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Ferry Building Street Food

A Road to Success

San Francisco is no stranger to the concept of street food, and new interpretations are popping up with such frequency that it’s hard to keep track.

While running across town to a just-disclosed-via-Twitter location is novel and often quite rewarding, sometimes you just want a solid meal without the work. In the shade of the Ferry Building’s iconic tower with the bell tolling overhead, a reliable alternative is proving to be an essential lunch spot.

In July 2009, The Ferry Plaza launched a street food-focused Thursday Farmers Market operating from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. yearround. Long-standing Saturday favorites RoliRoti and Cap’n Mike’s Holy Smoke join the vendor lineup, while newbies (below) round out the diverse and varied options. With most choices clocking in at under $10, dependability never tasted so good.

Pizza Politana

Joel Baecker and Naomi Crawford have been slinging pies at several different Bay Area markets, but here, pizza is made to order in six minutes, courtesy of a custom-built trailer carrying an authentic Neapolitan wood-fired oven. With a thin but dense, almost pie dough-like crust sporting excellent char and bubbles blistered with the faint scent of wood smoke, Pizza Politana offers classic Margherita ($8) and Pepperoni ($10) pizzas as well as a weekly market special featuring farmers market produce. One week you might find an exceptional Star Route cavalo nero and Fra’mani spicy sausage pizza with ricotta salata; on another, caramelized Green String Farm broccoli and onions hugged right up to the pizza’s edge, with chilies, dry-cured olives, and scattered feta ($12).

However, on offer until noon or until they run out, the Margherita — with its straightforward, sweet tomato sauce, basil, and dollops of fresh mozzarella — can be made into a breakfast pie with the addition of a farm egg (add $2) and bacon (another $2). Cut into squares with the egg yolk framed in the center, that golden, quivering middle piece is worth fighting for.

4505 Meats

Ryan Farr has quickly gained a reputation for celebrating all parts pig, and his unpretentious lunch menu prepared largely on the grill demonstrates his ability to manipulate all things meat.

The exceptionally crunchy bacon-wrapped corndogs ($6) garner praise when they appear, as do the chicken beer sausages made with local Magnolia Brewery’s Prescription Ale ($7). The menu’s mainstay, the SF Golden Dog ($5), is smoky with a slightly spicy finish, but it’s a whole other beast when ordered ’Zilla style (add $3). Spackled with sauce, kim chee, fresh scallions, and then topped with Farr’s legendary chicharrones, half of the reward is simply getting it in your mouth.

In an inspired take on the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich ($9), crispy chicken-fried trotters and shaved head cheese are offset by the pop of fresh chilies, cilantro, and the sweet tang of a daikon carrot slaw cradled in an Omega Bread baguette. But it was the cheeseburger (single $7, double $9), not much different on the outside than any other, that stole our hearts.

At once compact and hearty, and as messy as it is delicious, it’s everything you might hope a cheeseburger could be. Farr grinds grass-fed Magruden Ranch beef and ages it 21 days before topping the patty with Mezzo-Secco American-Jack cheese and his own special sauce. Garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion, it’s the homemade bun — buttery like a brioche and flecked with sesame seeds — that makes this union so harmonious. With a firm shell that just barely holds together long enough to soak up all the beefy goodness, this may be one of San Francisco’s best burgers. Wash it all down with the refreshing ginger lemonade ($3).

Namu

Brothers Dennis, David, and Daniel Lee run the Korean/Japanese restaurant in the Richmond district of the same name, and if the long line stemming from their stand is any indication, Namu has quickly become a market favorite.

The paper plate nearly buckles under the mound of kim chee fried rice ($8) studded with bacon, shredded nori, and bits of green onions, and the okonomiyaki ($7) — a griddled pancake made from tempura flour, cabbage, and seasonal vegetables — is barely visible beneath its panoply of toppings. Traditional tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie mayo zig-zag across the surface in a heavy-handed lattice, and bonito flakes and green onions are dropped in a casually artful heap. Both options are substantial, hangover fare, made divine with the addition of a fried egg (add $2).

Even so, it’s the Korean tacos (two for $5) that steal the show. Cubes of smoky-sweet marinated short rib fringed with crisp bits from the grill rest on whisper thin sheets of toasted nori and white rice. Sesame seeds, scallions, diced tomato, and spicy kim chee mayo crown the whole affair. The dish is so popular, it’s been added to the restaurant’s regular menu.

Tacolicious

Rather than agonize over which taco to try, do yourself a favor and order three ($9). Mounds of uber-moist “shot-and-a-beer” braised chicken meet the bite of chopped onions and cilantro heightened by a squeeze of fresh lime; guajillo-braised beef short ribs bathe in a sauce so luscious it’s a good thing the fresh tortillas made by Las Palmas are double stacked. Skip the dry carnitas, but if lengua is on the menu, make sure to order two.

Grilled corn-on-the-cob rubbed with ancho chili and lime and a vegan taco with black eyed peas, peppers, and nopales ensures everyone has something to eat. Two agua frescas ($4 each) made from farmers market fruits always appear, but the Jamaica hibiscus flower citrus punch ($3.50) should be mandatory.

The bottom line…

Astonishingly, lunch can end there, but it doesn’t have to. Satisfy a sweet tooth with Arlequin’s pastries or Scream’s sorbet, and don’t leave without a cup of Blue Bottle coffee grasped firmly in hand. Go with a friend. Go early. It might just be the perfect Thursday.


Thursday Street Food Vendors
One Ferry Building (Embarcadero @ Market)
10am-2 pm Thursday
Street Food
Embarcadero
Reservations Essential? No.