Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top picks at the 2013 San Francisco Street Food Festival

Alicia Villaneuva's tamales are the best you've never had
What: San Francisco Street Food Festival
When: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Mission District (exact map is here)
Cost: Admission free, food $3-$8

The Street Food Festival remains San Francisco's greatest food event.

Where else can you eat try Central Kitchen, State Bird Provisions and President Obama's favorite Malaysian food in the same hour?

Entry is free. Crowds are large, so come early And no wonder: the festival has perhaps the greatest one-day collection of small-bite food in California. Combine the mastery of La Cocina's top street vendors with high-end chefs concentrating on producing just two items each, and you've got more exciting food than anybody could eat.

Two food lists here. First, here are my favorites from the recent media preview:

Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas
Alicia Villaneuva's Oaxacan cheese tamale, with mild pepper slices, was my favorite item from the preview. If you haven't had one of her tamales from her tiny food cart yet, it's about time.

Azalina Eusope holds the Sweet Potato Dumpling
Malaysian chef Azalina Eusope creates a new dish for this festival every year. She hasn't equalled the awesome Penang Curry Bomb of 2011, but you won't want to miss her Sweet Potato Dumpling. The filling has braised coconut with dried blueberries and a spice mix of fennel, coriander and roasted chile. It's intense, complex and terrific.

"I like my food to talk in your mouth," she says.

What she can't talk much about is her command performance for President Obama at a 12-course fundraiser dinner last year; she signed an NDA.

Keep in mind that Obama spent some of his formative years in Indonesia and has a fondness for food from the region. We can reveal a few of the dishes: coconut rice with quail egg, oxtail soup, fried noodles.

"He said this was the best Malaysian food he ever had," Eusope says. "I had never met my own prime minister, and I got to meet the most powerful man in the world."

Bini and the Momos
Bini's Kitchen
They don't eat a lot of turkey in Nepal. Chef Bini adapts the contry's national dish, originally made with buffalo meat, for California supplies with the Turkey Momo. It's meaty and spicy and a big favorite of her catering customers.

El Huarache Loco
If you want to have breakfast with me sometime, look for me about 9 a.m. on Saturdays at the Alemany Farmers Market, where I'm chowing down on something from this food truck that makes the best Mexican food in town. Hard for me to choose between the two dishes they're offering at the Festival, a Taco de Alambre (Mexico-city style, with bacon, beef, chorizo, mozzarella cheese, peppers and onions) or a Huarache de Nopales, because what I often get is a mash-up, the Huarache de Alambre.

My arepa's gone and all I have left is this photo
El Pipila
The Handmade Corn Sope with Picadillo (ground beef, onion, tomato and potato) has the right combination of meatiness, a slight corn sweetness and spiciness.

Maite Catering
Me: "Hey, what happened to my Arepa de Choclo (fresh-ground mini corn pancake topped with cotija cheese)? I was enjoying that." My wife: "Did you see those cocktails in the other room? Shall I get you one?"

Sweets Collection
These Tequila Jelly Shots are so beautiful that, to be honest, I never tried one before. I just assumed it was all about the design. In fact, last year I took one home and kept it as a decoration for a while.

This year I finally popped one in my mouth. Wow -- nice Tequila flavor, well-balanced, delicious. On the other hand, now I don't have the beautiful decoration.

4505 Meats
This meat purveyor from Ferry Plaza Farmers Market wasn't at the preview, but I shared their Best Damn Cheeseburger the following weekend with a friend who liked it even better than Roli Roti's Porchetta sandwich. Among San Francisco street-food cognoscenti, there's no higher praise.

Second, here are a few dishes I didn't try, but am excited about:

Good Foods Catering
Former Delfina line cook Dontaye Bell wasn't at this year's preview, but his Southern Gourmet Jambalaya was a highlight last year.

Lers Ros
San Francisco's best Thai restaurant makes great Larb Kai (spicy ground chicken salad) in-house; now they're taking it to the streets.

State Bird Provisions
Now I know why I can't get a table, ever: hackers are writing programs to take all the reservations. The restaurant is temporarily closed for sprucing up anyway, so here's your only chance for a little while to try it. Hand Pulled Garlic Bread with Burrata, mmm.

Questions about the Street Food Festival? Check out the official site. My advice: Come early, eat lunch, wander away somewhere for coffee, come back for second lunch/early dinner.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

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