Raw Oysters from Woodhouse Fish Company
It's one thing to say that your music festival is gourmet, it's another to actually follow through. The raw oysters ($10 for five) from the Woodhouse Fish Company was proof positive that Outside Lands is a different kind of festival. Woodhouse puts out some of San Francisco's most solid seafood, so it was no surprise that their Drake's Bay raw oysters were creamy and briny in the right amounts. They were served with a housemade cocktail sauce but required no adornment other than a squeeze of lemon. Truly, a perfect snack for a sunny afternoon (we paired ours with a marvelous set from Junip).
Cheeseburger from 4505 Meats
I seriously trust 4505 Meats when it comes to grilled things. So ordering their cheeseburger ($10) at Outside Lands was a no-brainer (despite being sorely tempted by bags of chicharrones hanging from the ceiling of their booth like pinatas). Served on a house-made sesame seed bun, the burger was topped with gruyere, lettuce, onion, and secret sauce. The patty of grass-fed beef, despite being thin, was still cooked a perfect medium rare. The flavors came together the way the best fast food burgers do, but with incredibly high-quality ingredients. The potato chips on the side were fine, but this is a burger we had a hard time not wolfing down.
4505 Meats: 415-255-3094; 4505meats.com
Smoked Beer Sausage from Rosamunde
Rosamunde is one of my go-to's in San Francisco, but even I wasn't expecting just how much their sausage would hit the spot at Outside Lands. Perhaps it's because their smoked beer sausage ($7), topped with grilled onions and their excellent sauerkraut paired so perfectly with a day of beer and sunshine. Or maybe because the spicy pork and beef sausage is so good, every time, that you only need a single bite to be reminded, yes, this is exactly what I was craving. It's delicious plain but I like mine with a squiggle of spicy mustard. Admittedly I had the urge to grab sausages out of the hands of the people dousing theirs in ketchup—it's just not right!
Fried Plantain and Black Bean Burrito from The Little Chihuahua
The fried plantain and black bean burrito ($9) from The Little Chihuahua was near-legend in my former San Francisco apartment. My roommates would buy 3 for the weekend, and eat them for dinner, breakfast, and late-night. After eating one at the end of a long day of concert-going, I can see why. A burrito, generally, is the perfect revival meal: packed with rice, beans, and salsas, every bite promises carbs to absorb (if drinking was involved), beans for protein, and excellent flavor from fresh salsa. The Little Chihuahua executes their burritos with the care and attention of the best California cuisine, and their plantain and black bean combination is the prime example of this. Salty, sweet and satisfying, it's exactly what you want at the end of the night.
Chicken Penang Curry Buns from Azalina's
Serious Eats has been all about the Malaysian food lately, and with excellent reason. The chicken penang curry buns ($7 for two) from Azalina's have totally sold me on Malaysian cuisine. The chicken Penang curry was unlike I'd ever tasted: funky, spicy, and tangy, the curry flavor was very present, but had none of the sweetness I associate with Thai curries. Served on green onion buns and topped with crunch pickled vegetables, each salty-sour-crunchy bite satisfied and left me craving another.
Frickles from The Fabulous Frickle Brothers
Pickles are salty and satisfying on their own. Deep-fried pickles: dangerously addictive. Particularly when they're Frickles ($7) from the Fabulous Frickle Brothers, a "mobile food kitchen trailer." They use thick-cut dill chips, battered in a combination of tempura, panko, and Lagunitas Ale, leading to a crunchy, crackly crust. We were given our choice of four sauces for dipping: High Sierra sauce, housemade Ranch, Cukaracha Sriracha (all Straus Family Creamery yogurt-based), and mole barbecue sauce. All were exceptional, but the tangy, yogurty ranch and the smoky-sweet barbecue sauce were particular stand-outs when combined with the salty pickle brine. Of all the bites we tried while at the festival, our box of Frickles undoubtedly garnered the most attention from the hazy masses.
The Fabulous Frickle Brothers: fabulousfrickles.com
Frozen Yogurt Sandwich from Loving Cup
Warm afternoons are something to savor in San Francisco, and there were many ice cream options to help with that. But the frozen yogurt sandwich ($5) from Loving Cup was our favorite. Not too sweet vanilla frozen yogurt was generously layered between your choice of snickerdoodle and chocolate pecan cookies; we opted for both. The frozen yogurt, while delicious, had a hard time staying between the cookies, but the blend of cinnamony snickerdoodle and rich nutty chocolate was excellent, particularly when melded with the melted yogurt. Messy, maybe, but worth the sticky fingers.
Fryin' Maiden Sandwich from Brass Knuckle
All right, time to name drop. We tried the Fryin' Maiden Sandwich ($10) from the Brass Knuckle food truck because Chris Funk from The Decemberists said it was good. Officially: we trust his taste. The Fryin' Maiden, a badass fried chicken sandwich topped with lemon aioli and an apple jalapeno slaw was one of the best I've ever had. The chicken, to start, was juicy, tender and flavorful—fried perfectly, the batter was spicy, crunchy and just thick enough. Combined with the slaw, the sandwich was an enormous face-punch of flavor. Served on a bready, floury roll, it managed to stay together, but only just. Fortunately, we had the foresight to grab extra napkins.
Senor Sisig: 415-516-2194; brassknucklesf.com
The Mousetrap from the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
Grilled cheese might be the perfect festival food. Cheesy, buttery, and compact, it satisfies a salty craving with every bite. Particularly when that grilled cheese is the Mousetrap ($7) from the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, the denizens of cheese between bread who have taken SOMA by storm. Their Outside Lands outfit was the classic Mousetrap sandwich: a combination of havarti, jack, and sharp cheddar on sourdough with optional add-ons of jalapeno, pickles, tomatoes, and bacon. We added sweet roasted tomatoes and thick chewy bacon ($1 each), taking the sandwich to a new level of satisfaction.
Huarache Nopal from El Huarache Loco
Some of my best street food experiences have been in Mexico City. So when I saw that El Huarache Loco was promising just that, it rose quickly on my must-try list. The Huarache Nopal ($8) is a tortilla filled with pinto beans and topped with fresh nopales (cactus) salad. The huarache itself was delicious—the texture of the beans made the base substantial and flavorful, a perfect vehicle for cilantro, sour cream, salsa and cojita cheese. And that nopales salad packed in the distinctive, salty flavor of cactus.
Gilroy Garlic and Spicy Mac 'n' Cheese from Homeroom
Mac 'n' cheese at a music festival? Good idea. Mac 'n' cheese at a music festival in San Francisco? Brilliant. Nothing tastes better when you've been drinking (fact), and nothing is better suited to chilly August evenings in Golden Gate Park. Homeroom, an all mac 'n' cheese outfit out in Oakland served up two kinds of mac, the Gilroy Garlic and the Spicy Mac ($5 each). Both were excellent: the Gilroy combined gouda, pecorino, and of course, roasted garlic for a smokey, garlicky combo. The Spicy was made up of Jack cheese and Serrano and Marsh peppers—the gooey cheese was laced with the right amount of spice. Each flavor was excellent on its own, but a combination bite really stole the show.
Cupcakes from Mission Minis
Even with a certified salty tooth, I got some serious sugar cravings when presented with the delicious sweet offerings at Outside Lands. Mission Minis' two-bite mini cupcakes ($2 each) were the perfect fix. We tried the chocolate hazelnut crunch, delicious, Nutella-like and topped with a caramely sugar crisp, but I was blown away by the mint chocolate chip. The cake was rich and moist and the frosting an amazing cream cheese-mint blend, allowing the flavor to be both fresh and rich.
Porchetta Sandwich from Salumeria by Flour + Water
Flour + Water is still one of the hardest tables to get in San Francisco. So hearing that a preview of their new offshoot Salumeria would be serving up porchetta sandwiches ($10) at Outside Lands, I was excited to sample the goods. According to chef/owner Thomas McNaughton, this particular porchetta sandwich required six months of planning. Since the restaurant works exclusively with small farms, the amount of arugula, onion, and of course, pigs needed was huge. Their coordination paid off. The porchetta—fatty, decadent, and perfectly seasoned—was nicely offset by the crisp, fresh arugula and sweet caramelized onions. This would have been incredible on a plate; sandwiched on a freshly baked roll (that definitely had the right amount of salt in the dough) it was perfection. Salumeria, we eagerly anticipate your arrival.
Shanghai Lumpia from Senor Sisig
At first glance, these ($9) kind of seemed like a rip-off. Nine bucks for a carton of egg rolls, after all, is a lot compared to a standard take-out joint. But Senor Sisig is not your ordinary greasy spoon. The food truck specializes in Filipino-Mexican fusion, and as such is perfect food for the intoxicated. These lumpia were no exception. The thin cigars of paper-thin egg roll wrapper were filled with ground beef and pork, and expertly fried; the proportions of dough-to-meat were perfect. Dipped in the sweet chili sauce on the side, the lumpia shattered apart with every bite, bursting with spiced meat flavor.
Senor Sisig: 415-608-5048; senorsisig.com
Saam Tacos from Namu
Korean tacos are old hat by now, but that doesn't mean all Korean tacos are created equal. The saam tacos ($7 for two) from Namu are unquestionably some of the best. Seasoned rice, daikon and kimchee slaw, and thin pieces of Korean and Japanese seaweed form the base, which is then topped with either kalbi short ribs or chicken thigh. We tried one of each, and the combination of seaweed, kimchi, and exceptional marinated meat was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I almost forgot about them when considering my favorite bites of the day—that's how quickly they disappeared.
Pernil Maize'wich from Pica Pica
"WE HAVE TO GET AREPAS," said one of my eating companions, wide-eyed, when I mentioned Pica Pica's presence at the festival. Man, am I glad I listened. I'm also glad I went with my instincts and ordered the pernil maize'wich, a combination of salty-tender slow cooked pork, meaty, thick slices of tomato, and buttery avocado. What makes it a maize'wich? The chewy, pliant shell is made from sweet yellow corn, versus white. While I could see this being too much sweet if plantains were involved, it was the perfect complement to the pork. Sweet corn, drippy pork, fresh tomato and creamy avocado in every bite: rock 'n' roll.