The San Francisco Street Food Festival is almost upon us. This Saturday, over 80 vendors will be slanging their best bites on Folsom from 20th all the way to 26th streets. It is La Cocina's sixth and final time doing the event in The Mission, and it plans on going big.
And if you've been to San Francisco Street Food Festivals past, "big" is no surprise. The thing is massive, bringing in an estimated 80,000 people throughout the day. It at times can seem overwhelming, even daunting: Where do I start? What should I eat? Oh God, that line...
Luckily, yours truly has the inside scoop on how to be best prepared. I've been volunteering for La Cocina for the past six years, and each year I do its social media during the festival (a voluntweeter, if you will). Below is a list of my insights gleaned over the years — follow these to make sure you have the best, most delicious experience possible.
Early Bird Gets the Worm
The festival starts at 11 a.m., and this is absolutely the best time to get your grub on. I cannot stress this enough. The lines really get going in the afternoon around 2, so being punctual will only work in your favor. This will also ensure you get to eat what you want, as vendors often run out of food toward the end of the day.
Properly Plan Your Eatinerary
It may sound silly to have a "plan" for a food festival, but each vendor has a big bite and a small bite, making for more than 160 different things to try. It's impossible to do it all. Download the SF Street Food Festival app on iTunes and read through the foods that sound interesting. Create your own personal tasting menu by pairing items that complement each other from different vendors, and try to choose vendors who aren't easily accessible. For example, the Berber spiced lamb from The Whole Beast would pair nicely with a summer vegetable tagine with preserved lemon and garbanzo beans from Radio Africa & Kitchen in Bayview. The app will allow you to map out exactly what you want to eat and where, but if you don't have an iPhone, just grab a map from one of the info booths and do it the old-fashioned way.
The More The Merrier
There are truths to the clichés "sharing is caring" and "variety is the spice of life"— if you believe this then come with a group of four to six hungry friends. This will allow you to trade bites and try more food. Establish a meeting point somewhere convenient, like one of the beer gardens.
You'll eventually hit a wall and become too full to eat. This is a common deficiency with the human stomach, but I've learned a workaround: In order to eat more, you must drink more. And you have some pretty good options. From local craft beers from Calicraft to handcrafted cocktails from Rye SF, or pretty tequila Jello-shots from La Cocina participant Sweets Collection, you'll be able to make yourself forget just how full you really are.
Be Social With Your Media
As I mentioned, I'll be running around the festival eating, tweeting, and 'gramming the most delicious bites. I try and post useful things during the festival. For example, if there's something delicious you should absolutely eat, you'll see it on Instagram. If there's no line somewhere delicious, or if someone is sold out of something, you'll read it on Twitter. I may also do some drink token giveaways, Hidden Cash-style. Follow @streetfoodsf on Twitter and Instagram.
If you stick to the above, I guarantee your San Francisco Street Food Festival will be that much more enjoyable. And remember, part of the proceeds raised during the fest go toward helping its organizer La Cocina, a nonprofit that helps low-income immigrant entrepreneurs start their food businesses. You can feel good about gluttony.