Food Trucks: Lessons From a Year Eating Out

Kicking off a new year of food truckin' merits a quick look back at what eating at more than 20 mobile vendors for our weekly examination in SFoodie has taught us. Our exploration of the truck scene has yielded more than a few surprises, though thankfully none were gastrointestinal.

Each food truck usually has a specialty dish or signature item.
As a matter of differentiating itself from others, each truck has a must-try item. So if you run into a truck you've never seen before, just ask them what they're known for. You'll sometimes get the “Oh, everything is good!” response, in which case it's best to ask the person ahead of you in line.

It's not impossible to find fresh, healthy dishes at food trucks.
Face it, food trucks build their menus for maximum appeal, i.e., salty, fried, or fatty items, and a lot of the great dishes fall in this category. That said, a few trucks offer tasty and healthy alternatives that won't make you feel like you're missing out. The salad at Liba Falafel is outstanding, with a bar that allows you to tailor your greens with toppings and sauces. The surprisingly fresh and filling chirashi sushi at We Sushi left us feeling energized and ready to take on an afternoon full of meetings. And the Teriyaki Zen with pineapple koja at KoJa Kitchen was both one of the best sandwiches I ate last year and vegan. While the food truck's blue-collar history can create some protest when someone doing fresh, local-ingredient-driven cuisine shows up charging appropriately for their dishes, there is clearly room for both. How this will affect the growth of the trucks remains to be seen, but if nothing else, these trucks have increased the chances of finding something delicious near you.

Just because a truck is popular doesn't mean it's good.
Some of the most disappointing dishes we tried these past few months weren't bad, they were just overhyped. While we won't name names, there are waits better spent elsewhere.

Strategize to maximize your experience.
To get the most out of a food truck, hit it up during lunch — going on the early side is optimal. Sometimes we actively hit the trucks at the prime lunch hour to time the total wait, but not on our busier afternoons. For the dinner pods, Fort Mason's Off the Grid in particular, the key is to go with a posse. Using the effective “Divide and conquer” technique, secure a base camp, then assign food orders, and hit multiple trucks and vendors at once. You'll get to sample a wide range of dishes without spending all night standing in line.

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