When you think of fast food, you probably imagine gigantic multi-national corporations churning out unhealthy, mass-produced food that is high in fat and low in quality. San Francisco, one of the most vibrant cities in the country, is no place to try out a McDonald’s hamburger! However, if you’re on the go and uninterested in a sit-down lunch, there’s another quick way to get good, locally made meals: the newly popular food truck culture. In a city that is renowned for its walking food tours and special foods, the trucks are a great way to experience San Francisco as the locals know it.
Food trucks have become very popular over the past few years in California; the mobile kitchens are capable of producing fresh food to hungry locals, and the ease of transport means that a truck can go to customers instead of the other way around. Spreading word through social media and word of mouth, the trucks can set up shop at festivals, events, and even a parking space. They are cheaper to rent or own than a commercial space, which makes them good options for small business owners. The collaborative feeling between truck owners provides a unique market atmosphere, with more cooperation and less competition. The Truck Stop, at Mission Street between 1st and Fremont, is an open lunch space that hosts a rotation of popular vendors each day, making every lunch hour a new culinary experience. Off The Grid has become the go-to advocacy organization for food trucks; it has opened fifteen market spaces all over California where vendors can gather regularly. It also schedules and organizes Food Pods, where 1-4 trucks will gather in selected neighborhoods to serve meals at peak hours when demand is highest.
What can you get from a food truck? Depending on the vendor, the answer is virtually anything your taste buds desire. Bacon Bacon is a San Francisco favorite, whose primary ingredient is pretty obvious! There are vendors specializing in crème brulee, Filipino fusion, authentic tacos, homemade hamburgers, and even edible insects! The portable, small-scale nature of the food truck allows the vendor to focus on more specific types of cuisine, rather than trying to juggle a large restaurant-style menu that may not be the chef’s specialty.
However, 2012 was a tense year for the rapidly growing food truck industry in California; while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called them a “model for small business innovation,” there was significant opposition to the mobile vendors. It came from traditional restaurants worried about lost revenues from rent-free competitors, and from educators who claimed that food trucks were counterproductive to the state’s efforts to introduce healthy school lunch programs. Assemblymen proposed a bill which would ban the food trucks from vending anywhere within 1500 feet of an elementary, middle, or high school between 6am and 6pm; the confusing permit process for trucks created lots of headaches for truck owners and restaurateurs alike. The bill would have banned food trucks from roughly 80% of San Francisco’s streets; after public outcry, it was withdrawn from the legislature.
2013 has seen even more growth in food truck culture. Supervisor Scott Wiener has proposed legislation that would appeal to both restaurants and trucks, calming the tension between the industry leaders. Rules would include not allowing trucks to park near restaurants that have similar menu items, and would allow trucks to park in new areas of the city, like hospital and university campuses, while reducing the distance ban near high schools. There are still a lot of details to be worked out, like providing designated truck parking spaces and reworking the permit systems, but it’s clear that food trucks are here to stay. These on-the-go meal vendors are quickly becoming a beloved and vital part of San Francisco’s culinary identity.
by sffoodie at February 16, 2013