The Bay Area's Top 20 Food Trucks

It has been 5 years since Off the Grid held its first gathering at Fort Mason, 4 years since S.F. made it easier for trucks to park, and 3 years since anyone in the Bay Area has attended a wedding that didn’t end up in a parking lot. These are our favorite local food trucks. Read more: http://sfchron.cl/foodtrucks (via Jonathan Kauffman)
  1. El Tonayense
    Over the past 20-plus years, this family-run fleet of Mission District taco trucks has achieved an intensely loyal following, and for good reason. From the bright and tangy al pastor to the moist and tender lengua — be it delivered in taco, torta or burrito form — it’s hard to get a more flavorful and hearty meal on the cheap in San Francisco.
  2. Taco Guys
    The Taco Guys belong to the post-Kogi era, when the taco shed some of its Mexican-ness and opened up to the rest of the world. What makes a good taco great, no matter what is piled onto the tortilla, is never size: It’s maximum layering of flavors in three-bite form. In the wrong hands, Burmese lamb curry tacos with fresh cucumbers or kalua pork tacos with pickled mangos could come off as a multiculti mess, but decades of restaurant training keep Jason Hoffman and Justin Close’s focus tight.
  3. Tacos El Gordo
    The rhythmic thumping that accompanies the three minutes you will spend pressed against the food rail at this taco truck, greasy fingers clearing a paper plate of every shred, is not cumbia or house. It’s the sound of a pair of cleavers chopping freshly cooked meats to order. The best include the feral porkiness of buche (pork stomach), nutty tripitas, and pork al pastor actually cooked on the spit.
  4. Taqueria Sinaloa
    Although Lupe Bueno recently repainted his three trucks a handsome marigold, he has resisted the pull to emigrate into a permanent building. Considering the seated patio at his main campus in Oakland, where two are parked, he has no need. The flavors of lime, chiles and cilantro etch themselves sharply onto meats such as suadero and carnitas, and at the seafood-focused truck, in fish tacos and mixed-seafood cockteles as well.
  5. The Chairman
    Melding culinary traditions is one of the things food trucks do best, and the Chairman consistently nails Asian fusion with its versions of gua bao, or Taiwanese-style buns. (Its bold red, black and white design makes the Chairman one of the best-looking trucks, too.) You’ll have to choose between larger baked buns or smaller steamed buns, both stuffed with crispy miso tofu or Coca-Cola braised pork.
  6. KoJa Kitchen
    KoJa refers to a mashup of Korean and Japanese flavors. But a koja, as defined by the owners of this hip black-and-red truck, is also a sandwich-burger-taco-like situation based on garlicky rice buns. The two pucks of crispy rice would be good enough on their own, but these come filled with chopped short ribs and Korean BBQ chicken.
  7. Pluck
    At Mark Pfeiler’s mobile eatery, it’s all duck, all the time. Pluck, which debuted in 2013, showcases the fowl in a variety of creative ways, such as house-cured duck pastrami sliders and duck confit tacos. Ramen noodles are served in a rich duck broth that’s garnished with smoked duck breast — seared foie gras optional.
  8. J-Shack
    You might not think of crepes as a Japanese food, but thin pancakes stuffed with indulgent fillings and folded into cones are a popular street food in Tokyo. While dessert crepes are traditional, J-Shack sets itself apart with its savory selections, such as its Okonomi crepe, inspired by another Japanese pancake: okonomiyaki. It’s made with pork, shrimp, cabbage, bean sprouts and onions, and smothered in distinctly Japanese toppings and sauces.
  9. Liba Falafel
    A food truck success story, Liba Falafel recently opened a sit-down cafe in Oakland. The chickpea fritters, which Gail Lillian and her staff make daily with organic beans, are plenty good, but it’s the seasonally changing rainbow of salad-bar toppings you can pile on top that make them stand out. Falafels come stuffed into whole-wheat pita or perched atop salad greens for an extra plant-based experience.
  10. Mayo and Mustard
    Some would say this truck just serves sandwiches. But, dang it, it’s hard to find a really good sandwich in San Francisco. Mayo and Mustard’s hot deli-style sandwiches — like Tony’s BBQ Tri-Tip and the pepper turkey club, a favorite — are worth standing in line for.
  11. Fins on the Hoof
    Don’t let the funny name throw you: This self-described “gastrotruck” offers expertly executed dishes made with ingredients from both land and sea. While not always on the menu, their salmon and arugula flatbread sandwich will haunt your dreams. A close second is the lamb burger topped with feta and pickled red onions.
  12. Sam’s Chowder Mobile
    Sam’s has a legit brick-and-mortar down in Half Moon Bay, but if you’re a car-free city dweller, the Chowder Mobile is the best way to get a taste of Sam’s pristine seafood offerings, including rich and creamy clam chowder, crab cakes that are heavy on the shellfish and light on the filler, and one of the best lobster rolls outside New England.
  13. All Good Pizza
    A shipping container outfitted with a brick oven, this truck permanently inhabits a large corner lot in the sunny Bayview. While the crust on the pies is fashionably thin and cracker-crisp, the reclaimed lumber furniture and weathered picnic tables also bring to mind a barbecue joint. The kitchen’s Southern culinary ties, in fact, are represented on the sandwich menu by smoked Louisiana hot links and a delicious Nola Muffaletta.
  14. Del Popolo
    There is no food truck in the country quite like Del Popolo. Jon Darsky broke the mold when he built his mobile pizzeria — complete with wood-burning oven — within a shipping container atop a big-rig truck. Darsky’s pizza matches the 14-ton truck’s ambition: The truck’s expertly crafted pies compete with those emerging from the city’s best pizzerias. The menu changes regularly, but the simple margherita is a staple.
  15. Bowl’d Açai
    Bowl’d Açai’s charismatic owners, Reza Morvari and Angel Serratos, dish up virtuous açai bowls, parfait-like tubs with an icy base of tropical-fruit sorbet topped with granola and fresh fruit. Smoothies and fresh-squeezed juice are on the menu, too, and don’t miss the “flu shot,” a spicy, ginger-laden gulp of home-brewed curatives.
  16. Garden Creamery
    At first glance, Garden Creamery looks like your standard ice cream shop, with well-made scoops of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. But keep reading down the list and you’ll discover flavors like matcha and toasted rice or taro root and sweet cream. Don’t forget the vegan sorbets or the popsicles, including the delicious strawberry pretzel pop, as cute as it is tasty.
  17. Johnny Doughnuts
    You know a place is fancy when it takes the time to spell out “doughnut.” With that no-short-cuts attitude, Johnny Doughnuts are made in small batches with fresh ingredients in San Rafael, then carted to the far corners of the bay in a white truck with a shop-window display. The old-fashioned doughnuts are the best, but even unique flavors like the tangy lime-poppyseed raised glazed are classically good.
  18. Dum
    Chef Rupam Bhagat bills his food as “Indian soul food.” It’s a moniker that doesn’t truly resonate until you dig into an overflowing plate of his chicken biryani or the stuffed-to-the-brim kati rolls. The spices, the complexity, the generous portions — it’s not even close: The Dum truck is the best Indian food truck in the region, and certainly one of the best overall.
  19. El Sur
    The great thing about El Sur — aside from the delicious, artisanal Argentine-style empanadas — is that when neighboring food trucks have long lines, El Sur’s freshly baked meat pies are ready to roll at a moment’s notice. This is what street food should be: quick, tasty, handheld, thoughtful, user-friendly. The other bonus: El Sur operates out of a very cool, vintage 1970 Citroen H-Van.
  20. Wanna-E
    Some of the best Burmese food in the Bay Area comes out of the window of this truck, a passion project for four young Chinese Burmese San Franciscans born in the city of Mandalay. The cooks’ memories of Burmese flavors are bold and undiluted by time and distance. The recipes come from family members; the fermented tea-leaf tips in the tea salad and the spice blends that animate a creamy chicken curry are brought over from Myanmar.