This Saturday, La Cocina (2948 Folsom Street) hosted it’s 3rd Annual San Francisco Street Food Festival in the Mission and by all accounts it was a roaring success. THE event for any self-avowed ‘foodie’, the 2011 incarnation was nothing short of a culinary odyssey, the direct result of colossal preparation and spirited cooperation between the more than 70 local and national vendors lining the sidewalks of Folsom Street this weekend. So many insanely enticing booths to taste in so little time, I almost felt cheated that I had but one afternoon in this ultimate gastronomic getaway.

It dawned on me that I was going to have to pack as much flavor as healthy digestion would permit into a few precious hours. What ensued was a magical San Franciscan binge of epic proportions–one that I’ll never forget. I left feeling full, not only from the cornucopia of cuisines I had just systematically devoured, but from the diverse array of creative minds that had converged on the Mission that day, each bringing with them stories as eclectic and inspired as the dishes they prepared. Here are some brief highlights (more details to follow throughout the week):

Many popular ‘brick-and-mortar’ restaurants from throughout the city came to the fest with condensed menus highlighting the fare that made them famous. Nombe (2491 Mission Street) was a big hit with their sweet and spicy Togarashi Chicken Wings but made an even bigger splash with their ever-appealing Takoyaki Octopus balls.

Executive Chef David Taylor from the perennially sensational A16 (2355 Chestnut Street) was showcasing his obscenely juicy Duroc Pork Meatballs–one of the best single bites I had all day, and the hallmark of the Marina hotspot’s recurring Meatball Mondays. Known for his impressive assortment of southern Italian specialities, Taylor said of the dish he choose for the Food Fest that he decided to go with something that he “didn’t have to dumb down but that would still be naturally fast” to keep the lines moving.

But if your preference was for meatballs in sandwich form, Beretta (1199 Valencia Street) had you covered with a plump and delectable Marinara Meatball Slider to go along with a crisped medley of lightly-battered, deep-fried green veggies.

By early afternoon, throngs of people had jam-packed the residential blocks of Folsom between 22nd and 26th streets, eager to try many of the culinary newcomers that can only be found at events like these. Places like Good Foods Catering are typically only available at local farmer’s markets, where they dish out their saucy and savory pulled pork sandwiches to the hungry masses.

Aside from a bevy of bites small and large, many vendors offered refreshing beverages like the Blackberry Shrub n’ Soda from 15 Romolo, or the invigorating, naturally-fermented ginger ale from Sodacraft.

Desserts weren’t in short supply but in rather high demand at Claire-Squares, where crunchy, chocolate-laced shortbreads were topped with vanilla ice cream and then smothered in an irresistible, brandy-caramel sauce. Nearby, Kika’s Treats were hand-roasting their gourmet take on s’mores, but they weren’t the only booth to brandish the torch: legendary street vendor Creme Brulee Cart was also on-hand flaming up the delicately-hardened custard crusts of their Honey Vanilla and Yes, Please! varieties.

If it’s creative condiments that float your fancy, there was the conscientious cuisine of the Love & Hummus Co. offering their flagship organic roasted lemon and thyme hummus to zestfully animate the crunch of homemade, freshly-fried pita chips.

Familia Del Sol ladled out their signature salsas to a seemingly unending line of satisfied customers. Co-owner Arcelio Zepeda shared with me his gratitude to La Cocina for providing his small business the opportunity to gain immediate traction by utilizing their Incubator Program, which helps fledgling start-ups get on their feet. It was a common theme with many of the hard-working entrepreneurs I talked to this Saturday: a smiling face accompanied by a side of graciousness reserved for the community that makes such a memorable event possible.