Mango Sticky Rice Cotton Candy to Fried Grasshoppers and Crickets - A Recap of San Francisco Street Food Festival 2015 (Photos)

Last weekend, an all-time record of 100,000 food lovers gathered on a hot and sunny day at Pier 70 to attend La Cocina, Noise Pop, and Midway's San Francisco Street Food Festival. I've been attending for the past few years and make it my personal goal to not miss it. The festival is a celebration of community, culture and entrepreneurial spirit. It's an opportunity for vendors to showcase their food, while making a living doing what they love. 

If you didn't know, this is the event where everyone brings their A-game, creating some of the most unique and best foods you'll consume. I'm talking about mango sticky rice cotton candy to mochi muffins to fried grasshoppers and crickets. The festival was especially awesome this year because they introduced a bunch of new things for attendees to enjoy: a taco, dumpling, and seafood island, chef's counters with seating, and a live music and cooking demo stage! 

Here's a look at the memorable food we ate and the vendors we had a chance to visit: 

Sugar & Spun's Mango Sticky Rice Cotton Candy

Sugar & Spun takes cotton candy to an entirely different level. I am amazed each time I try any of their flavors, but this one has got to be my favorite flavor right now. It really does taste like mango sticky rice.

Frozen Kuhsterd's Churro Kouign Amann Sandwich

How can you go wrong with a churro kouign amann sandwich with vanilla custard and oreos?

The kouign amann was nice, but it didn't increase my satisfaction for this treat. I think the custard alone was heavenly; cool, creamy and decadent. I am bummed I missed out on the pretzel sundae. 

Wing Wing's Mango Mochi Muffins

The mango mochi muffins were one of my favorite and most memorable bites. The chewy texture and flavors of bright mango and pure sweet rice makes one hell of a combination. It reminds me of a Vietnamese snack called banh bo nuong, except less of a honeycomb texture, more tapioca-like. 

4505 Meats' Frankaroni

If you've never had deep fried mac and cheese with hot dogs before, you need to do yourself a favor and head over to 4505 Meats' as soon as possible. It's kind of life changing. 

Reem's Cheesy Man'oushe

It was so cool to witness Reem Assil making a man'oushe and seeing the handmade dough baked and toasted right in front of our eyes. Patrick and I had a sample of it during the media tour and fell in love with it, so we went back for more. 

Inside is za’atar and Oaxaca cheese, finished with fresh cherry tomatoes, persian cucumbers, and mint. It really was the bubbly flat bread's chewy texture and toasted edges that made it so wonderful. 

Nyum Bai's Kuy Tiew

I've been following Nyum Bai for a while and was so excited that our media tour did a stop at Nite Yun's counter. She offered us all a sampling of kuy tiew, a rice noodle soup in a beautiful clear pork broth with crispy garlic, slow cooked pork, sprouted mung beans, cilantro, scallions, and her mom’s hot sauce, plus some youtiao.

I cannot wait until her next pop-up. 

El Pipila's Al Pastor Tacos

Guadalupe's fatty al pastor tacos are so good that I wish I was that napkin it laid on just so I could absorb all that lovely pork grease. 

Rasoi Tasty Indian Kitchen's Curried Lamb Meatballs and Biryani

I regret getting too full and not saving enough room in my stomach to go back for Heena's Bollywood-style curried meatballs and biryani plate. Patrick and I had a sampling during the media tour and loved it. I don't eat lamb, but the meatballs were still lovely, flavored enough so that I could skate through the gaminess. It was really the aromatic, flavorful and secret-spiced rice that won me over. If you had a bite, you'd understand. 

I met Johnny Funcheap during the media tour and it looks like he loved it so much that he came back for more.  I've been drooling at the photo he posted on Twitter:  

The Lumpia Company's Bacon Cheeseburger Lumpia

I've been to a couple of pop-ups hosted by Alex Retodo and Eric Pascual, so I was already familiar with their lumpia creations, but everything about this bacon cheeseburger lumpia was perfection - just look at that oozing cheese!

Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas' Pork Tamales

I've had Alicia's tamales a handful of times and I've gotta say that her tamales are one of the best I've had - very moist and flavorful. That salsa has a spicy kick though - you've been warned. 

Lanxang Kingdom's Fried Grasshopper and Crickets

For most of the festival, we were hanging out with two of my out-of-town friends, Steph and Enzo, who flew down just to attend the event. It turns out that Steph has a thing for eating bugs - or more so, adventurous food. You really can't tell with how squeamish she was, as you can see in the photo below, but she gained the confidence to eat it after Patrick bravely made the first move without any hesitation. 

There was a generous amount of bugs in one $5 order, so Enzo offered it to a few of the curious people around us, who all, amazingly, ate it without wincing. It popped into their mouths like it was popcorn. I wasn't going to eat the bugs, but after seeing everyone's reaction to how tasty it was, I decided to try the cricket (with my eyes closed). It was tasty, like a crispy dried shrimp. I took a small bite of the spiky grasshopper and that one was a little hard to swallow. It was an interesting experience, but I have no desire to do it again. 

If you missed out on all the tasty grub from the festival, I have good news - you can still experience the food. Below, I've listed where you can find or track down all the vendors I mentioned in this post: 

  1. Sugar & Spun: There's a limited number of prepackaged cotton candy at the Boba Guys on 3491 19th St San Francisco, CA 94110. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook to see what events they'll be at. 
  2. Frozen Kuhsterd: Here's a list of all their events here. 
  3. Wing Wing's: You may not be able to get a hold of their mochi muffins, but you can check out their fried chicken. Here's a look at their menu
  4. 4505 Meats':  It makes me so happy to say that you can get a hold of the Frankaroni any day of the week at their main location: 705 Divisadero (at Grove St.), San Francisco, CA 94117
  5. Reem's: Follow Reem's on Facebook or Twitter to get the latest updates. 
  6. Nyum Bai: Nite is looking to do more pop-ups, but in the meanwhile, follow her on Facebook or Twitter to get the latest updates.
  7. El Pipila: You can find them at The Hall, 1028 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102 or at Off the Grid on Fridays, 5-10 pm: 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94123 
  8. Rasoi Tasty Indian Kitchen: Heena does various events, follow her on Twitter to get the latest updates. 
  9. The Lumpia Company: You can order in bulk on their website or follow them on Facebook to find out when their pop-ups and events are. 
  10. Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas:  SOMA Streat Food Park every Tuesday and Thursday 11am-3pm, Off The Grid Fort Mason every Friday 5-10pm, Off the Grid Upper Haight every other Thursday from 5-9pm
  11. Lanxang Kingdom: Follow them on Facebook to get the latest updates. 

A huge thanks to La Cocina, Noise Pop and The Midway for making this festival come alive. And special thanks to La Cocina and Caleb for hosting a great media tour prior the festivities! 

If you went to the festival, share your favorite bites below in the comments! I missed so many good eats; I wish I had two non-visible stomachs. 

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First Look: Solace - Marc Zimmerman's New Restaurant Concept

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. - John Muir 1912

I can't imagine a better way to set the right mood for dinner than to read this beautiful John Muir quote.

I recently attended a concept dinner hosted by Chef Marc Zimmerman (Alexander's Steakhouse) with my friend, Christina of East Bay Dish. It was an evening full of phenomenal food, perfect pairings and ten passionate eaters, all connected to each other through, Mike Lu, a mutual friend of ours who's helping to shape the concept to life. 

Chef Zimmerman is on to something really good here. His Solace concept focuses on the natural elements of fine dining by inviting guests to an intimate dinner that feels like the comfort of home. From the ingredients used in each dish to the excellent wine pairings, it's a correlation and progression of things that go incredibly well together. It's the kind of food where you take a bite, unknowingly nod your head slowly and say, "Wow..."

Solace is in its early phase of testing, but here's the initial thinking: car service paired with your favorite bottle of champagne and dinner in a remote location, maybe somewhere up north, surrounded by the beauty of nature. Here's a look at the dining experience and each dish served during the first experiment dinner: 

The menu is elegantly designed and when planted grows into flowers. How cool is that? 

The wine pairings were creative and fun, carefully thought out and executed nicely; generous pours kept all of us very happy and chatty. 

  • King Brut 'Grandee Cuvee' MV
  • Champagne Bereche et Fils Blanc de Blancs NV
  • Jean-Philippe Fichet Meursault 'Les Chevalieres' 2012
  • Andre Oberto Barolo 'Rocche dell Annunziata' 2011
  • Royal Tokaji 'Mezes Maly' 1996
  • Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1981
  • Heidi Schrock Ausbruch Neusiedlersee 2009

yellow tail, green verjus, radish, apple, borage

A gorgeous shimmery slice of rich yellow tail on a seaweed cracker paired with a refreshingly crisp, light and clean glass of Bereche et Fils Blanc de Blancs. 

uni, oscetra caviar, cauliflower

Layers of rich uni from Hokkaido are lightly cooked in a warm cream of shio koji and cauliflower, topped with a generous amount of farm-raised black pearl imperial golden ossetra from the Sacramento delta area. And of course, topped with a gold foil. 

scallop, english pea, lemon, cured egg yolk

The combination of scallops and peas are a beautiful thing. A garnish of lemon and shaven cured egg yolks adds a magical bright richness to this dish. The yolk is packed with so much flavor and creates a lovely visual contrast. 

salmon, sunchoke, eucalyptus smoke, corn, roe, sweet herbs

Just one bite and it felt like I went through the woods, caught a salmon at a river, foraged for some herbs and cooked it over eucalyptus smoke. The salmon was so rich and flavorful, cooked perfectly in a 51 degree salt bath then on a charcoal mesquite to give it that nice woodsy flavor. Many of us agreed that it was the best salmon we've ever had. 

charcoal-seared beef, japanese citrus, king trumpet, salt

The cold climate of Hokkaido creates the unique marbling on this beef and allows it to become delicate enough to melt in your mouth. 

foie gras, birch, elderberry, spruce, walnut toast

The birch wood smoked foie gras with elderberries and spruce tips is unbelievable! I've never had a foie gras that tastes like prized butter. It's truly a foie gras lovers dream come true. 

chanterelle, koshihikari rice, bone marrow, pine nut, dandelion

Chef Zimmerman wins over all our hearts with a bitter, savory and salty rice dish that's full of comfort. A mix of roasted broccoli rabe, dandelion, threads of mustard flower, toasted nori and rice sautéed in bone marrow in a light pine nut almond milk-based cream. 

warm chicken broth, bonito, seaweed, thyme, kinome

It was fun to see this siphon pot used to make chicken broth instead of the usual coffee. The chicken broth is clean and earthy, yet rich and comforting. A slapped kinome leaf is used as a garnish, releasing spicy and fruity aromas with a slightly citrus and spicy taste.

pistachio, sorrel, fennel, dill, young pine cone bud syrup

Imagine eating a sponge cake that tastes like the deep flavors of pistachio, raw fennel and the forest combined. The pine cone bud syrup almost resembles the taste of honey, but with a bright and clean woodsy essence. 


The dinner comes to an end with an impressive spread of treats: graham cracker macarons, a bold and tart kiwi gelee, chocolate bark, and a variety of bon bons - port, cigar, isla scotch, coffee, and white chocolate tokaji.

If Chef Zimmerman continues to create food experiences like this, I am sure that many passionate eaters will follow him in search of solace. I certainly will and can't wait to see how his plan unfolds. 

Follow Chef Marc Zimmerman on Instagram and Twitter for more updates. 

Thanks again for a phenomenal dinner, Solace team! 

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Exploring Baja California, Mexico: Puerto Nuevo aka The Lobster Capital of Baja

"Exploring Baja California, Mexico" is part of a series recap. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the previous post here: Mexico Trip Recap

Puerto Nuevo is a small coastal town that sits between Ensenada and Rosarito, about a 40 minute drive from the San Diego/Mexico border. The town, known as the "Lobster Capital of Baja," is famous for serving freshly caught spiny lobsters, fried in lard. It may sound simple, but there's a secret method to cooking this lobster that keeps people coming back for more. 

There are over 30 restaurants in Puerto Nuevo that serve lobster, but the most popular is Puerto Nuevo I or Restaurant Nuevo. The family who operates the two most popular restaurants also owns many of the restaurants nearby, including Grana's Place, which is where we went. According to Baja Times, "The first really commercial lobster restaurant was started in 1955 by Rosario Grana, and it still is serving Lobster Puerto Nuevo in the same spot, which is on the very first southwestern corner of the main street of the town."

Our waitress recommended two orders total; each order comes with three lobster halves, which ended up being the perfect amount for us. The lobsters are served with a spread of beans, rice, chips, salsa, drawn butter and basket of warm and fresh, homemade flour tortillas. The tortillas are perfectly soft, moist and pliable with silky layers,  easily the best that I've ever had in my life. I have the exact same sentiments with the rice and beans - it's on point. 

The lobsters are pan-fried in lard, so the meat stays sweet, soft and tender. The secret is in the lard. David Nelson of LA Times says "these places use lard as the cooking element and reuse it through the day until it has become an unimaginably rich emulsion of fat and lobster juices." The volume of lobsters results in lobster juices overpowering the lard, so you get lobster that's essentially fried in its own juices. It's ridiculously effin' good; I'm obsessed with these spiny creatures.  

In total, we paid $25 per person in cash. The price varies at restaurants based on season and size of the lobsters, so expect an order to be anywhere from $15 to 30 per person. The restaurants in the area are usually open from 10am to 8pm on weekdays, some restaurants stay open until 11pm on Friday and Saturdays. If you go during the weekday like we did, the entire town is pretty dead, which is in some way a good thing because the restaurants have lines out the door on weekends.

I've come to the conclusion that life is so much better when there's a plate of Puerto Nuevo-style lobsters in front of you, waiting to be devoured. 

Puerto Nuevo Shops

There's not much in a town that's taken over by restaurants, but I would highly suggest stopping over after eating lobsters to check out Paleteria Y Neveria Ice Cream, a popsicle and ice cream shop. 

I had the strawberry cheesecake, which was splendid. I also really loved the pistachio flavor as well. I don't think you can go wrong with any flavors here. It's creamy and tastes like ice cream on a stick, rather than an icy popsicle. 

I felt like a kid - the selection of candy and treats at this shop was unreal. My biggest regret is not grabbing a bag of De La Rosa or the chili mango pops.

In addition to candy, there's dried fruits, many of which are coasted in sugar and covered in chili, along with shelves of vanilla extract. 

The shops are, kind of, fun to check out. I scored a backpack for $14, which I am pretty sure is the tourist's price, but I didn't mind. I couldn't help but to admire the creative jewelry for sale. If you enlarge and look closely, you'll spot stone fruit pits, acorns, and other uses of seeds and nuts, beautifully dyed and handmade into a necklace or bracelet. I'll need to grab some on our next visit. 

I'll see you again soon, Puerto Nuevo! 

You can visit this link for maps and directions on how to get to Puerto Nuevo:

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