HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Off The grid

I am coming to visit SF in April would love to know is Off the Grid worth a visit???

Off the Grid
Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've only been to one of their events and realized it wasn't for me. I don't like big crowds, waiting in long lines for food and then being told they've run out of nearly everything, etc. Just because they're food carts doesn't make them inexpensive either. I would rather go into an establishment where I can sit down, be comfortable, wash my hands before I eat, and enjoy attentive service and a full spread meal for about the same price.
    Still, if you do want to experience the mobile vending excitement, I recommend going to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's market on Thursdays or Saturdays. Some really good food cart options are based there, especially Thursdays. http://www.cuesa.org/markets/thursday

    3 Replies
    1. re: scarmoza

      I'm with Scarmoza. I REALLY don't like crowds and trying to balance my food on my knees whilst stooped on a curb.

      1. re: CarrieWas218

        All the OTG events now have chairs, a few have tables also. And on rainy days they provide a tent for cover. It's not as crowded as in the past. The largest OTG is at Fort Mason, so far it hasn't been crazy. The 2nd largest OTG is on Upper Haight (Golden Gate Park), never crowded because not much parking is available.

      2. re: scarmoza

        That's sort of how I feel about the whole food truck craze as well. It seems like at events like Off the Grid you have all of the inconveniences (no place to eat, hit-and-miss offerings) and few of the benefits (quick, cheap) of street food.

        The Ferry Building on Thursday is a whole different story. The lines aren't as long, there are places to sit (not enough, but some), most of the offerings are more meal-sized, and you have the option of supplementing from other purveyors.

        That said, a lot of people seem to enjoy it, so it's really up to you. I'd say go more for the experience than the food.

        Off the Grid
        Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123

      3. It has its charms. It's a "been there, done that" event after 1 or 2 visits.

        I like the idea of a mobile food community gathering in one place. It's kinda neat. Wide range of flavors, but most of the time it seems like you've had it before. Maybe because they mix ethnic Asian & Latin flavors in either a taco, bun, burrito, or rice plate.

        I will repeat the inconveniences other posters have mentioned. It is crowded, very crowded. They provide chairs now, but of course they're all claimed for after 30 minutes of the opening time. We've brought our own BBQ chairs and set up camp. It was fun... brought our own booze in a bag. Lines are long and by the time you order, some of the popular items are sold out.

        As a tourist who may not have food trucks in your own town, I'd say check it out. It's a total scene, which could be a bad or good thing. Depends what you want out of SF.

        I haven't been to the Haight location on Thursday, but I'd imagine it to be somewhat less hectic as Friday's Fort Mason location. Fort Mason has the full roster, while the other weekday ones are smaller. For reviews on which food truck/cart to hit up, do a search for "Off The Grid".

        1 Reply
        1. re: Keesey

          I agree with the 'been there, done that'...

          I usually went with a bunch of friends, so we could try stuff from multiple vendors...

          And we went to the OtG at Fort Mason... To maximize the experience...

          May still go again, since they're rotating in new truck/vendors... And best to go early!

        2. The Upper Haight location on Thursdays is smaller, though the day I went there were 12 trucks with enough variety to please most people. I thought it was a lot of fun, not cheap, and I would go again.

          1. if you go in a large group and have each person stand in line for each truck separately all at once, and then share together after, it can be a bit more manageable.

            1. Similar in style and happening on April 23 is the SF Underground Market, which I found was a lot more manageable.

              1 Reply
              1. re: nicedragonboy

                April's event will happen at public works which was the march venue. the evening event packs people in like sardines. there's a people counter at the door to keep the crowd within fire department regs. no doubt it's here cuz public works has a on sale liquor license.

                at the undergroun market, there are talented amateurs, bakeries who already have a storefront, and some goods that are just half baked. the calibre of some of the vendors here are below that of off the gird vendors...

              2. You may want to make alternate plans in case weather is anything like yesterday & today...cold & blustery.

                28 Replies
                1. re: ceekskat

                  It was fantastic out there tonight. And very sunny.

                  1. re: Windy

                    what did you like tonight, Windy?

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      Fried chicken from Namu; mild but tasty lemongrass pork and broken rice from Little Green Cyclo, plus their weird noodle-y basil seed drink; chicken tikka masala burrito from Curry Up Now; banana fritters with coco cream from Little Penang (Penang Garden?); seaweed and tuna onigilly; and balsamic strawberry topping on chocolate creme brulee.

                      The only real dud was a truffle and pate banh mi, mostly because the roll was too big for the filling. I didn't get to try kalbi from Namu; it was gone by the time I got back.

                      The kids liked mango lassis and all the sweet stuff. And getting to pet all the dogs (leashed and well behaved).

                      439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

                      Little Green Cyclo
                      San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

                      1. re: Windy

                        "Noodle-y basil seed drink"??? That is on my list for April 29 for sure!

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Okay, I had to get the technical term from her website: "Basil Seed Drink with Dried Longans and Grass Jelly"

                          Although the chrysanthemum tea with longan and salty lemonade were tempting too.

                          1. re: grayelf

                            I was thinking the same thing, but re the banana fritters, and i am not even a dessert person! Grayelf, i hope you're taking notes. Fried Chicken by Namu! I may have to leave work early that day so we can get there before the crowds..... thanks Windy, all sounds great.

                            439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              No problem. Looking forward to what you find. I really wanted to try the sisig nachos or fries from Señor Sisig, but we already had enough to eat.

                              I thought the fried chicken was on Namu's restaurant menu, but I don't see it. Will ask next time I'm over there.

                              For what it's worth, I also don't like crowds so we went early. And it wasn't that bad, even when we left around 6:30. We did skip the trucks with the longest lines, mostly Chairman Bao, and parked farther away.

                              Chairman Bao
                              San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                I checked when I was picking up my veggies today, and they said the fried chicken is now on the regular dinner menu at Namu. Be sure to ask for some hot sauce with it.

                                439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                  1. re: Windy

                                    dammit, i didn't get the fried chicken!! we went last night and loved it. we got there at 5:30, the weather was gorgeous, the crowd very manageable (lines didn't get crazy until 6:30 or so.) Grayelf, hubby & I shared probably 8 items or so, and i left absolutely stuffed for the evening. we started off with a duck musubi which i liked, tho the seaweed could have been crisper. the highlight for me was a japanese-style bacon wrapped hot dog with bonito shavings - really great contrast in taste and textures. we tried that basil-y drink - tasted a little too much like fresh dirt for GE's taste. i didn't want to fill up on beverages (of course, i had two beers!) we didn't love the sisig taco with longaniza and garlic rice - the rice was a little bland or one note - maybe could've just used some salt. but the egg was nice. we also had some other pork thing on plain white rice (im sorry, GE has notes, i am not remembering any of the truck names - i know this is so not useful!) which was delicious - like pork belly, i know it was filipino, savory and sweet, which i hotted up with some sriracha on the side. we had a fish taco that was very tasty with a good, thick, corn-y tortilla. we also had what appeared to be a shrimp fritter-like thing taco, and a cochinito pibil gordito. i found that pork a little dry, even though it was well-sauced. had a banana empanada which was delicious, and a huitlacoche quesadilla from El Huarache Loco, which was a bit of a disappointment because i couldn't really discern the huitlacoche, only hints of it. it wasn't bad, just not what i expected. i had a great time and would absolutely go back - music was nice, places to sit (tho we didn't) - very pleasant. just make sure to go early.

                                    1. re: mariacarmen

                                      oh, mariacarmen, I too enjoyed the duck musubi, but now that you mention it, a crispier seaweed would have been better! i also tried the spam with kimchi rice musubi. did not like that as much.

                                      I am a fan on the happy dumplings stand and also tried their onion pancake this time. not so interesting.
                                      one of our favorites is the stand with the tuna tartare over a wanton so had that again. my friends got through the chairman bao line and loved their choices. i have tried them in Japantown and liked what I got.

                                      Creme brulee stand was doing well, but when they gave us our order, the top wasn't burnt enough to our liking (completely pale) but they had no problem heating it more. we were there at 5 and the bao place had a line already! next time, i have to plan better so I can try more things. the 2 orders of musubi had me full quickly!

                                      1. re: rln

                                        the dumplings looked great. i've got tons of things to go back and try!
                                        GE wanted to to try the creme brulee guy, but even early the line was long, and i reasoned that creme brulee (while always good) is creme brulee, albeit Creme Brulee Guy has some nice different flavors - so we skipped it.

                                        1. re: mariacarmen

                                          It is really good creme brulee. You'll have to try it next time.

                                          No Malaysian banana fritters with coco cream? Or maybe they weren't there.

                                          1. re: Windy

                                            you are right, it is - i'd had it before at the SF Street Food event.

                                            banana fritters - we were saving them for last, and then of course got too full.

                                          2. re: mariacarmen

                                            No loss. Main schtick for Creme Brulee Guy is that it's sold streetside. It's not very good at all, if you're really a fan of creme Brulee.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              And yet, a LOT of people love his creme brulee. I'm only mentioning it because I've seen you post this several times now.

                                              1. re: Atomica

                                                Thank you for pointing out that I'm consistent. :-)

                                                Kidding aside, I suspect that creme brulee is one of those things, dim sum being another, where even poorly executed examples can satisfy a lot of people. At the risk of being redundant, i've said before that bad dim sum can still taste good even if it doesn't hit the heights of the genre.

                                                If I've mentioned it more than once, it's because I've tasted it more than once. Doing a search, I'm only able to find this one thread where I recommended Sweet instead.

                                                It's important to have fair balance in opinions, and there are multiple posters in this thread who don't like it.

                                                I've tried the Creme Brulee Cart product 4 or 5 times in the last 18 months or so, snagging a taste when friends have purchased them. The first time, the creme was still frozen in the center. Another had bubbles and wasn't as smooth as it should be. One time the custard was overcooked and rubbery. The formulation is not as rich and silky as better examples. And I prefer more brulee, not just the pale coloration that seems to be standard unless one protests. I wish it were better, and all I can see is that the convenience of ordering from a cart instead of a sit-down restaurant is a big part of the attraction.

                                                What do you like about the Creme Brulee Cart? I'll continue to try it when I have the opportunity, and if it improves, I'll post about it.

                                                Creme Brulee Cart
                                                San Francisco, CA, San Francisco, CA

                                                Sweet. Creme Brulee (Corte Madera Town Center
                                                )Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera, CA 94925

                                        2. re: mariacarmen

                                          It's a good thing I don't live in SF or I'd be at OTG every Friday they're open. So many choices, and generally what seems to be very high quality. Overall suggestion to vendors: make your offerings mini-size/easier to eat, as if you were serving at a cocktail party and charge a buck or two less. I'll eat more items and spend more money, promise!

                                          This is a well-organized and very civilized event, which I wish we could emulate in Vancouver. Kudos to the OTG management.

                                          I'd combed posts here and a couple of online articles to narrow the vast selection down to a few specific targets. To expand on maria's post -- and add some very quickly and awkwardly snapped photos -- we started with the cochinita pibil gordita from Chaac Mool (first pic). This was very tasty but hard to eat standing up. Next was the Peking duck musubi from Musubi Kings. It was tasty but the seaweed didn't hold up in even thr brief time it took us to consume as maria said -- ate too fast for photo! We snapped down the banana empanada (no photo) that maria nabbed from El Porteno and it was surprisingly toothsome to me. I wanted to try their mushroom filled one but I note they are inside at Ferry Plaza so will head there.

                                          Next up was the Snoop Dogg from Brass Knuckle (2nd pic) which lived up to the hype. The dog is more of a spicy sausage, and the toppings, though legion, work well together. Somewhat reminiscent of our Japadogs at home but in a niche of its own. One of the top bites of the night for all three of us. This food truck also impressed for its great service (they even changed a $100 bill for me which astonished me), short but standout menu. I wanted to try all the items listed but I only caved on one other, third pic, which was a prawn deep fried in whispy bits of carb on a taco with cilantro crema and was excellent, perfectly sized and priced at around 3 bucks for three bites (third pic).

                                          Waited in a longish line for the Little Green Cyclo basil seed beverage and it was indeed too "dirtish" for my taste, which sometimes happens with these drinks. The longan jelly was great though.

                                          Had read a rave elsewere for the garlic fried rice in the silog plates at Wow. We had a fresh calamansi juice that was refreshing (though I had to go back and get it as they missed it from our order). The longaniza taco on a flour tortilla (fourth pic) was quite dull, the sausage overcooked and served whole, would have been better crumbled in the taco application, and the garlic rice overwhelmed by the egg.

                                          The next dish I can't remember for sure which truck we got from though I think it was hapa sf. It was a generous (so generous we sent half home with maria for her SO; fifth pic) portion and had good spicing and quality pork, though it was lacking the crunchy pork ears of my favourite rendition of this iconic Pinoy dish.

                                          Next up was my top bite of the night, the unfortunately named taco de Maui from the Taco Guys (sixth pic). It was rock cod, lightly deep fried and presented quite plainly on a small tortilla. The lime, cilantro, onion and fish was a tropical taste that kinda transported me. They had three different green salsas which also made me happy.

                                          Finally we tried the huitlacoche quesadilla from El Huarache Loco. Maria hadn't tried huitlacoche before and it's not that easy to get at home but I really wish their other plates had been smaller as we got the quesadilla for size and it wasn't all that great. Too much filling (lettuce in a quesadilla?; last pic) drowned out the delicate, earthy taste of the star ingredient so it really was just hinted at.

                                          As noted, the SO and maria tried a couple of beers from Magnolia and enjoyed them very much. I made a strategic error and didn't check out Alembic's cocktail list till the lineup was stupid long, so I missed out on a gin, ginger and bay mashup that sounded amazing.

                                          We didn't have room for the banana fritters from Little Penang as noted, and the creme brulee lineup was as goofy as the Chairman Bao one from the outset. Otherwise the lineups were short to nonexistent at the stalls we visited, with the waits essentially reflecting that most everything was being prepared a la minute, as it should be.

                                          A wonderful way to spend a couple of hours early on a stunning Friday night. And we still had time to hit up Gelateria Naia in North Beach on the way back into downtown :-). The SO enjoyed the house-made straciatella very much. I just had a taste of their rose flavour which was redolent with rose water but a bit sweet for my taste. I'd like to try some of their other flavours when I wasn't so full as they seem to take their ingredients very seriously.

                                          1. re: grayelf

                                            wow, great report Grayelf! You make me want to go, and i was there with you! Doesn't the egg look great in the sisig, tho? That rice just needed more oomph.

                                            i'm hoping to take my sister there for her bday in a couple weeks. great time, thanks to you and SO!!

                                            1. re: grayelf

                                              Nice report!
                                              If u ever return to Chaac Mool, try the marinated pork with pineapple special (taco, sope or gordita) if available. Better than anything else in their menu.
                                              The Taco Guys is my favorite fusion taco truck. The delicious fish taco is their signature item, but other creative versions like curry chicken, veal tongue, and Chinese BBQ pork have been excellent too. My description doesn't do it justice, every taco has 4 or 5 components.
                                              The only other non-Mexican taco truck to impress me is one that had unagi tacos (freshwater eel). I like the prosciutto & fontina cheese empanada from El Porteno, though not much filling. It'd be too salty it had more cured ham. The carne empanada is good too, but Chile Lindo (16th street near Mission st) has the best beef version.
                                              El Huarache Loco makes good handmade tortillas and gorditas. I would order something more flavorful like lamb. 3 Sum Eats is a great new gourmet sandwich truck. And in my opinion Little Green Cyclo has been disappointing - I wanted something that could match LA's Nom Nom truck.

                                              OTG is adding more days for their smaller events (Civic Center & UN Plaza), starting next week, Mondays & Tuesdays respectively. So now except for Sunday, there's an OTG event every day of the week.
                                              Friday's OTG Fort Mason (30 trucks) remains the best and largest event, followed by Thursday's OTG Upper Haight (up to 10 trucks, but lacks parking).

                                              El Huarache Loco
                                              100 Alemany Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                              Chile Lindo
                                              2944 16th St, San Francisco, CA

                                              Chaac Mool
                                              Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                              Little Green Cyclo
                                              San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

                                    2. re: Windy

                                      went to off the grid fort mason for the first time. per your suggestion, went for the fried chicken at namu. they werent selling it at 5:30, but had it up around 6:30. Good, but not Great. The priciest thing in the entire venue ($12). Maybe because of its price, I get the feeling it doesnt get ordered as much. The brightness of the sauce layering the chicken certainly caught a lot of attention...so much so, that I decided to eat at a bench (with a great view of the golden gate!) outside the venue because i got too self concious. You get a thigh and a leg with a side of slaw. Never been to their restaurant, but their website menu says the fried chicken is $32 for two. Not sure if i would get it again given the price, but it was nice to try it out once.

                                      I also got the pollo empanada at el porteno. maybe im just used to filipino empanadas, but this didnt do it for me. bland taste, nothing extra ordinary about it.

                                      1. re: majordanby

                                        you only had two things? i'm impressed - i could never use such restraint!

                                        1. re: mariacarmen

                                          ok, i had three things. miso deviled eggs at 3 sum eats. you get 6 halved eggs for $4. I couldnt eat it all, so i ended up taking half of it back home.

                                          i went alone, so i couldnt really get more. at these types of events, always good to be in a group to get more tastes in.

                                          1. re: majordanby

                                            very true. i went a couple weeks ago with 2 people and the 3 of us managed to try about 8-9 items that we shared.

                                            1. re: majordanby

                                              Also you can split up the lines with multiple people. Otherwise it's too tempting to get everything from one truck.

                                          2. re: majordanby

                                            I'm also not particularly fond of El Porteno's empanadas, nor of Mama's Empanadas, another OtG vendor. Designer ingredients or not, they fail to satisfy the way the plump, meaty ones made by Bettina at the Tanguito Argentinian truck at Fisherman's Wharf do.

                                            2850 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                            1. re: soupçon

                                              el porteno's empanadas seem kind of skimpy. price seems to have gone up. #3.75 at san ramon farmers market lately.

                                              1. re: soupçon

                                                I like El Porteno's empanadas, and generally get at least one every time I've been by. That being said, I tried their asparagus special on Friday and it was off-putting. Even though I received a hot one from the heater, the vegetables inside had wilted and become more of a mush than anything else. It was disgusting too look at after the first bite, and impossible to finish.

                                    3. Just a note that the best way to get Off The Grid truck details is to subscribe to their weekly email. It lists all events and all trucks and tents.