San Francisco’s 12 Best Food Trucks Slideshow
July 22, 2013
These trucks serve the finest of the city’s food truck fare
#12 Rib Whip
"The nation's only truck with an onboard smoker" — or at least that is what owner and St. Louis native Ryan Gessel claimed in an SF Weekly article of his Midwest-style barbecue food truck just before its launch. Gessel was referring to the small Southern Pride smoker with digital controls he installed, which allows him to drop the temperature to 150 degrees and slice tender falling apart pieces of brisket to order. In addition to the 13-hour smoked Texas beef brisket (sliced or chopped), Gessel serves four-hour smoked St. Louis style barbecue ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, smoked turkey breast and drumsticks, "skinny legs" dry-rubbed drumsticks, and "St. Louis salsa," black beans, white corn, red bell pepper, cilantro, purple onion, jalapeño, and lime juice. Don’t forget to try the Buttermilk Pie, the winner of SF Weekly’s Best Dessert off a Truck 2013 Award.
Some say that the American Dream is dead; others try their hand at pursuing it. So it was with Mutsuo "Jay" Hamada, a Silicon Valley IT guy who according to SF Weekly, after being laid off in 2008, sold his house, and moved to Japan for six months to apprentice "in Kanagawa Prefecture with a young ramen chef called Roku to learn the intricacies of tonkotsu." Believing ramen to be impractical for a food truck, Hamada settled on something else he’d learned a little about, Japanese curry.
"The recipe for JapaCurry is based on Jay's special style and the curry is made from scratch and takes several days of cooking with secret spices and superior ingredients," his site notes. Lucky for you, all you need to do is order katsu (deep-fried pork or chicken) curry over rice, sausage, pumpkin, or kara-age curry, settle in, and enjoy. With a consistent food truck following, and a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Izakaya Roku, Hamada's gamble on selling his house seems to be paying off.
#10 Senor Sisig
What’s sisig? It’s a Filipino dish made from pig’s head and liver, often seasoned with calamansi and chile peppers, and at San Francisco’s Señor Sisig, it’s obviously the star of the show, except that as SF Weekly noted, chef Gil Payumo makes the trucks version with pork shoulder instead of offal, "for a cleaner and meatier sisig." Payumo launched the truck in 2010 with high-school friend Evan Kidera and the two have been slinging sisig on tacos, fries, nachos, and in burritos ever since. You have basically five options at Señor Sisig, with your choice of protein being pork, chicken, or tofu. There are tacos with onions, lettuce, and cilantro cream sauce. A Señor Sisig burrito takes those toppings minus the onions and adds adobo rice, pinto beans, and salsa, but their signature is probably the California Sisig Burrito featuring fries, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. If that’s not out there enough, "Silog it" for $1 more and add an egg to your sisig.
#9 Le Truc
The Le Truc "bustarant" is redefining street food in the Bay Area. The full-size school bus is a kitchen on wheels serving hot sandwiches, burgers, tacos, and salads, but nothing is average about their menu. Forget about run-of-the-mill tacos sprinkled with lettuce and cheese; offerings like the Butt King are tacos better than their names may suggest. Served two per order on gluten free corn tortillas, the Butt King taco is full of Thai curry pulled pork, sweet bell pepper slaw, pepperoncini aioli, picked cilantro, and lime. As for burgers, if you’re feeling up to a challenge, ask for the Four Hand, a 2/3-pound burger infused with bacon and onion and topped with sweet bell pepper slaw, mustard aioli, and Tillamook Cheddar.
#8 Liba Falafel Truck
After finding inspiration in the falafel shops of Amsterdam, Gail Lillian "pondered how to deliver the same ingenuity, accessibility, and flavor intensity to the streets of the Bay Area." She decided to deliver it "via the cutest truck on Earth." All the falafel, salads, and sweets on the Liba Falafel Truck are made from scratch, the falafel sandwich is served on locally baked pita, and the falafel salad on organic greens (you can top them or stuff them with braised eggplant, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts with red apple and mustard vinaigrette, spiced carrot ribbons, rosemary peanuts, feta, hummus, harissa, fried pickled onions, and more). All the take-away products are compostable ("every little thing" claims Liba’s website under the tab titled, "Falasophy"), and at day’s end, you guessed it, Liba’s oil "gets turned into biofuel." Does it get any more green, cuddly, and cute? Guess what? The food’s good, too.
#7 Spencer on the Go
"Dinner tonight will begin with an escargot puff lollipop amuse, just a little something to say 'Hello,' from the chef. He'll follow that with cauliflower bisque — don't you think cauliflower is an unappreciated vegetable? Chef does. For something decadent, the next course is a foie gras torchon and toast. And then, chef would like to know, do you like truffles? Yes? Parfait. D’accord, he weel be sending out pour vous, ze far west fungi truffle emulsion 'vol au vent.' That’s the small hollow case of puff pastry. You’re sure to enjoy."
Sounds like a fancy restaurant, huh? Nope. Just a rundown of some of the menu items that have been available from the converted taco truck self-branded as "San Francisco's one and only mobile bistro," Spencer on the Go!. Sweetbreads, ratatouille, boeuf bourguignon, and dishes that include truffles are some of the fare to expect from this truck founded in 2009 by chef Laurent Katgely, a native of the French Alps with culinary cred including Lespinasse (New York City), and Pastis in LA.
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#6 KoJa Kitchen
KoJa Kitchen, a portmanteau of "Korean" and "Japanese," serves a menu combining flavors from both cuisines between toasted rice cake patties. It’s a clever and different idea that’s refreshing in a field that’s filled with corn tortillas, flour tortilla wraps, bao, and burger and hot dog buns. Look for Korean barbecue beef, chicken with pineapple, and teriyaki "vegetarian chicken," and the signature Kamikaze criss-cut fries topped with Korean barbecue beef, sautéed onions, kimchi, green onions, and Japanese mayo. There’s a clever play on the tiramisu, too, the "Mochimisu," a short tower of lady fingers and mascarpone layered with chocolate mochi.
#5 Hapa SF
It’s no mystery that most Americans don’t have as much exposure to Filipino cuisine as they do with the food from other Southeast Asian countries. Chef and owner William Pilz is working to change that in San Francisco with his truck Hapa SF (Hapa being the term for mixed-race Asian or Pacific Islanders). It didn’t take long after launching his truck in 2010 for Pilz (formerly of chef Elizabeth Falkner’s acclaimed Citizen Cake) to rake in the accolades. His modern, organic cuisine has been praised by SF Weekly for "making some of the cleanest, most technically sophisticated food on wheels." On the menu you’ll find Filipino classics often highlighted by Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese touches. And whether you order chicken adobo banh mi, pork sisig tacos (face meat), or kilawin (raw vinegar-marinated fish) you can be pretty sure you’re eating local and humane — Pilz lists as partners Soul Food Farm, La Victoria Bakery, Monterey Fish Market, and Dirty Girl Produce.
#4 Nom Nom Truck
Yes, more Asian tacos, but this (originally) Los Angeles truck that takes its cute name from the onomatopoeia at least focuses a bit more on Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches made on wheat/rice flour baguettes. Founders Jennifer Green and Misa Chien met as undergrads at UCLA and did some brisk business, but really rose in national exposure due to their stint on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. They dress their banh mi with house mayo, cucumber, jalapeño, pickled carrots, daikon, and cilantro, and your choice of grilled pork shoulder (infused with honey, garlic, and soy), grilled chicken (infused with lemongrass, chile, and sesame oil), steamed tofu, or Vietnamese cold cuts (uncured ham, steamed pork loaf, head cheese, and pork liver pâté). And while they eventually lost out to Grill ‘Em All, the Nom Nom girls were able to expand their business to the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re currently on a brief hiatus, but we’re looking forward to their return.
#3 Chairman Bao Bun Truck
You might not remember this, but San Francisco’s Chairman Bao Bun Truck really stuck in the craw of New York City restaurateur turned food and pop culture commentator Eddie Huang. Apparently, it was a bit much that another business serving Asian food took the word "bao" and deigned use it in the name of their food truck. "I'm 28 years old, I opened the restaurant last year, I did it all with my own money," Huang told SF Weekly’s BuzzMachine. "Street trucks are like independent businesses, many times ethnic. To co-opt something like this reeks of corporations." Then he started talking about suing them, too. If that’s the case, Roy Choi should basically have sued every food truck across the country.
Regardless, the Chairman Bao Bun Truck did change its name to "The Chairman,” and still draws lines for its simple menu of steamed and baked buns, which are known for having featured pork belly with pickled daikon, crispy garlic tofu with miso greens, and red sesame chicken with pickled carrots and cucumber. It’s a San Francisco favorite and has been honored as one of San Francisco’s best food trucks by San Francisco Magazine, as well as placing at number 29 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list.
#2 Sam's ChowderMobile
Sam’s ChowderMobile is the offshoot of Sam’s Chowder House, a 225-seat seafood restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay, Calif., that opened in 2006. Of course, the 24-foot-long truck headed by owner Paul Shenkman serves New England clam chowder (made with clam broth, cream, clams, potatoes, smoked bacon, onion, and thyme), but the mobile menu also features fried seafood favorites like calamari, fish and chips (Old Bay fries), a piled-high shrimp or Andouille po’boy, and a lobster roll.
They’ve also received significant attention including a spot on the Cooking Channel’s Eat Street, recognition as one of the top 12 food trucks in San Francisco by Zagat, and an appearance at number 13 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list.
#1 Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie
Chef Thomas Odermatt calls himself "more of a caterer nowadays," but this son of a Swiss 'Metzgermeister' (master butcher) who still pulls his Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie truck into farmers’ markets, would deserve to rank among America’s best food trucks just for his prescience alone (it as at number 26 in last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list). Odermatt went into the food truck business over 10 years ago, a good five or six years before the trend took off, a time before Twitter, when, as Inside Scoop SF reported, getting a break publicity wise was tough, and the truck’s big media break came when news of the truck being stolen made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle ("It's the first truck with a giant chicken ever stolen in the city, a police dispatcher said.").
After earning his master’s in organic farming in Zürich and attending UC Berkeley, Odermatt became more interested in the "wood fired ovens of Chez Panisse and the lively farmers’ markets," and took the popular rotisserie dinners he’d been making for friends on the road in a food truck. If you’re lucky enough to find Roli Roti at a market, you’re probably just going to want to order each of the three signature items: the RoliRoti Combo (a quarter chicken and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes), the porchetta sandwich, and the roasted pork knuckle. Be sure to check out their seasonal menus, too.