The recession has been good for one thing: street food. With up-and-coming chefs taking their ventures mobile, food trucks have gotten ambitious and gourmet.
But this is old news. San Francisco has had a booming food truck scene for years, but finally, trucks are driving across the bridge. Emeryville sees trucks in its business parks daily, and Oakland and Alameda have gotten in on the action, too.
We embarked on a mission — find the best, new-wave street food on this side of the bay in less than seven days. Naturally, there were challenges. The parking lots around Powell Street in E-Ville were confusing to us out-of-towners, and not even Smartphones guarantee success for the directionally challenged. Trucks sell out, too, and when they sell out of everything, they just might leave — even when their Twitter clearly
states that they’re serving from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Even the food trucks themselves have challenges, experiencing everything from failed generators to flat tires to fuel pump woes.
But all in all, these trucks are remarkably social media savvy. If they have issues and cancel service, you’ll know it. Most tweet their exact location daily, and some tweet when they’ve sold out and are moving on. Others actively engage with customers, tweeting pictures of the day’s delights. So go on. Next time you see a brightly colored truck on the streets of Oakland and Alameda, get in line. Order, pay with a credit card,
sign your name on an iPhone and ask for a text message receipt. Moments later check your phone and see what it’s like to live in the future. Hint: It’s awesome, but it tastes even better.
Nick’s Wheely Good Breakfast
Runny fried eggs and pig products — it’s the American way, and nothing beats it. Nick’s is the Bay Area’s first breakfast truck, and understandably, the fried eggs and ham flourish. The maple-glazed pork belly sandwich ($7) is a zinger, loaded with tangy pickled onions, whole grain mustard and, of course, a fried egg. The classic breakfast sandwich ($5) has salty ham, a lovely bite from arugula and satisfying gooeyness from melted cheddar and, obviously, a fried egg.
Quick tips: While breakfast sandwiches are the staple here, Nick’s sometimes dishes out full-on carbs like cookies and triple layer French toast. Yum.
Where it’s (usually) at: Emeryville, Oakland
Jon’s Street Eats
Jon’s delivers some of the most upscale street food we’ve ever seen, with tables and chairs set up for maximum appreciation. Seasonal salads and sides are plated with finishing sauces and garnishes, and the famed ahi tuna roll ($9) is surprisingly monstrous. Ahi is crusted and seared on top of toasted brioche with piles of wasabi slaw — each bite is creamy and complex. On the comforting side, the mac and cheese ($8) proved to be even more elegant. The light, crisp topping is somehow achieved on the cart’s stovetop, and Jon’s finishes it off with more cheese and a zest of lemon. The citrus pops, and with the side salad, the meal somehow doesn’t feel
Quick tips: To pay with a credit card, you have to spend $10. Simple fix? Tack on the butterscotch pudding ($3) — it’s not too sweet for us big kids and has a beautiful consistency.
Where it’s (usually) at: Alameda
Ebbett’s Good to Go
Ebbett’s Cuban ($8) has hoards of fans for good reason — it’s basically perfect. We couldn’t find a single fault in this non-traditional sammie, except maybe that there wasn’t more of it. It starts with an Acme roll, warm and crusty, with melted Gruyère. Throw on a thin layer of ham and luscious chunks of Niman Ranch pulled pork, and then the kicker: jalapeño relish and chipotle mayo. Game over.
Quick tips: Get the Cuban and bring your vegetarian friend, who is guaranteed happiness with a seasonal vegetarian sandwich. Tofu veggie bahn mi, anyone? Vegan buddies, that one’s for you, too.
Where it’s (usually) at: Emeryville, San Francisco
Do these guys ever stop working? Not only does Fiveten sling artisan burgers and sandwiches nearly every day at lunch, but the truck is regularly out after dark, too. The menu is short and sweet, and the ingredients are top-notch. The standard burger ($6.75) weighs in at 6 ounces and comes with all the fixings, on a glossy bun from the North Beach Bakery Co. Add bacon ($.75) and you’ve got a smoky, juicy delight of a burger. Cooked to order and out at a perfect medium-rare, this patty oozes out goodness. So much goodness can be difficult though: Beware of the soggy bun.
Quick tips: Remove the burger from the wrapping to postpone, and maybe entirely avoid, the sad, soggy bun. Also, bacon is not
a question. Get the bacon.
Where it’s (usually) at: Oakland, Emeryville
Offering braised oxtail out of a truck, Go Streatery definitely exudes the gourmet street food scene, where dishes are composed in restaurant-quality fashion. Boasting “glorious peasant food,” Go Streatery values food made from scratch and inventiveness from what’s available (aka seasonal and local). The roasted pork shoulder sandwich ($7.75), with a sweet and tangy apricot mostarda and fabulous slaw, was something special. The generous portion is served cold, coming out
at a blazing speed for anyone rushing back
Quick tips: The seasonal lemonade — strawberries, lavender, ginger, you name it — is a little pricey at $2.50, but it’s worth it. You can’t get the stuff this good at most restaurants.
Where it’s (usually) at: Oakland
Seoul on Wheels — Famous for Korean fusion items like the kurrito ($7), a meaty burrito with spicy rice, kimchi and absurd amounts of flavor, this truck already has masses of loyal followers in Emeryville and San Francisco. And with good reason.
CupKates — The first mobile cupcake truck in the Bay Area, CupKates dishes out moist, satisfying treats at $3 apiece. The salted caramel and red velvet are tempting standbys, but the seasonal specials truly show off CupKates’ creativity and skill. Find the truck in Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.
LIBA Falafel — Folks line up all over Emeryville and San Francisco for LIBA’s falafels. The balls themselves are crispy and packed with flavor, but the real draw is the truck’s 15-item, self-service condiment bar. We opted for the standard-sized falafel ($8), with the oh-so-satisfying combo of hummus, harissa hot sauce and rosemary peanuts. The only thing lacking was the pita, which looked and tasted store-bought.
Docs of the Bay — Between the charming truck design, amiable youngsters flipping burgers and too-cute food descriptions, it’s hard not to fall in love with Doc’s of the Bay. The classic burger ($7) is fiercely popular, particularly notable for its Firebrand challah bun — slightly toasted, soft and never soggy. Plus, the side of fries can be made into a side of fries and green beans. Find it regularly in Emeryville.
Guerrilla Grub — Sustainable American fare, like barbecue pulled pork sandwiches ($7.50), on the streets of Oakland. Guerrilla’s cuisine isn’t revolutionary like its name might imply, but it’s solid and vegetarian-friendly. Cash only.