Off the Grid in San Francisco and the Summer Food Truck Challenge

It’s very clear to me the first time I remember hearing the term “off the grid.” It has become a frequently used cliche in the Terminator movies. Like so many phrases and words I’ve picked up, I’m sure I first tested it out with my parents so that I didn’t lose any cool points with friends. The first time I did this was when I was a little boy and I wanted to practice cursing. Needless to say, it didn’t go according to plan. This time, I’m sure it went a little something like this: “Hey mom, I’m going to the movies. I’ll be off the grid for a bit.” Several years later, it’s not quite as cool to say “off the grid.” It would certainly make my A-list of cliche phrases I really don’t have to hear anymore. However, that was until I recently heard about an event in San Francisco called Off the Grid.

Off the Grid is the ultimate cure to my food dilemma. You see, I like food and when I want a certain type of food, I want it right then and there. I want to just step outside of my door, walk a couple blocks and it be like a big carnival of my favorite food and drinks. I’m first greeted by the bakery, where I grab a Nutella Crepe for now and a red velvet cupcake to-go for a late night snack. Next door is an Irish pub, where I enjoy a little footie, talk about our golf games with the locals, and enjoy a fresh pint of Guinness. I can hop across the street for a slice of NYC-style pizza or step next door for a couple fish tacos. I walk the back way home, which takes me past the beignet cafe, which I pick up a few for breakfast the next morning. I can hear some of you now: “But, Spencer, that’s nothing more than a glorified mall food court.” Um, no. Have you eaten at a mall food court lately. I don’t even know if that’s chicken I’m eating.

Looking down onto food truck heaven.

Is this wishful thinking? Maybe. Possibly. Probably. However, I found the next best thing with Off the Grid in San Francisco. I don’t even know how I found out about Off the Grid. I just remember hearing the following terms: Marina District, Golden Gate Bridge, on the water, food trucks. I was sold. As I headed over to Off the Grid, I began walking through the park, approaching the top of the hill of Fort Mason where I could hear music below. It was like a scene from a movie. I was like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, approaching the crest that looks down into Helm’s Deep, as he prepared to pillage the orcs down below. The only thing left would be some empty paper baskets, some lingering hot sauce, and a couple solo plastic cups.

On the horizon, the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Below, tucked between the piers and just off from the water was a bustling lot, filled with food truck after food truck that formed a square fortress. I climbed down the rugged mountain walked down the stone steps that zigzagged down to the pearly gates tented entrance. As I approached the entrance, I was greeted with “Welcome to heaven Off the Grid.” I tried to limit my usage of terms like y’all and you’ens, but imagine my accent still rang thick even when I responded with: “Why thank you.”

On the evening I was at Off the Grid, a Friday, I estimate there were 20-25 food vendors. They do smaller events throughout the week, but the main event is every Friday evening at Fort Mason in the Marina District, taking place from 5-10 p.m. My recommendation is to take a couple laps before ordering anything. See what people are eating, take a look at the menus, grab a beer or cocktail, and scout things out. Unless you’ve fasted for a week, which I don’t recommend, you’re probably not going to try everything. Keep an eye out on the lines. The longest waits I had, were the best food I ate. My first Off the Grid event included a taco, empanada, and pork dumplings. There were also a couple local bands playing, including a cool, funky jazz band. I was riding solo, but I would consider going with a group of friends or even a Friday night starter with a date. Fresh local food, drinks, and live music. What’s not to love?

That now brings me to the great 2011 summer food truck challenge. I arrive in San Francisco the first week of June to call the bay area home. I have challenged myself to eat from every food truck in San Francisco this summer. Off the Grid’s website lists nearly 50 vendors. I’ll start with that list and start checking them off as I eat. I’ll be writing about my experiences from time to time. Some of the foods I’m already excited about include cupcakes, steamed buns, fish tacos, Korean BBQ, and lobster rolls. “But Spencer, aren’t you going to get fat eating all of that food.” No. Have you seen the streets of San Francisco I’ll be walking up and down? Also, I imagine eating street food is better than eating McDonalds a few times a week and I see “healthy” people walk in there all the time.

Don't recommend bicycling up this hill.

So who’s with me? Has anyone ever tried something like this, but maybe in another city? Many stories, photos, and videos still to come as I tackle San Francisco’s food truck scene this summer.

Photo of Telegraph Hill from Howard on Flickr.

21 Comments on “Off the Grid in San Francisco and the Summer Food Truck Challenge

  1. I’m not sure why but food truck food always seems to trump their brick & mortar counterparts. Maybe it’s because they feel obliged to experiment. Whatever the reason I always seem to gravitate to a taco truck or what have you.

    I didn’t know about the Ft Mason gathering. That’s cool. There’s another one that happens on weekends in the summer in the Mission, on the dead end at Valencia and McCoffin. So quaint and so good.

    Thanks for this piece Spencer. And great use of the strikethrough. Long live alternative punctuation!

    • Thanks Nico. I’m really excited and I’ll have to check out the one in the Mission. I’ll definitely be frequenting the Ft. Mason gathering. Just a great vibe.

  2. OMG, I would love this so much. My favorite Burlington festival used to be the Chew Chew Festival–dozens of restaurants set up booths and you’d purchase small portions of their best dishes. LOVED it. Unfortunately, it got cancelled because it wasn’t making enough money (it often rained that weekend).

    • I love festivals like that. Reminds me that I still need to get to Vermont. Don’t tell anyone that I haven’t been!

  3. My mouth is watering! I’ll take your word for the quality and look forward to your reports! It also sounds like so much fun! Sometimes I think dining out has become way too serious a thing. This reminds me of the stalls and trucks we have here for fiestas and carnivals, and there is one of those going on almost every weekend somewhere on the island, not the choice you have there, but fresh and tasty…..and fun!

    • I think this kind of eating often gets overlooked. That somehow since it’s not in a restaurant that it’s diminished. I think it’s efficient and I like it; just food trucks in general. I wouldn’t do it for every meal, but for a quick lunch or bite to eat I think it’s great for travelers and locals.

  4. I was always a bit afraid of the idea of food trucks but my brother worked in the Tri-Cities (in WA) for a summer and he fell in love with the taco trucks there. I am going to make him take me to them this summer and then you can take me to Off the Grid (or at least tell me how to get there) when I’m in San Fran this summer!

    • Remember, Friday night. If you’re in S.F. on a Friday. Let’s do it. That area of S.F. is so nice. There’s the Marina District and great views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

  5. FAB idea, Spencer! I sometimes wish that Banff had food trucks, but I have no idea where they would park! I’m tempted to eat at every locally owned restaurant here in Banff this summer, but the cost is keeping me home eating spaghetti. Haha

    I can’t wait to read about your Food Truck Challenge -on a full stomach so I don’t get hungry!!

    • Thanks Pam! I’m stoked. It’s a bummer because the idea of food trucks often only works in big cities or large festivals. I’ve never lived in a city big enough to have something like this, so I’m pretty stoked!

  6. What an awesome idea! I love desserts, but am vegetarian, although I have a suspicion that this is not an issue in SF. May the force be with you!

    • Thanks Charu. They do have some vegetarian options with the food trucks and I believe there may even be a vegetarian food truck if I’m not mistaken.

  7. Good luck!!!

    I would love to try something like this in LA (where food trucks are hipster mecca at the moment!) but there are just too many to follow (someone reckons well over 100) and tons are popping up all the time as fast as others are already going out of business.

    No one could ever keep up. Which is why I am sending you a hearty GOOD LUCK!

    • Thanks Rebecca. I probably wouldn’t consider this in ever city, just because cities like L.A. and NYC are just so unmanageable for something like this. OTG has done a great job of organizing and making this something more accessible. Many of the food trucks are on FB/Twitter, which is a plus.

  8. I think there are Apps that you can put in your address and they will let you know what trucks are in your area! This would be perfect for your challenge!

    • There are and I want to figure out how to make this more mobile and fun. The food truck scene is growing so much I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a food truck mobile app soon for S.F.

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