My favorite street food discovery so far this year didn’t take place during a rollicking First Friday street party or at one of the East Bay’s many formalized convocations of gourmet food trucks, and it certainly wasn’t served on a porcelain plate at some sit-down restaurant.
Instead, on a recent Wednesday, fresh off a tip from the eagle-eyed grub seekers over at Chowhound, I found myself standing in front of a tiny shack of a food stand set up on a trailer in a barren West Berkeley lot. Daniel’s Caribbean Kitchen shares the lot with a small pottery shop called Jered’s Pottery (2720 San Pablo Ave.). It’s an unassuming little spot, but if you like Trinidadian food, you should head over as soon as possible.
The Oakland-based food truck Vesta Flatbread has announced that its last day of service will be April 13. If you’ve ever been curious about the truck’s seasonal, Mediterranean-style flatbread sandwiches, next Saturday’s Grand Lake Farmers’ Market (from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) will be your last chance — for a while, anyway — to check them out.
Co-owner Traci Prendergast said that she and her partners, Jenya Chernoff and Aron Ford, have sold the truck and “will be hibernating” while they search for a permanent brick-and-mortar location for the business.
On a sunny Friday afternoon in Oakland, at the corner of Webster and 2nd, Elmy Kader hands over a Styrofoam box through the Royal Egyptian Cuisine food truck’s pass-through window and says, “Here’s something special from me to you. When you go back to the office and open it, you’ll see.”
The customer had ordered Kader’s gyro, which is one of the better versions you’ll find in this city. But the personal touches — that extra “something special” — are what make each meal at Royal Egyptian more memorable than your standard food truck dining experience.
Last Friday night was the second week for the street-food extravaganza Off the Grid’s first foray into Oakland, at the Oakland Museum of California. Given how long food-truck aficionados have been waiting for an event of this magnitude to hit downtown Oakland on a regular basis, these first two weeks have come and gone with relatively little pomp and circumstance — but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been a success.
I had a chance to swing by this past Friday. A few quick takeaways:
The year got off to such a promising start for Oakland’s seemingly limitless population of street-food enthusiasts — and for the mobile food vendors who want to feed them. A newly passed interim policy allowed food trucks, for the first time, to operate weekly at approved locations outside of the Fruitvale, as long as they were clustered into permit-carrying “pods” of three or more trucks.
It was easy to imagine that dozens of these so-called “food pods” would spring up all over Oakland — the first shots fired in a bloodless revolution of gourmet cupcakes and Asian-fusion tacos. People would come out in droves, and, buoyed by that success, city officials would quickly move to make mobile food — beyond taco trucks in Fruitvale — a permanent fixture in Oakland’s culinary landscape.
In what is perhaps a temporary blow to the East Bay’s mobile food revolution, the North Berkeley offshoot of Off the Grid — the series of wildly popular weekly food truck gatherings — says goodbye tonight.
A press release issued today announced that this evening’s Off the Grid event — which was scheduled, as usual, for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the intersection of Rose St. and Shattuck Ave. — will be the last one ever at that location.
The reason for the sudden change in plans? Matt Cohen, Off the Grid’s proprietor, told me the North Shattuck Association has long wanted to reconfigure the space where the North Shattuck Off the Grid market takes place, and it’s been granted a permit to begin that process early next year. The upshot is that the site won’t be accessible for a period of time, and — once the construction is completed — the amount of space that would be available for Off the Grid to use would be reduced by about half.
Peralta Junction, a new pop-up event kicking off this weekend in a vacant lot at the intersection of West Grand and Mandela Parkway, transcends easy categorization: It’s a three-month experimental art installation. It’s the site of a 1920s-style traveling carnival. It’s an outdoor performance space, an artisan retail market, and — of particular interest to What the Fork — a weekly gathering of mobile food vendors.
During the project’s grand opening weekend, the site will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Subsequently, the event organizers will host kid-friendly after-school workshops on Thursdays and Fridays, Thursday night community movie nights, and a variety of other community events and performances on Friday nights.
The conventional wisdom is that starting a food truck or food cart business is far less expensive than opening a restaurant, and that’s true. But the fact is, it’s expensive to start any food business from the ground up. For many first-time mobile food entrepreneurs, the thousands (often tens of thousands) of dollars in overhead and permitting fees that you need to pay up front make it a cost-prohibitive proposition.
Here’s a novel idea: What if instead of having to buy their own cart, aspiring food vendors could just rent a cart — one that’s fully equipped and permitted? The 25th Street Collective, a sustainable business incubator and artisans’ collective based in Uptown Oakland, is hoping they’ll be able to make such a rent-a-cart program a reality.
Oakland’s Mexican food deserves all the praise it gets, but the Bay Area has a paucity of options for many of the other Latin American cuisines. Where do you go for good Dominican food? Or Colombian food? Or Puerto Rican food? (These are honest questions; feel free to enlighten me in the comments.)
In most instances, you’re lucky if there’s even a single local restaurant to carry the banner. Homesick natives have no choice, then, but to trek out to San Rafael or somewhere deep in the Mission for arepas or pasteles that may or may not bear a passing resemblance to what they ate growing up.
So Chris Caraballo and Eric Rivera, two Puerto Rican guys who moved to Oakland four years ago, decided to take things in their own hands. Two years ago, the pair of New York City transplants started a catering company called Borinquen Soul, serving up traditional Puerto Rican dishes like empanadillas (beef turnovers) and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas). Three months ago, their operation went mobile, as the pair launched what they say is the first Puerto Rican food truck in Northern California.
In the past several weeks, there’s been a veritable deluge of mobile food vending events popping up all over Oakland: Bites Off Broadway, the five smaller pods run by an informal coalition of East Bay food truck operators — to say nothing of the new Alameda outpost of Off the Grid, which launched last Saturday.
The latest contender? The Eatup, a new weekly food pod that’s open tonight, from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., in an unused parking lot at the corner of 21st and Telegraph avenues (2025 Telegraph Ave., if you need to Google Map it).