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J-town Cherry Blossom Fest [San Francisco]

Did anyone swing by yesterday and if so, what was the food scene like and was it really crowded and hectic? I'm thinking about walking over this afternoon to check out the food carts and booths and was curious if it'd be worthwhile from a hungry guy wanting good cheap lunch pov!

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  1. Very, very crowded with the nice weather. In some cases, a one-hour wait for mediocre stir-fry.

    1 Reply
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      I just got back... the only thing worth noting is the $7 grilled unagi rice bowls. Luckily, there was zero wait as they're all (freshly) prepackaged so you pay and grab one from the table in under a minute. It was quite good.

      My wife had a pretty crappy udon (I thought so anyway, she liked it) and I sampled a rubbery and mostly fried takoyaki skewer and korroke from one of the mediocre restaurants up on the main promenade who had set up an outdoor table. After purchasing, I asked the guy where the other vendors were located and he played dumb, suggesting there were only a couple of hot dog stands down below. When we walked down to Fillmore where the food stations were located, there was a popular booth advertising takoyaki with a drawing of a giant octopus, but filled with meat. Strangely, there were lines wrapping around the street for this. Next door was a gyoza stand. Then further down there was a booth selling spam musubi, which I'm not a fan of. There were also booths offering yakisoba and soba (neither looked particularly good) and some Japanese style hot dogs and hamburgers. The hot dogs actually looked great, but I wasn't in the mood. There was a 40 minute lineup for some red bean buns too, which seemed crazy to me. I got a store-bought green tea ice cream which was not very good and then we left as it was way too crowded and uncomfortable in the sun. I'd say it's worth stopping by for a bowl of unagi next weekend, if you happen to be nearby. Not worth going out of your way for. The booths were not that cheap for what they were peddling. I think some of the neighborhood restaurants were offering specials and lunch discounts though, to try and compete with the street food vendors.

    2. I did. It was indeed very crowded. The food scene was a joke due to its mediocrity (an even bigger joke than SF's 'Japan Town' itself).

      5 Replies
      1. re: mutton biryani

        Funnily, all the food booths seemed to be in the exact same places I remembered them being 2 or 3 years ago. The JapaDog style dogs looked good, but we ultimately agreed that nothing else was even worth pursuing. There was a storefront next to the Kabuki where a vendor was selling real octopus takoyaki, but we weren't feeling that either.

        1. re: bigwheel042

          I tried it and you didn't miss anything. The guy tried to suggest that there were no other Japanese food vendors, despite what someone else in line was telling us. This was before we walked down past the beer garden to the booths. Anyway, the takoyaki was mostly fried batter and rubbery tasteless octopus inside.

          1. re: OliverB

            Aw, they had a beer garden now? Admittedly, it's been a while since I've been out to the festival, but I seem to recall that the J-town street festivals were the last to avoid beer gardens for beer drinking.

            Thanks for the review - we were thinking of going next weekend... and now... I am thinking of maybe not going next weekend. (Looking for an Easter meal with the mother-in-law without being too Easter-y).

            1. re: Shibi

              More like an overcrowded Sapporo booth... we just popped in to buy a couple of raffle tickets to support the local community and made a quick round of the area. I found the crowds overbearing so we left soon after. I enjoyed the unagi bowl that I had though I wouldn't go out of my way to return.

              1. re: Shibi

                Trust me, you would be wasting your time.

        2. Frankly the food at the CBF has never been worth a long wait in a line. I like the CBF and like supporting community events but I'll just do so without visiting the food booths.

          If there's no wait, no problem but still don't expect anything special. The booths are mainly run by non-profit and community groups who cook that stuff maybe 2-3x a year. (I've helped out in the past.)

          Also, forget about driving there. Public transpo is the way to go.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ML8000

            I go every year because my kids love the event.
            I agree the food is nothing special.
            I rather go up the street and eat at Roam burger or Woodhouse.

            We went to the J-pop festival last year which had a nice lineup of food trucks.

          2. Terimayo Hotto Dogu by Church of Perfect Liberty

            I scoped out the food booths at 11:30a this morning, no sizeable lines anywhere other than for the perpetual wait for imagawayaki. Church of Perfect Liberty's booth offered Spam musubi and hotto dogu's. Available in three topping options, I picked the terimayo dog, $5, dressed with braised onions, teriyaki sauce, seaweed, and Kewpie mayonnaise.

            Quite a nice hot dog. Tasted like all beef and grilled so it had some crispness to it, but no natural casing. The bun was toasted but just a standard supermarket bun. A bit too heavy a hand with the teri sauce, making the overall piece too salty. The onions were braised till sweet and spiked with black pepper, and I could have used a bit more mayo. Nicely toasted, crisp nori. All in all, good for festival food.

            1. Imagawa Yaki by Konko Church

              I'm a sucker for imagawayaki and get in line whenever I see them offered. And that would only be at festivals like this one. My favorite are at the Buddhist temple in Sebastopol because they make the red bean paste themselves.

              Today's come close because I saw them pounding bean paste here too. They're 3/$5. The pancake part was just a big underdone and doughy. The booth has a line monitor and the wait was not long before noon. Very pleasant 70 degrees and breezy today.

              1. Hula Dog by Rotary Club San Francisco Chinatown

                Though I'd already indulged in one hot dog, the folks standing curbside eating them seemed to be enjoying the hula dogs greatly, so I had to try one and split it with my sister. I'm glad I did.

                I asked if the Hula Dog, $5.50, used linguica (Hawaiian portuguese sausage). Nope, this features a natural casing pineapple sausage. Coarse-ground and large, similar to a Polish dog, these were split and grilled. The small oval pan with crisp crust similar to a French roll was grilled too. The dog's dressed like a banh mi with pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, and canned pineapple. The whole thing overflowed the bun and was not easy to eat.

                This was a really tasty combination, and came with a small serving of ruffle potato chips. I'd like to see this as a regular item on a menu somewhere.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Today there were no lines, and I was hungry, so I decided to try the pork Lumpia from a booth and 'spicy' grilled ribs with Kimchi from a fireman's booth .
                  I was pleasantly suprised, both were pretty good.

                  1. re: Agrippa

                    One needs to be selective, as there's plenty of bad food on offer, but I was happy with the things I chose. The firefighters' Korean-style ribs were good and a bargain at $7. I also really liked the hula dog.

                    Walking away, I noticed that San Wang, the Korean-Chinese restaurant on Post St. had a table in front of its place selling lunch boxes. They had been $8, then marked down to $7, and as the parade crowd thinned out, they were hawking them for $5.

                    Generally, I've found at two-day weekend events, attendance is much lower on Sundays. I don't know about last weekend, but it was this case this week here.

                2. Bento Box by Ramen Yamadaya

                  After Sunday's parade, I wandered around some more to find dinner. Ramen Yamadaya had a table in front of its entrance selling bento boxes, $10, and some snacks. I asked which of the items are NOT on its regular menu, and chose the box with the potato croquette and fried Spanish mackerel because they're for the festival only.

                  The fried shrimp was overcooked, but the croquette and Spanish mackerel were done quite nicely. A wedge of lemon, tonkatsu sauce, and soy sauce were provided as condiments. Shredded cabbage dressed with a sesame vinaigrette, cucumber pickles, steamed rice, and an orange slice filled out the box. Not bad for $10.

                  Cherry Blossom Parade 2014

                  1. SFFD Hot Ribs by Asian Firefighters

                    I had eyed this booth the first go-round and circled back later. They were handing out samples at the end of the day and there were only about six people in line, so I became a customer. $7 for a plate of Korean-style short ribs cooked by a San Francisco fireman over mesquite served with kimchi seemed like a deal to me.

                    The plate I got was a little more charred than the sample I tried. Still good, marinated enough but not totally obscuring the beef flavor with sugar. And the mesquite charcoal adds its own signature. The kimchi was nothing special, but all in all, this was a satisfying plate.

                    1. Wafu Dogi by Pine United Methodist Church . . . to be complete, there was another hot dog vendor the first weekend only of the festival. Here's the promo video: