Makeshift tables were set up above compost trash cans that quickly filled up while lines of people snaked around the block.
I made a mistake, it turns out. I convinced my girlfriend to forgo breakfast with me on Saturday morning so that we could properly stuff our faces upon arrival at La Cocina’s San Francisco Street Food Festival. The idea was solid, I thought, until we arrived and found ourselves amidst frenzy: lines of like-stomached people, patiently propelled through the crowded streets by hunger, ambling toward the promise of reasonably-priced delicacies.
Faced with these seemingly insurmountable lines, a lot of people would—and did—turn around and head for nearby taquerias for a quick fix, but we were invested in the day: I had purchased a “passport” of food and drink tickets in advance of the event and had been actively competing in the festival’s scavenger hunt. There was no turning back, no easy way out. We were committed.
We got in line. We got quiet. We got irritable. And then we got fed.
Aziza’s braised beef cheek and harissa-filled Moroccan tacos ($8) and citrusy squid salad ($3) were worth over a half-hour wait. After devouring this delicious and re-invigorating “first course,” we were pleasantly surprised to find that the lines for Cantina’s handcrafted cocktails were a fraction of the food lines. Drink tickets in hand, we eased into a couple caipirinhas. Our spirits lifted a little higher, we ventured on.
Our next target proved as time-consuming—and rewarding—as the first: Delfina’s Pizza Fritta, fried calzones rarely found outside the streets of Naples, were handmade and fried to order. Overwhelmed with the savory, cheesy treats, we happily shared with the Go Game team, organizers of the scavenger hunt, while finishing off another round of beverages.
At 3 p.m., the Go Game team announced the winning scavenger hunt teams. For three weeks prior to the festival, hundreds of teams banded together to solve puzzles and hit the streets to take photos and make videos with street food vendors across the city. The energy and creativity of the other teams was amazing to witness. Our team Miso Horny proudly took home an award for “Best Joke!”
Back to the eating. The crowds finally started taking their toll after 3 p.m.. Makeshift “sold out” signs popped up on vendors’ displays. Cooks looked beat. Jamie Lauren of Absinthe (and Top Chef fame) sat behind an empty booth after her food had sold out, greeting fans and taking pictures. We were sad to miss out on Poleng Lounge’s BBQ oysters, but forged on.
Our last dish of the day was from one of La Cocina’s “graduates,” Sabores del Sur: a combo of tender Chilean beef and beef heart skewers, garnished with fiery green and red sauces and fried potatoes— spicy, hot, and flavorful.
There were also smaller La Cocina vendors selling their wares: indulgent caramel and chocolate treats from ClairSquares, Sajen Jamu’s healthful Ginger & Turmeric Balinese drinks, and Neococoa’s dense chocolate truffle brownies. As the day started to wear on us, we took our sweet treats “to go” and headed back home.
In all cases, the individual food we ate or purchased on Saturday was wonderful—completely worth the time and money spent. When you consider that this event will help fuel the next delicious businesses to come out of La Cocina’s kitchen, growing the variety of street food, caterers and providers out there, I’d gladly wait a little longer, just so long as they don’t sell out of anything.