregano.

And for dessert...

Empanadita de Manzana
Fresh apple filling with pisco soaked raisins topped with a savory blend of malden salt
and muscovado sugar.

(Um, *Drool*)

The big bummer? They weren't there! Fortunately there were other vendors to choose from including: Roli Roti, Hapa Ramen, Pizza Politana, Tacolicious, 4505 Meats (known for their meaty meats and butchery classes), San Francisco Lox and Namu (Korean food). Wait times ranged from no wait to probably up to ten minutes or more for the Roli Roti gourmet rotisserie truck which offers chicken (quarters, halves and whole) and porchetta (pork) sandwiches. It is very popular and had a long line the entire time we were there.

Carl Mindling at Hapa Ramen

It was beautiful on the Embarcadero yesterday... But even with the blue, blue sky it was so cold you could see your breath on the air after 11:00 AM. Carl and I chose Hapa Ramen because nothing sounded better than a bowl of hot soup.

We didn't know it then but this is exactly the kind of company I love to support. Their website says:
"We use the good stuff: organically raised pork, chickens that enjoyed roaming around their pastures, and locally sourced konbu (seaweed). We also use seasonal, local vegetables from the best farms—Catalan, Dirty Girl, Star Route, Serendipity, Knoll, and Marin Roots, to name a few.

...it tastes way better and we want to support the local farmer to complete the circle for the local economy.
Their meat options include braised pork shoulder, crispy chicken and slow cooked chicken and pork.

A behind the scenes view from the kitchen.

This is what my ramen looked like when I picked it up at the counter. It was a miso base with mixed vegetables that included a slice of yellow squash, a sheet of nori seaweed, a big leafy green (it might have been a bok choy leaf) and small rounds of green onion.

Beneath the miso broth were fresh, handmade ramen noodles and Brussels sprouts! The Brussels sprouts were AMAZING! They were small and tender and either roasted, sauteed or grilled with a nice golden char to the exterior leaves. Larger sprouts were cross cut on one end to allow the broth to seep between all of the layers of leaves. I can't wait to try this myself at home. Carl guessed you split the Brussels sprout and let it soak in the broth for a bit to allow the flavorful broth to get into every nook and cranny.

For $1.00 more I ordered this container of pickled vegetables and kim chee which I tossed into my soup bowl. They added a nice tangy bite to the soup. It was so good I ate the whole bowl. There was also a pork, chicken, or pork and chicken option. Prices ranged from $8-$12 and adding a slow cooked egg to any bowl was $1 more. I was a bit shocked when I read on their website that means the egg was slow cooked for one hour leaving the yolk creamy and soft.

Next on our list was "The Creme Brulee Cart." Owner Curtis Kimball successfully uses Twitter to let his followers know where he is each day and for how long. We found the cart tucked amongst the skyscrapers in the financial district at Market and Sutter Streets right in front of E*TRADE and across the street from a Bart Station.

The Creme Brulee Cart has it all:
A great product, branding, marketing and locations!

I first read about Curtis as the famous "Creme Brulee Guy" who helped lead the way for street food vendors to make the leap from illegitimate to permitted professionals in SF. Until 2010 the permitting process for street food vendors sounded like a nightmare of illogical policies, sometimes outrageous fees, and a permitting process so confusing that many willing vendors simply gave up and sold their food illegally. Thankfully the city straightened everything out allowing many new entrepreneurs to set up their shops and work legally around the city.

I was so excited as we approached Curtis' cart. We took a bunch of photos and placed our orders. His Creme Brulees are $4 each and we had three choices:
  • Honey Vanila Bean
  • Dark Chocolate Peppermint
  • Dot.COM (Cinnamon, Orange & Maple)
You choose one, he fires up his blow torch, pours some granulated sugar over the creme and proceeds to caramelize it into the classic and crunchy layer that shatters into shards when you crack the top with your spoon.

It smelled so good! Like toasted cotton candy!

I chose the Dark Chocolate Peppermint. It tasted like Christmas. The cream was light, smooth and rich and the glass-like crunchy sugar top was toasted to perfection! To be honest I've never been a creme brulee fan but I loved Curtis' creme brulee!

Yeah, I ate the whole thing.

I've always said Carl is a giant among men... OK, maybe I've never said that but I loved the angle I caught in this image as he took a picture of The Creme Brulee Cart. LOL

Our final stop was a place I'd been wanting to go to ever since I heard about them a year ago and featured them in a Flirty Idea about food trucks for wedding receptions. Liba is a mobile falafel bar that resides near the San Francisco Design Center, the Gift Center and just down the street from Dogster.com's headquarters.

Owner Gail Lillian and her very cute and hip Liba food truck

I have to say I love that both Liba and The Creme Brulee Cart have put so much thought into their branding and presentation of their truck and cart. They both had great logos and a great look. We spotted the truck from two blocks away. It was fun, like being on a treasure hunt!

I was so full that I ordered the $5 small sandwich that includes a yummy pita pocket. The bread isn't typical pita bread. It was thicker and had more body to it. The flavor was mild though and let the flavors of the falafel and toppings really shine through. The small has two falafel balls made from organic chickpeas and is served with chimichurri, tahini and your choice of toppings.

There was also a wide assortment of beverages including my favorite IZZE grapefruit soda.

And the toppings... Wow. There were so many choices it was a bit overwhelming. I wanted to try everything but I chose three. The toppings menu on the LibaSF website include all of the items made from scratch:
  • Roasted Eggplant in Tomato Sauce
  • Tomato Cucumber Salad with Mint
  • Red Cabbage with Black Sesame Seed
  • Olive-Orange Relish with Thyme
  • Spiced Carrot Ribbons
  • Red Beets with Lemon and Thyme
  • Rosemary Peanuts
  • Pickled Onion
  • Tomato Ginger Chutney
  • Dill Cardamom Pickle
  • Lemon Wedges
  • Feta Cheese
  • Hummus
  • Harissa Hot Sauce
  • Yogurt Raita

My loaded falafel...

And an interesting note, the falafel is yellow, not the typical bright green that every falafel I've ever eaten before has been. And I'm not kidding, this was the best falafel I've ever had. The exterior layer was tasty, thin and crunchy while the inside was light and fluffy. It wasn't overcooked into a hard, dark shell with a dried out filling the way falafels often are. When all of the flavors of the falafel, tahini, chimichurri, tomato ginger chutney, peanuts and onions combined it was divine!

Gail was so inviting!

A few more things I love about Liba:
  • Gail uses as many local, organic ingredients as possible to help support local farmers and offer her customers food that is as healthy as possible.
  • All of Liba's take-away products are compostable—every little thing. At the end of the day their cooking oil gets turned into biofuel.
  • Another bonus is that she has plenty of free parking beside her truck so you can zip in, park, place your order, pick it up and be back on the road in a jiffy.
  • Gail Lillian has paid her dues and you can taste it! For 18 years she has worked in the food industry, trained as both a chef and pastry chef, has been a cafĂ© owner, catering chef, private home chef, and cake decorator. "She celebrates food with vigor and thinks it brings a sometimes black-and-white world into beautiful vivid color."
Menu options are Falafel Sandwiches (small $5 - regular $8) and a Falafel Salad Bowl ($9). Liba also offers Hand-Cut Sweet Potato Fries with Cilantro, Garlic & Lime ($2).

After chatting a bit about what it's like to own a food truck, Gail thanked us for stopping by and sent us off with a homemade Peppermint Patty... Of course it was really yummy!


Seriously, what are the odds that in less than three hours I would have the best vegetarian ramen noodle soup, chocolate creme brulee, falafel with gourmet toppings and the best peppermint patty I've ever had? I felt like I hit the street food lotto jackpot! I skipped dinner last night, I was too full to eat another bite. A small price to pay for such a delicious experience.

My best tips for tracking food trucks in San Francisco:
  • Verify their location day by day on Twitter, Facebook or their website
  • Verify their hours. Most are only open from 10:00 or 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM
  • Bring Cash
  • Have fun and enjoy! If the truck you were looking for isn't there, try another :)

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