Street Cart Cuisine: Think Global, Eat Local

by Sarah Henry on November 19, 2009 · 14 comments

in street food

Due to last minuteitis (recently afflicted but may be chronic condition) and email error (note to self: figure out spam filter so important stuff doesn’t get sucked into spamland) I missed the boat — well not the boat actually but a hot air balloon — on the World Street Food confab last week at the CIA (think foodie folk, not spy guys).

Instead of driving up to Napa to eat cart cuisine from around the globe with the likes of street food guru Jonathan Gold, I had to endure a constant stream of twitters about hot hawkers from Lima, Istanbul, and Barcelona sent by food savvy souls such as ruth reichl, cooking with amy, and seattle tall poppy. I tried not to be green with envy about the finger-licking food they were feasting on, though the thought of a hot air balloon ride just made me feel green, period. I like to consume my street food on terra firma thanks very much.

So, in keeping with that well-worn slogan Think Global, Act Local, I decided that instead of pouting at my misfortune I’d simply conduct my very own spontaneous street eats survey on my doorstep in the multiculti East Bay.

Faithful readers may recall I’ve chronicled groovy street grub found in Sydney, San Francisco, and the Eat Real Festival in Oakland.

Now, on demand, (well, a couple of friends did ask): some picks for locavores or out-of-towners when they next pass through Berzerkeley and that happening hub of ethnic eats Emeryville (look on a map, it’s super close to both Berkeley and Oaktown.)

And we’re not talking taco truck tucker here, people. Some serious chophouse chow — with enough worldly influences to keep this armchair traveler happy — hitting the streets in my neck of the woods.

Liba

Chef Gail Lillian, inspired by falafel bars in Amsterdam of all places, takes the fabulous falafel to new culinary destinations. A huge fan of this Middle Eastern staple, I was delighted to find the lovely lime green Liba cart parked across the street from Pixar Studios.

Gail, who’s run a cafe in Oakland among other culinary jobs, makes the falafel from scratch in the commercial cooperative Artisan Kitchen in neighboring Richmond. She serves these crisp chickpea patties with unique add-ons like chimichurri herb paste, harissa hot sauce, and dill & cardamom pickle. Equally intriguing side salads draw on different ethnic origins, and include olive-orange relish with thyme, red cabbage with black sesame seed, and roasted eggplant in tomato sauce. And there’s complimentary condiments like rosemary peanuts and tomato ginger chutney. Makes for a hearty, flavor-filled, and lip-smacking lunch of mostly organic, local ingredients. Liba’s fare can be custom made for the vegan or gluten-free; falafel salads and sandwiches run $7.25.

Mon., Tues., & Thurs. in Emeryville. Wed. & Fri., Potrero Hill in SF.
For up-to-date info including hours and exact locations, follow the falafel lady’s twitter feed.

Jons Street Eats

Also trucking around Emeryville, Jons Street Eats, where I waited last week for what turned out to be a generous slab of nicely seared tuna that formed the basis of the $9 ahi roll, a creamy concoction served on a sweet bun with daikon cabbage, wasabi aioli, and cilantro.   This extremely delish and very messy offering — grab some napkins on the go — is created by former Fork chef (acclaimed & shuttered San Anselmo eatery) and CIA graduate Jon Kosorek, who opened his nomadic restaurant a few months ago when a bricks-and-mortar establishment fell through.

The day I stopped by he was dishing up duck tacos for $7 and a butternut squash bisque & green salad for $6.

Think gourmet grub on the go more than snacky street eats for the offerings from this cart, which includes a short, seasonally changing menu, prepped ahead and prepared on the spot, hence the wait. Word to the wise: Most street food vendors welcome folks ordering ahead.

Check Jon’s twitter feed for exact E-Bay only locations, but popular spots include Stanford & Hollis in Emeryville on Wednesdays & Fridays and Piedmont & Pleasant Valley in Oakland on Saturdays.

Cupkates

Kate McEachern, a former managing editor at design mag Dwell, now goes by the title Chief Cupcake Officer.  She delivers sweet treats from a dot-covered converted taco truck she calls her mobile cupcakery. Kate says she’s the worst intern in Chez Panisse history. But while at Cal she did wow folks with her baked goods. So Cupkates was born.

Her cupcakes are made with high quality ingredients like Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and Guittard chocolate, along with local milk, eggs, and butter. She sells her generously frosted desserts for $2.75 a piece. The day I stopped by for a chat and a bite an endless stream of students made their way to the truck to order a cupcake or two or three in classic flavors such as double chocolate and red velvet.

Kate is currently enduring a bit of grief from Berkeley parking police, despite having a permit and following parking signage rules. Nonetheless, the chipper cupcake maker is still on the beat, tweeting and facebooking about where you can get your daily sugar fix on her regular Berkeley and Emeryville routes. (Thanks to fellow blogger Frances Dinkelspiel, who wrote about Cupkates on the hyper-local Berkeleyside, for passing on this street eat tip.)

Judging by the long line at Jon’s and the steady stream at Liba and CupKates, this trio of trucks have already developed a loyal following in a short amount of time (the carts have only been rolling around the E-Bay for a few months at most). It remains to be seen if hungry folks go in search of street eats in the rainy season, of course, but in the gourmet ghetto perhaps it will take more than a little wet weather to dampen the enthusiasm of food foragers.

On my list to check next: The Pie Truck. Do you have a fav East Bay street cart to add to this list? Let me know below.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Dianne Jacob November 19, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Very clever of you. I’ve been reading about gourmet San Francisco taco trucks and wondering what we’ve got here in the East Bay.

Can’t beat a good falafel. Did you try one?

Of course, we have REAL taco trucks all over the place. John Birdsall wrote a cover piece about 21 in Fruitvale: see http://www.eastbayexpress.com/eastbay/la-vida-taco/Content?oid=1176465

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Sarah Henry November 19, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Yes, of course I tried one! Falafel is one of my go-to foods. Liba’s was crispier than your typical falafel patty, which I liked, and I really enjoyed playing with the flavors that the numerous add-ons allow. Makes for lots of variety.

As for taco trucks, thanks for the link, and I’m sure some of my readers welcome such a guide. I knew Fruitvale was the place to find ‘em en masse but since I’m not a meat eater, I’ll leave it up to a carnivore critic to weigh in on these.

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Cheryl@5secondrule November 19, 2009 at 9:16 pm

I, too, missed the Worlds of Flavor conference, made worse by the fact that I was there a few years ago so I knew exactly what I was missing. Wahhhhhh!

I’m thrilled to have this roundup because we head to the E. Bay several times a year to visit my husband’s aunt and uncle, and we never know quite where to stop for chow. Now, well, we do.

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Sarah Henry November 30, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Glad to be of service, Cheryl. Enjoy your next East Bay food romp!

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Traca | Seattle Tall Poppy November 20, 2009 at 12:14 am

Sarah,

What a great post! I came in town a day early and we noshed our way through the Mission District. Next trip? I’m definitely letting you lead the food truck crawl. :)

Next year the Worlds of Flavor Conference is dedicated to Japan. Expect to see Iron chef Morimoto and other fabulous headliners!

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Kia November 21, 2009 at 5:48 am

Yay! Thanks Sarah! I can’t wait to try these! I believe there is a mobile, ice cream bicycle cart selling Strauss milk ice cream… forgot the name… eating food on the street is just so YUM. Reminds me of my days in Ghana when I used to get these killer street omelets… and Keilly Weilly (ginger, cayenne plantain fried in red palm oil)…..

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Sarah Henry November 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Glad to hear this post will come in handy folks.

And Kia thanks for the heads up about gourmet ice cream on the go. (I wonder if the bike guy/gal plays music while pedaling to announce his/her whereabouts
to kids who will likely follow in hot pursuit of cold treats.)

As for your edible street excursions in Ghana…makes me want to go visit pronto.

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