The Guardsman – Off the Grid: food truck bazaars roam the streets of San Francisco

Since June 2010, Off the Grid, a weekly series of food truck markets, has been a mobile mecca for foodies on a budget.

Food trucks were once synonymous with over-priced, pre-packaged food only, but Off the Grid’s culinary calvary provides dinners-on-a-dime with tasty, yet affordable, alternatives to traditional fast food.

Matt Cohen, owner of Off the Grid, is the curator of 12 roaming food bazaars. To weed out the “roach coaches” from the exemplary eateries, he and his team of food consultants taste-test all menu items before truck operators are allowed to take part in his markets.

Since the operating costs of food trucks are generally low, mobile eateries are typically able to keep their chow cheap. In fact, many of Off the Grid’s a la carte items cost less than $10 — ideal for students when their wallets are as empty as their stomachs.

Off the Grid’s carnivals de cuisine have popped up in high-traffic areas with limited restaurant options igniting a food truck fad throughout the Bay Area.

“I think (street food in San Francisco) is a trend, and it’s here to stay,” Cohen said in an interview on the weblog SF Station. “I think there has been a progression from something that was sort of DIY and not full-time, to something more professional and refined.”

Off the Grid offers its penny-pinched customers more sophisticated versions of old favorites. In 3-Sum Eats’ take on the BLT sandwich, chef Ryan Scott modernized this classic with brown sugar, rosemary and black pepper-crusted bacon, roasted heirloom tomatoes, little gem lettuce, truffle aioli and cheddar cheese. Priced at $8, it is perfect for frugal bacon lovers with sophisticated palates.

A purveyor of cheap Indian eats, Curry Up Now, offers chicken tikka masala burritos for $8 each. Originally from Bombay, this burrito is made with fenugreek and turmeric rice, spiced garbanzo beans, pickled onions and chunks of roasted organic chicken in a spicy, tomato and coconut cream sauce, then wrapped in a large flour tortilla.

Voted “Best Food Truck” in SF Weekly’s readers’ poll last year, Senor Sisig serves Filipino/Mexican cuisine. Sisig’s Filipino speciality includes traditionally made pork that is boiled, broiled, grilled, fried, then sauteed with onions and served on a sizzling platter. Other variations use tofu, chicken or seafood instead.

The different cooking methods employed by Senior Sisig require all of the amenities of a traditional kitchen. In a phone interview the owner of Senor Sisig, Evan Kidera, said his truck measures roughly 22 feet from the end of the grill to the front of the vehicle.

This compact kitchen has a refrigerator, freezer, sink, microwave, grill, counter and stove — just like a regular kitchen. While his mobile kitchen is compact, it cooks up dishes with full-sized flavor.

For Sisig virgins and City College students, Kidera suggested the pork, chicken or tofu Sisig tacos: “They’re just three bucks. And they’ll be able to taste what (Senor Sisig) has to offer.”

This article originally appeared in the The Guardsman on February 22, 2012.