El Huarache Loco
Alemany Farmers' Market, 100 Alemany (at Tompkins), Saturdays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Alemany Antiques and Collectibles Market, 100 Alemany (at Tompkins), Sundays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Crazy? We think not. This stand serves up the most authentic and delicious versions of Mexico City street food available outside Mexico and is the foremost reason to trek to southern Bernal Heights on weekends, whether your secondary goal is fresh fruit and vegetables or old junk. The eponymous huaraches (named for the sandals they resemble) are much larger than the ones sometimes seen as appetizers (antojitos) in fancy Mexican restaurants; they're as big as one of Charlie Chaplin's shoes, in fact. Made with organic masa, filled with refried beans, and grilled until crisp at the edges, they come piled with your choice of meats and other good things. You can have them heaped with carne asada, chicken, machaca, potatoes with chorizo,or alambre, aka "Mexico City style," with chunks of meat, onions, peppers, and cheese ($6). But don't stop with the title dish. Equally enthralling are gorditas, fried layered masa tortillas filled with pork; pambazos, French rolls stuffed with potatoes and chorizo and dipped in guajillo sauce; tlacayitos, sometimes called Mexican pizzas; sopes; enchiladas in green or mole sauce; chilaquiles verdes; and nine kinds of tacos, including an epic lamb barbacoa. There are 55 different variations on the basic menu, and the specials often include menudo and pozole.
Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie
Heart of the City Farmers' Market, UN Plaza. Wednesdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Admire the plump cooked free-range chickens from Fulton Valley Farms in Sonoma, dusted with salt, pepper, and herbs, lined up like chorus girls, and rotating their little hearts out. You can get a whole chicken for $12 or a half chicken for $6.50. Then there's the popular $6 Roli Combo: a juicy quarter chicken served with rosemary roasted potatoes that are crisp and golden outside, white and floury within. (You can also get the potatoes on their own for $5 for a regular portion, $3 small.) If Roli Roti is offering a roast pork knuckle ($7), grab it: it looks like a small, crusty leg of pork, with lots of tasty meat under its dark-brown outer skin. Roli Roti only does a few things, but as Spencer Tracy once remarked of Katharine Hepburn in Pat and Mike: "Not much meat on her, but what's there is cherce."
Alive! Vegetarian Cuisine
Heart of the City Farmers' Market, UN Plaza, Wednesdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Ferry Building Farmers' Market, Embarcadero and Market, Tuesdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
All too often the food served at farmers' markets seems divorced from the beautiful heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables being sold all around. Not so at Alive! Vegetarian Cuisine, the stand operated by the popular raw-foods restaurant on Lombard, where alluring and imaginative salads, soups, flatbreads, and drinks are concocted from fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. The seasonal offerings change every week, but there might be a raw carrot-ginger soup ($4); a Mediterranean salad with sesame-seed hummus, avocados, tomatoes, and olives ($6); shredded garden vegetable salad with a sweet sesame-ginger or spicy Korean dressing ($8); and flatbread topped with shiitake or avocado ($4). Desserts include wonderful raw-chocolate haystacks made with coconut ($2 each or three for $5), and raw apple pie ($3). Alive! also has the best array of drinks, including carrot, orange, and ginger juice; blueberry, strawberry, and grapefruit spritzers; watermelon mint agua fresca (all $3 small, $4 large); and fresh Thai coconut juice served in the coconut ($3).
Ferry Building Farmers' Market, Embarcadero and Market, Saturdays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Recipe for a perfect day: Find your way to the Saturday Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building. Stand in line at Primavera (it moves quickly, and you might be behind Alice Waters or Calvin Trillin). Order the chilaquiles (aka Guajillo Chile Chilaquiles con Chorizo), and maybe a tamale or two on the side, but definitely the chilaquiles: sauce-coated cut-up tortillas sided with scrambled eggs, crumbled chorizo, refried beans dusted with queso, sour cream, chopped onion, cilantro, and diced ripe avocado. It's a perfect plate of food for $9.50 in green, red, and white — the colors of the Mexican flag — and one bite is enough to make you want to salute it. Take your prize to a table or a bench overlooking the bay, and forget all your cares and woes — at least while you're eating.
Hayes Street Grill and Vicolo Pizza
Ferry Building Farmers' Market, Embarcadero and Market,Saturdays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
The Hayes Street Grill was the first food stand invited to join the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in 1991, and helped raise the funds necessary to start the market by selling spicy grilled corn on the cob. Today its rotating seasonal menu, sourced from the surrounding purveyors, features offerings such as eggs scrambled with wild mushrooms ($6.50), crab cake with mixed greens ($10), a fried-oyster po' boy ($8.50), a salmon BLT with tartar sauce ($10), and almost always a superb classic BLT (with Hobbs bacon and local lettuce and tomatoes from the market, bien sûr, on baguette, $6). The fresh-squeezed orange juice is a bargain at $2. A couple of weeks ago the highlight was a perfectly sautéed soft-shell crab sandwich ($11), crunchy, juicy, saline, and altogether divine. Pick up a cornmeal crust Vicolo pizza for dinner from the adjoining stand. The staff all work at the classically San Francisco and deservedly popular Hayes Street Grill.
Cap'n Mike's Holy Smoke San Francisco Lox Sandwich
Ferry Building Farmers' Market, Embarcadero and Market, Saturdays 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
There isn't a deli in San Francisco that serves as interesting an assortment of smoked fish as you'll find at the al fresco Cap'n Mike's stand. The fish is chemical- and preservative-free, with no nitrates. The current menu features cold-smoked Northwest-style red lox with shaved fennel, roasted red peppers, and pickled red onion ($10); albacore tuna lox with roasted golden beets, toasted walnuts, and pickled red onion ($10); and cold-smoked sliced sturgeon with lemon, capers, and, yes, pickled red onion ($12). Look for white salmon lox, steelhead trout, or sable at other times. All the sandwiches are served open-faced on Acme sourdough with San Francisco Lox' cream cheese spread and an optional sprinkle of Eatwell Farm's lavender salt (go nuts).
Fishermen's Wharf seafood stands (#9 Fishermen's Grotto, Alioto's Crab Stand, Nick's Seafood, Sabella & La Torre, Crab Station, Guardino)
Fisherman's Wharf, Taylor between Jefferson and Beach, Daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
It may seem an insanely touristy thing to do, but it can be pleasant to pick up a walkaway crab or shrimp cocktail, a shrimp or crab salad sandwich, clam chowder (even if it's in the inexplicably popular sourdough bowl), or a freshly steamed Dungeness crab, and consume it while strolling around the wharf. Most of the stands serve similar items at similar prices — currently between $5 and $7 for cocktails and sandwiches, and $11.95 a pound for crab. That's around twice what you'd pay for cooked crab at Whole Foods, but Whole Foods markets are not located in such picturesque surroundings.
Golden Gate Park, three trucks on JFK Drive: Conservatory of Flowers, De Young Museum, Spreckels Lake. One at Ocean Beach in the parking lot across from the Beach Chalet, 1000 Great Highway, weather permitting, Daily 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Location, location, location. Running across one of Happy Belly's chic little carts in the vast and generally foodless expanses of Golden Gate Park is as exciting as finding an oasis in the Sahara. It's a plus that Happy Belly dispenses snappy dogs (locally made all-beef, lemon chicken, bratwurst, or Louisiana hot links) with interesting toppings (kimchi, sauerkraut, and sweet Japanese mayo) all week long — and even more interesting fare on the weekends, when exciting sandwiches are also featured. Daily specials include the Pan-Asian bagnat (tuna with diced Fuji apples, kalamata olives, toasted seaweed, sesame seeds, scallions, lemon juice, and olive oil), the Merry Mozzarella (caprese salad — tomatoes, basil, mozzarella — on herbed foccacia), or the B.B.Q. Belly (Korean charcoal-grilled chicken with soy-glazed onions, lettuce, and tomato on pain de mie). Dogs and sandwiches run from $4 to $6. You can also command drinks ranging from water to sodas, Red Bull, coffee and tea, and half a dozen ice cream treats including Häagen-Dazs, mochi, and San Francisco's own It's-It.
Antojitos San Miguel
16th Street BART station, Daily 6 a.m.-11 p.m.
It may look like a generic taco truck, but Antojitos San Miguel is actually Guatemalan. It features homey, well-cooked, and lesser-known Guatemalan dishes such as chuchitos (small, tender tamales, $2 apiece) and rellenitos (plantains stuffed with mashed black beans, $1 apiece). Unusual fillings include carne adovado (pork with chiles) and longaniza (spicy smoked sausage). Spice things up with condiments from the unusually generous stand, loaded with assorted salsas, cilantro and chopped onions, radishes, and pickled carrots. There's no better banana licuado anywhere than the one that'll be whipped up in front of your eyes: chunked fruit, milk, ice cubes, and whirr — chilly, sweet bliss for $2.50. Try the atol de elote ($2), a sweet corn drink.
El Tonayense taco trucks
Three locations on Harrison (at 14th, 19th, and 22nd sts.), Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
There are no better tacos, burritos, tortas, and quesadillas available anywhere in the Mission than those served up at one of El Tonayense's three immaculate trucks strung out along Harrison like the pearls they are. The list of succulent braised meats reads like pure poetry: carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, lengua, cabeza, sesos, tripita, buche, pollo, pollo asado. The English translation might give the less adventurous some pause (beef, pork, fried pork, tongue, head and cheeks, brains, tripe, neck, chicken, grilled chicken), but even the squeamish have been known to exclaim with delight after trying some of the less-familiar organ meats. Tacos are $1.75 each (with meats, salsa, and chopped onions heaped on two small corn tortillas, with a couple of radishes, pickled carrots, and a wedge of lime). The price goes up to $5.50 for the Super Torta and $6 for the Super Burrito.
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