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SF Street Food Festival

Taking it to the Street

Several city blocks in the Mission will be turned over to food, drink, and fun when the San Francisco Street Food Festival returns August 21st. After an overwhelming turnout last year, the expanded festival will feature offerings from approximately 40 different street vendors, established restaurants, and even bars (thanks to Rye on the Road, Beretta and The Alembic).

Admission is free, and the event is a benefit for and celebration of La Cocina, a non-profit, community-based organization that provides technical assistance and commercial kitchen space to start-up food operations looking to formalize and expand their business.

Caleb Zigas, director of operations at La Cocina and co-founder of the festival spoke with SF Station about the festival.

SF Station (SFS): Where did the idea for the San Francisco Street Food Festival come from?

Caleb Zigas (CZ): Ever since La Cocina started, we’ve served low income and immigrant entrepreneurs, many of whom began their businesses by selling their food in the streets. We’ve long looked for a way to serve them with access to markets that were formal and legal, but were unable to find those opportunities. The SF Street Food Festival was an idea that came out of a desire to prove that those opportunities could and should exist, as well as the desire between ourselves and Jessica [Battilana] over at 7x7 Magazine to really see San Francisco catch up with other global cities that have awesome street food.

SFS: So how much planning goes into orchestrating an event of this size?

CZ: (laughing) Quite a bit more than I think we anticipated! When we did it last year, we sort of underestimated what the demand was going to be. We thought we’d just throw a little block party. This year we put a lot more effort into it, and we’re so happy and thankful that it’s all volunteer-driven, as well as driven by our clients and the partners.

SFS: How have the challenges of the first festival shaped the upcoming one?

CZ: Well, we made the space five times bigger, and we’ve been really sincere with our vendors about being prepared for the volume. We got criticized a lot last year due to how crowded it was, and a lot of people got the impression that we were only working with established restaurants when in fact, the majority of people selling at the festival are clients of La Cocina. They started by selling on the streets or their homes and have made an active decision to formalize. Some are other informal vendors who are often formalizing for the first time.

SFS: Where do the established restaurants such as Pizzeria Delfina and Flour + Water, which are not known for street food, fit in?

CZ: We use our restaurants to build out the kind of food that’s being offered. We have a vision of this festival being an annual event where you can really, legitimately taste some of the best food that’s made in San Francisco for less than $8 and come for free. The event is about street food but it’s also about really good food.

SFS: Do you have guidelines that the vendors must follow?

CZ: We have very strict rules about what they’re allowed to serve and how they’re allowed to serve it, so each item is specifically defined. A $3 or an under item is designed to be a bite, which you can eat with your hands, and an $8 item and below can require nothing more than forks and fingers. What’s awesome about the restaurants specifically is that they make a significant amount of concessions. We’re asking them to do things that they wouldn’t normally do at the restaurant, because we consider them a vibrant aspect of the San Francisco food community.

SFS: Do you have an optimal tactic for enjoying the day?

CZ: Yeah! I would come with friends, I would eat as much as possible, try as many different things as possible, and be ready to share.

SFS: Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to with this year's festival?

CZ: Absolutely. This year, El Buen Comer, who is one of our clients, is Mexico City-style food and she’s going to be doing a tostada that I’m really excited about. Another vendor, Azalina’s Malaysian, is making a really excellent curry. Aziza was incredible last year, and this year they’re doing fried chickpeas, which I think is a great little snack to be able to walk around with. And my favorite — favorite of favorites — is the bacon-wrapped hot dog. I always look forward to that.

The San Francisco Street Food Festival is August 21st 11am to 7pm. For more information, visit