I actually get mini anxiety attacks when I sit down at a restaurant and have to decide on just one dish. It’s torture! It’s bad for me and it’s bad for my waistline; which in turn is bad for everyone, because that just means I’m going to complain about being a fatty-boob-a-latty until I get myself to the gym. And I think the only person who will benefit is the pimple-faced high school dropout who’s gonna get a commission on the 48 pairs of American Apparel sweatpants I’m gonna have to buy until I can squeeze my tush (which will still be cute) back into my jeans.
And as much as I can take a moment to stop and think about what it is that I’m really craving and in the mood for– I’m usually in the mood for anything. I mean seriously, aside from tripe and chicken feet; I crave everything! Salads can look good, because I’m in the mood for something on the light side, or the pasta might be the way to go, because it’s usually better at a restaurant than when I make it at home. I have a soft spot for the “menu underdog,” which is the solitary vegetarian dish at the start of the mains, or the bottom of the entrée list. It’s usually the greatest value when you factor the price, the larger portion size, and the fact that they’re always delicious! And if there’s anything squished between two buttery buns, I’m all for it! Soups are probably the one dish that I’m in the mood for the least, but they’re growing on me now that my current kitchen gadget fetish is to have an emersion blender.
So it makes sense that I love getting lost in the aisles of the neighborhood gourmet market (I’m currently crushing on the new Divisadero Bi-Rite), or a farmers market where all the most seasonal and pesticide-free local ingredients spill out of baskets and produce boxes begging for me to touch, smell, and taste. When I was in Thailand, the Ko Samui Friday night market was like winning the culinary jackpot. Everything looked unique and amazing, and I could buy it all with the 100 Thai baht (like $3 USD) I had. Once at a Las Vegas buffet, my sister-in-law’s father, who; mind you, was meeting me for the first time; actually had to lean over and remind me that, “it’s not a race but a marathon.” I was so embarrassed I got a plate of mini dessert tarts between a plate of crab legs and a slice of carving-station prime rib.
So you can only imagine how happy I am every year when La Cocina hosts their annual San Francisco Night Market. More than 20 of San Francisco’s best restaurants, caterers, foodtruckers, and pop-up chefs, come together to serve a few items to Bay Area foodies with an addiction to variety—like me. Guests purchase a ticket and potentially make a donation to get in, and the proceeds go to La Cocina, which is San Francisco’s first kitchen incubator. That means they have a large commercial kitchen that chefs just starting to build their brand and make their mark on the San Francisco restaurant scene, can rent to prepare their foods for sale. The non-profit focuses on immigrant women of color, but that’s not the only demographic who benefits from their affordable kitchen space, and professional network of advisers and successful food entrepreneurs.
The annual San Francisco Night Market is a great way for some of the most successful chefs in San Francisco, some the result of kitchen incubators like La Cocina, can prepare their delectable edibles for food lovers like me and simultaneously raise money for a good cause. It’s also cool that the Night Market is held where the Alemany Farmer’s Market (or the “people’s market”) which is the first registered farmers market in California.
La Cocina’s Annual San Francisco Night Market
As the evening progressed the crowds grew, and the temperature dropped. Which meant two things: order more food before the vendors sold out, and drink more beer to stay warm. Thus it was decided that each member of our group would go out into the Night Market and purchase at least two dishes to bring back to the group for us all to take a bite. Jonathan’s mother had no problem holding down the fort and shooing off anyone who tried to sit on our bench seats. Once we had the food back to our home base, we had two friends buy as many beers as they could carry. Eventually we were ready to eat, and here’s what we had.
Bone and Gristle Boys: The Boss Hog which was a crispy pork belly with chicharron. The fat is cut with a peppery pickled red onions and pickles. Yum!
Jardinier: A wagyu beef cheeseburger slider with bacon and JaredSF’s bread and butter pickles. Oh and the French fries on the side were awesome. This burger was so good, that Jonathan’s mother– who doesn’t eat bacon– requested we get another one and to leave the bacon on it, since it was so good the first time around!
Juhu Beach Club: This is an iconic Mumbai street snack called a Vada Pav. It’s crispy fried mashed potato vada ball with heirloom tomato, pickled onions, and ghost pepper hot sauce in a starter bakery pav bun.
El Buen Comer: If you could physically ladle comfort into a bowl and eat it, what would it look like—pozole! This was a classic Mexico-style pozole (or hominy) in a spicy pork based soup.
Locanda Osteria Bar: They served their chinotto nero, which was their grilled short ribs with some radicchio for a little bite of bitterness.
Anda Piroshki: None of us were too excited about the idea of Eastern European food, but we had to get something from Anda Piroshki. So we got one of their petite-piroshki with suckling pig and braised beet greens.
Nopalito: I didn’t really want to share this little bite of joy, but alas, the pack of wolves I was with (aka Jonathan, his mother and our friends Aliza, Lauren, and Todd) looked as if they were about to jump in for the kill if I didn’t pass it along. The gordita campechana is Nopalito’s handmade thick masa cakes with miltomate salsa and chile de arbol.
Mision 19: Tomales with a Oaxacan black mole with baja cheese and Rancho Gordo beans.
Azalina’s: Sorry, but the camera seems to have been focused on the area between the fried veal’s brain and theis delicious curry soup…but oh well. This is Azalima Eusope and Suvir Saran’s version of a classical Malaysian Laksa, which is a spicy soup topped with fried veal’s brain.
Don Bugito: We felt a little like cave men and women with this leg and thigh of rabbit braised in Mezcal, but it was so good I didn’t care!
To Hyang: This was probably my favorite dish in the Night Market, and one of the few dishes I’ve had in San Francisco that I can still remember what how it tastes. In fact, it inspired Eatsporkjew’s original recipe for Bulleit Bourbon & black fig braised oxtails. To Hyang’s oxtail was braised with daikon root, carrots, dates, chestnuts and hard-boiled eggs. The oxtail fell apart like butter, but the chestnuts soaked in all those umami glutamates.
Chiefo’s Kitchen: This was delicious, but in my humble opinion required a refined palate; one that really like fishy broths. Because they weren’t kidding when they labeled this a Nigerian fish pepper soup. Tons of pepper, some unique African flavors, and entire chunks of fish, including the skeletons!
This was just the first pile of dirty plates from the San Francisco Night Market…..and nearly all of it was compostable!