Gail Lillian of Liba: Food Truck Picks for OTG Berkeley

by Sarah Henry on August 31, 2011 · 15 comments

in berkeley bites,food events,street food

Gail Lillian stands outside her lime-green falafel truck. All Liba photos: Christina Diaz

Gail Lillian is one busy street food hawker. The seasoned chef just launched a brand new lime-green truck bearing the Liba label and in a typical week she and her crew of five can do nine food service shifts around the Bay.

Case in point: Lillian dished up her trademark falafel sandwiches and sweet potato fries at the recent San Francisco Street Food Festival, where some 50,000 people chowed down on mobile food fare.

Two days later she spoke on a panel at the National Street Food Conference, also sponsored by La Cocina, the incubator kitchen serving mostly low-income female cooks of color.

Liba Falafel is a regular fixture at Off The Grid in North Berkeley, where folks can find Lillian tonight, and she will return on Saturday for the first of the Off The Grid: Golden Gate Fields, billed as the biggest food truck hub the Bay Area has seen — so far. In between her Berkeley service she dishes up savory curbside eats in Emeryville, San Francisco, and other OTG food hubs in the city.

A Liba falafel with its unique add-ons. Sweet potato fries are doused with cilantro, lime and garlic.

Inspired by falafel bars in Amsterdam, Lillian makes her falafel from scratch. She serves these crisp chickpea patties with unique add-ons like chimichurri herb paste, harissa hot sauce, and dill and cardamom pickle, in a pita pocket or on a bed of greens (prices $5-$9).

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, along with condiments like rosemary peanuts and tomato ginger chutney.

There’s a weekly seasonal salad that rotates. A recent salad paired red and yellow watermelon with mint, red onion, and sumac. Her fries come generously doused with cilantro, lime and garlic.

Hungry yet?

Lillian, 39, recently moved to a commercial kitchen space that houses Trumpet Vine Catering in South Berkeley. We caught up with her while she was prepping for another day on the streets.

An estimated 1,000-2,000 people came to Berkeley's first Off The Grid. Photo: Tracey Taylor

What do you like about your new kitchen?

I live a few blocks away in North Oakland, with my partner Sal Bednarz, who runs the Actual Café. This neighborhood has been fun to get familiar with. I love that it’s an industrial neighborhood, the buildings are beautiful. There are interesting small, craft businesses around here, like a furniture place down the street and a store where the owner sells bags made of recycled materials.

How is the Berkeley Off the Grid different from the other OTGs?

It’s very busy and it’s much more family oriented. I think people are more familiar with what falafel is, too, which is really great for us.

The new Liba food truck

Why did you get a new food truck?

We needed something bigger with more refrigeration. And I’ve wanted to add cool, creamy, custard desserts.

I think that would pair well with falafel. I have a pastry diploma, my sous chef is a pastry cook, we like desserts and have been wanting to add desserts for a while.

And we want to do house-made beverages, including a version of horchata, and a lemonade sweetened with stevia.

Do you have some favorite food picks from other OTG vendors?

Kasa Indian Eatery just joined and I’ve been loving their kati rolls. I’ve had the vegetarian and the chicken. I get them spicy; they do a great green hot sauce. It’s delicious, hand-held food. HapaSF is always a go-to for me, I love everything they make. I have their chicken adobo sandwich and they occasionally make pinakbet, slow-cooked, julienne-cut vegetables like squash, zucchini, and eggplant. It’s like a Filipino-style ratatouille but a lot tastier. It comes over rice.

I’m also a fan of the squash tacos from The Taco Guys. And Senior Senig, although it’s a pretty pork-based truck, does a great vegetarian taco too.

The tiramisu is my favorite cupcake from CupKates. Kate is a friend of mine, we started our street-food businesses the same week, we have gotten new trucks the same week, and for the longest time we worked out of the same kitchen together, The Artisan Kitchen, a cooperative kitchen space in Richmond.

What brick-and-mortar joints do you like in Berkeley?

Ippuku is definitely my top restaurant pick in town. Such fine food and the atmosphere is amazing; they remember my name after I haven’t been there in months. Their ramen is spectacular; the broth especially. They do a perfectly-cooked, succulent beef tenderloin. And their drinks are fun, they do sakes and sweet-potato based liqueurs.

Also Cha-Ya in North Berkeley because I know I can find lots of vegetables. And Guerilla Cafe because it has a lot of personality. I’m also impressed with their operations out of such a small space.

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside. Find more of Christina Diaz’s images here.

You might also like:

San Francisco Street Food Festival: Veg-Friendly Eats
Ebbett’s Good to Go Debuts at Berkeley’s Off the Grid
San Francisco’s Street Eats Scene
Street Cart Cuisine: Think Global, Eal Local
Off the Grid & Bites on Broadway: Food Trucks Debut in East Bay


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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

NoPotCooking September 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

Everything she’s making sounds so, so good.


Sarah Henry September 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

It is, NPC, it is.


ruth pennebaker September 1, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I’m in Austin, where food trailers are also a booming business. Unfortunately, our wickedly hot summer (when will it end???) is currently a big deterrent. I’m envying your trailer variety and your weather right now.
ruth pennebaker´s last [type] ..The Times, They Have Changed A Whole Bunch


Sarah Henry September 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Come visit, Ruth, escape the heat and have something good to eat.


Sheryl September 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Yum. Falafel and sweet potato fries. Two of my most favorite foods on this earth. Hold the cilantro, tho.


Sarah Henry September 2, 2011 at 9:31 am

Are you one of those folks who think cilantro tastes like soap, Sheryl?


Jane Boursaw September 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm

The people in your food truck photos always seem so happy and colorful. I have to believe they’ve discovered something the rest of us are still looking for.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Dark Matters with Dr. Walter Bishop, I mean John Noble


Sarah Henry September 2, 2011 at 9:31 am

I think these budding food entrepreneurs truly dig what they do, and it shows.


living Large in our Little House September 2, 2011 at 4:01 am

We don’t have food trucks in our little town, but she makes me wish we did!


Sarah Henry September 2, 2011 at 9:32 am

Could be a biz opportunity for someone in your neck of the woods, LLLH.


merr September 2, 2011 at 6:51 am

Your stories about food trucks are really fun–and the falafel and sweet potato fries look amazing!


Sarah Henry September 2, 2011 at 9:33 am

It’s a sweet beat to cover, merr, because the hard-working people drawn to the biz seem to genuinely love food and what they do with it.


MyKidsEatSquid September 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm

This was a bad time to read your post–I’m hungry and falafels and sweet potato fries sound sooo good right now.


jen September 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Just love your photography. The bright green truck is so cute. I love food trucks.
jen´s last [type] ..Labor Day at the Horse Races


Sarah Henry September 10, 2011 at 9:06 am

Credit for the photograph of Gail and her lovely lime green truck go to the talented photog Christina Diaz. See more of her gorgeous work on her own site, here:


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