Remember around 2011, when food trucks were so new and controversial that brick-and-mortar restaurant owners used to run outside during the midday rush brandishing rolling pins to ding their hubcaps and steal their lunch money? It never quite came to that, but the uneasy coexistence — particularly downtown and in SoMa — that characterized the early years was palpable.
Fast-forward to the present. Maybe the neo-Nazi takeover of America has put things in perspective, or maybe we’ve all grown as accustomed to mobile eateries and their long queues as we have to compostable sporks. So while food trucks don’t draw quite the ire they once did, it can also feel like they’re just another unchanging fixture of city life.
But they’re quite seasonal — or, at least, Off the Grid, the Bay Area’s largest network of street food pods, is. And now that we’ve passed the vernal equinox once again, three of its best hubs have woken up from hibernation.
The biggest, of course, is Off the Grid: Fort Mason, the Friday-evening celebration that turns a frequently underused parking lot criss-crossed with embedded railroad tracks into a huge outdoor party crowned by images projected onto the historic site’s military buildings. Having made its seventh-season debut March 3, it officially lasted longer than Lost — and unlike that show’s trajectory, it is still getting better every year.
Most crucially for longtime fans, the layout has changed. It’s now in two sections, ringed by trucks and tents. One contains drinking, music, and dancing, and the other has a more intimate, less communal atmosphere — but everything is still centered on the bar. (The music consists of a live DJ from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and then live bands from 8 to 10 p.m.) Since we’re still in the thick of the rainy season and Fort Mason on summer evenings can occasionally be a smidge bone-chilling, these alterations are meant to keep everybody having fun during all types of weather while you chow down on grub from returning vendors like A16, Ono Poke, and Bini’s Kitchen, or newbies like Torpedo Sushi, Pretzelina, and El Porteño.
Instrucktional, Off the Grid’s paid, two-year incubator program will henceforth be more visible, with entrepreneurs allotted space at Fort Mason — beginning with Postrique, a purveyor of sweet and savory churros.
Meanwhile, as of April 3, at the corner of Fifth and Bluxome streets, Off the Grid: 5th & Townsend will gather seven trucks every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Look for offerings from mainstays Señor Sisig, The Chairman, Curry Up Now, Me So Hungry Too, Limon Rotisserie, Southern Comfort Kitchen, the wordplay-tastic Seoul of Taipei, and many others, including It’s All Gravy, Judie’s Tacos Locos, Hiyaaa!, Hula Truck, Moonraker, Spice Affairs, Korean Bobcha, SAJJ Street Eats, and Sam’s Mobile Chowder.
Additionally, Presidio Picnic is back for the fifth year. Off the Grid and the Presidio Trust’s collaborative effort kicked off March 19, taking over all seven acres of the Presidio’s Main Parade Ground every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., through October. Entry is free, but it behooves you to arrive early to beat the rush — although, starting this year, you have the option of pre-ordering from select vendors up to 48 hours in advance (which makes for a great outdoor birthday party for the wee tots). There’s bike valet, live DJs, yoga for the first three hours, and tons of vendors, including familiar faces seen at other OTG events, plus others, including Bi-Rite Creamery, Fine & Rare, Wing Wings, and more.
Just because the National Park system is in peril doesn’t mean we aren’t any less fortunate to have a stunner in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And it doesn’t need a saucy, renegade Twitter account to keep you informed, because there’s plenty of sauce to go around.
Off the Grid: Fort Mason, Fridays, 5-10 p.m., 2 Marina Blvd.
Off the Grid: 5th & Townsend, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., at the corner of Fifth and Bluxome streets
Presidio Picnic, Sundays, March 19 – Oct. 8, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., at the Presidio’s Main Parade Ground, offthegrid.com