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Jul 16, 2006 05:18 PM

The bells of San Pablo – Street Eats a la cart

San Pablo and Richmond are moveable feasts.

The little carts pushed down my street sell more than ice cream. The bells, horns or music are different for each vendor.

Some roll silently down streets without benefit of notice. These are usually the people selling out of their kitchen and the vehicle is usually a folding shopping cart.

While you might not live in this area, I hope this might inspire people to check out that little vendor passing on the street ... or perhaps share some of your experiences.

There is seasonality. Around Christmas there were tamales. This time of year there seems to be corn on the cob.

The routes and times depend on how many people are out in their yards. A vendor will glance down a street and if enough people are there, that’s the route. They usually sell in the evenings. During the school year they sell at lunch time.

Horns indicate food vendors and bells ice cream. Here are a few vendors:


The potato chips ($1.50) are THE street find.

Hand made and so thin you can almost see through them. The oil and chip are one. Holding one up to the light is was almost like looking through stained glass ... out of potatoes. The skin was still on thinly outlining each chip.

I ordered everything on them ... salt, a generous dollop of hot sauce and a squirt of lemon. Very good but they are so good I usually get them plain. Many vendors have these same chips so there must be one supplier. They are sold in pint-sized food storage bags.

The pale corn on the cob ($1.50) is as far away from a farm as possible, yet sweet. Speared on a stick, brushed with margarine, rolled in powdered cotija cheese (I think) and sprinkled with chili pepper – very good

Mango ($2.50) A BIG bag of dead ripe sweet juicy mango with two sticks. The first stick is speared into the pit. The other is used to eat the slices. Chili powder, salt and a squirt of lime juice are added. There is a delicious smoky flavor. This was better than the mango from Fonda. There are other types of fruit like watermelon

Most raspados ($1) use pre-crushed ice and bottled syrups in bright colors. The phony green syrup ($1) is as satisfying as a lime popsicle. Not in the same league as the raspado vendor on the corner of MacDonald and 22nd.

The PCFR guy had a grocery shopping cart with one cooler filled with the ice, another with fruit and another with the hot ears of corn. Little bags of chips were attached to the sides of the wire cart. He announced himself with six brief horn blasts


Nice grandmotherly type of woman who had one of those folding grocery carts and announced herself with a braying type of horn. The corn ($1.50) was larger than but not as sweet as PCFR Guy.

She slathers on margarine (I’m guessing), spoons on white cheese (a coarser grind) and then walks over to the curb, pointing the cob down she generously shakes on the chili powder. To my later dismay, I’d find out why she used that technique.

I finally tried those chicarrones ($1) that seem to be always sold. They are surprisingly good. AND they are NOT pork, but flour. Here’s more info.

I never did try a bag of mango here since I was attacked by the corn cob


No sound. He only showed up once around the holidays. They were a little dry and not all that great ($1).


The ice cream carts all have the same silvery bells no matter what they sell. Even though most have La Michoacana stamped on the white carts, any type of ice cream or any variety of paleta may be sold. I’m surprised at the variety of paleta brands. However, like American popsicles, they pretty much all taste the same. Some carry a nice selection of Good Humor bars. Average price is $1.25 although one vendor sold paletas for $.75.

At the end of this topic about paletas, there are a few links to newspaper articles about the rough lives these paleta vendors live.


The only motorized vehicle. He drives up and down the streets, slowing when he sees children playing in yards. The music is either Camptown Races (do, dah, do, dah) or Turkey in the Straw. I can’t imagine these guys last long at the job without going insane from listening to those tunes all day. Don’t know the prices since I never stopped the truck. Standard Good Humor type pictures of frozen ice cream treats pasted on the drivers side of the truck.

So every day the American Dream rolls past my door ... all you need to be an entrepreneur is a folding shopping cart, some snacks and sugar water.

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  1. thanks for the info RW! my friend has been searching for this corn since he had it in a place in New York. we will have to hunt down this corn lady!

    know of any other places that might sell this?

    3 Replies
    1. re: kc72

      in san francisco at 23rd street and mission there is a little cart along side walgreens, sometimes in front of Factory 2 U, and they sell corn on the cob with fixin's. their specialty is a chili mayonaise that can be great if you are in the mood.

      1. re: karoline

        Great tip, karoline ... really, welcome to Chowhound again. Thanks.

        1. re: karoline

          Thanks for mentioning this cart. I spotted it on my way to La Copa Loca on Thursday but didn't doubleback to check it out. Good to know that its worthwhile.

      2. If you drive up International Blvd in Oakland, there are lots of street vendors selling the corn. Maybe Oakland people can indicate the approximate location of vendors. They are stationary. Usually they sell fruit as well as corn. So anyone with an insulated picnic hamper might be worth checking out.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          Yeah, there are corn vendors along International, mostly between Fruitvale and 39th. There's often no indication they sell corn -- the cart usually only has fruit visible -- you have to ask for the elote, which is in a steamer underneath. BTW, they use mayo, not margerine.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            The street vendor 'secret menu' ... hidden corn.