Rice Paper Scissors' Beef Pho Roll ($8)
Easily one of our favorite bites at the festival, this pho roll was packed with tender, sauteed hanger steak and rolled up in cold fresh rice noodles. Dipped in Sriracha, the rolls were a fresh, clean break from much of the fried food that day.
"Pho rolls, pho real!"
Estrellita's Snacks' Pupusa con Caramiano ($8)
Estrellita's pupusas are greasy-good rib-sticking affairs: dripping with cheese and, in this case, black beans, the hearty masa patties are topped with a nice, tangy cabbage slaw and a brightly fresh tomato sauce.
Estrellita's Snacks' Tamal Salvadorena ($3)
Estrellita's small bite, a Salvadoean tamale, is served in a splayed corn husk. The hearty masa is studded with vegetables and was well-served by a squirt of hot sauce.
Hawker Fare's Siamese Peanuts ($3)
Hawker Fare has become a veritable Oakland destination. Their iterations of Thai-style street food (rice bowls with chicken fat rice, need I say more?) and their chef Justin Yu's Commis-stamped cred has Bay Areans crowding in since it opened. Their small bite, these Siamese Peanuts, wonderfully exemplified Yu's bold flavors and stellar ingredients: roasted peanuts and fried baby anchovies are tossed in a housemade chili jam. The jam is sweet and funky thanks to soya bean paste oil and fish sauce.
Hawker Fare, "Issan" Sausage ($8)
Tender squares of spicy pork sausage are seasoned with coriander, garlic, lemongrass, and galangal, and glazed with a sweet chili jam. Served with pickled vegetables and rice, the sausage could have used a bit more juicy fattiness, but had a lovely crisp exterior thanks to the grill and glaze.
Radio Africa Kitchen's Seven Vegetable Tagine ($3)
Talk about a great deal for $3. A hearty bowl of chickpeas, carrots, cabbage, onions, spinach, potato, and green beans was topped with a garlicky pesto-like sauce, and simmered in a vegetable stock so rich it, well, could have been meat-based. Simple, powerful flavors done right.
Local: Mission Eatery's BLT ($8)
While this BLT didn't exactly deliver what it advertised (that lettuce is definitely not arugula), it was still a nice, flavorful sandwich. The housemade bacon was thick and well-prepared, and the tomatoes impeccable (it's hard to go wrong with tomatoes, this year). A swath of black pepper aioli lent richness, and a subtle punch of peppery flavor.
La Torta Gorda's Huitlacoche Quezadilla ($5)
La Torta Gorda's 'quezadillas' put the thin, grocery store flour tortillas-versions to serious shame. Hefty fresh tortillas are rich with melted cheese, corn, and in this case, earthy huitlacoche ("Mexican truffles"). Squash blossoms were a nice option, too, but I loved the sweet, velvety richness of the black fungus, especially with a few shakes of XXX sauce.
Kika's Treats' Brazilian Cheese Bread ($5)
Kika herself was pleased with my correct pronunciation of pao de queijo; I was even more pleased with her excellent rendition of the ubiquitous Brazilian snack. She crafts these using traditional yucca flour, and a blend of cotija and parmesan cheeses. With a perfect chewy-stretchy interior, the breads went well with the generous serving of sweet, housemade tomato jam pooled in the bottom of the cardboard container.
Hella Vegan Eats' Green Curry Paleta ($3)
In addition to digging on their NorCal repping name, I couldn't get enough of this paleta. The flavors are all there: the sweetness of coconut milk, the vegetal freshness of Thai basil, and even a hint of heat from the chili. This is exactly how I want to eat curry on a warm day.
State Bird Provisions' Hand-Pulled Garlic Bread with Burrata ($8)
State Bird Provisions is the restaurant of the moment in San Francisco right now. This dish has me ready to try just about everything on their menu. Fresh, pliant fried bread straddles the line between a doughnut and a pastry. It's laced with garlic and butter, and the crust gives way to a toothsome, yeasty interior. Topped with fresh, well-salted burrata, the added dashes of salt, pepper, and olive oil made for decadent, addictive mouthfuls.
Bahn Mi Love You Long Time's Pork Bahn Mi ($6)
Bahn Mi Love You Long Time was one of the vendors that was voted into the festival, and they were still breathless about their move from a home kitchen to La Cocina. Slow-cooked pulled pork bahn mi was generously filled with tender, flavorful pork, and the requisite pickled vegetables and jalapeno. Their baguette was spot-on—the sweet baguettes from Nob Hill Bakery in Oakland had a nice, crackly crust and softened down to balance out the sandwich's innards.
Bahn Mi Love You Long Time, Tricolored Root Slaw ($3)
Their small bite, a brightly-colored slaw of julienned vegetables, includes cabbage, daikon, carrots, peanuts, and dried cranberries. It's dressed in a Vietnamese fish sauce with vinegar and sugar.
Nombe's Takoyaki ($3)
We started joking that we could easily start a fried ball festival, with these octopus takoyaki being a prime contender for inclusion. I would have liked a little more octopus texture and flavor, but the takoyaki's doughy interior and the healthy squirts of tonkatsu sauce and wasabi aioli made for some very satisfying bites. A sprinkling of dried seaweed provided some good saltiness, as well.
Heirloom Cafe's Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie ($3)
I'm always pleased when I see the chocolate chip-oatmeal combination—why use raisins when you can use chocolate?!—and these cookies from Heirloom were standouts. Baked fresh the morning of the festival, the cookie was crisp-edged and had a nice, soft middle, and was lent a good texture and heartiness from the oats. Well-salted and studded with Guittard chocolate chips, this is a cookie I'd seek out again.
Brass Knuckle Food Truck's Goat-Go Taco ($3)
Brass Knuckle can be counted on for a couple of things: their rock 'n' roll-inspired names, and their consistently tasty grub. This Goat-Go taco (in honor of the Go-Gos, of course) was comprised of slow-cooked, nicely gamey goat, a mint yogurt crema, and a mint carrot slaw. A quick pickle of the carrots would have done wonders, but the ample amount of tender meat made this a nice $3 bite.
Swamp Shack's Crawfish Boudin Balls ($3 each)
You get a sizable fried ball from the Swamp Shack, and we saw people walking away with as many as three (they had a serious line, too). Basically Cajun arancini, these had a well-seasoned, crisp interior, and a hearty, flavorful interior. The only thing missing? Sauce. The Shack wasn't serving any, and didn't provide hot sauce, both of which would have upped the ante on these even more.
Wise Sons' Chocolate Babka, $3
Thick, hearty slices of babka are laced with chocolate and have a hint of mocha flavor.
Can you spot our Drinks editor Maggie in the crowd?