The August Food Fest Circuit in S.F.: A Survival Guide

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The scene at last year's first annual S.F. Street Food Fest. Photo: J. Barmann/Grub Street

Starting next week, all our summer dieting plans fly out the window as we are faced with three consecutive weekends of championship eating, beginning with S.F. Chefs, and then wending our way through the street food pantheon at the S.F. Street Food Fest, and the Eat Real Fest in Oakland. Allow us to guide you through this artery-clogging obstacle course, and tell you what you absolutely shouldn't miss. (Also, please note that Grub Street is offering you, dear readers, a friends and family discount on SF Chefs tickets — just use the code ff2010 when checking out.)

20100806_foodfests_300_1.jpgSF Chefs
When: August 10 - 15
Where: Various locations, primarily Union Square

San Francisco's answer to Aspen's annual Food & Wine spectacular is already a pretty big deal in its second year. Though the event really kicks off in earnest on Friday the 13th with the ribbon cutting at the big tent in Union Square, SF Chefs begins quietly with a few seminars next week, like Tales from the Still, a panel discussion from local distillers Alex Davis (Obsello Absinthe) and Duggan McDonnell (Encanto Pisco). Also, SF Restaurant Week starts on Monday, with special prix fixe menus between $35 and $50 at dozens of places around town.

If we had to pick one thing to attend, we'd probably point you to the opening night Hog in the Fog party, kicking off at 6 p.m. in the main tent on Friday ($75 after discount), or the Saturday night gala ($95 after discount). Both will be big fetes with lots to eat and drink — and both will be especially heavy on drinks, since in addition to various wines on offer, bar stars from around town will be mixing up specialty cocktails at multiple stations throughout the room. But if daytime events are more your speed, the grand tastings Saturday and Sunday will give you plenty to taste too, with 25 chefs serving food each day alongside brewers, distillers, and winemakers pouring pairings.

Don't Miss: Friday night's Union Square fete is followed by a big afterparty hosted by the Tablehopper at E&O; Trading Company that's sure to be a scene, and Saturday's main event is followed by a Bohemian Bash afterparty at Tyler Florence's newly opened Wayfare Tavern that will likely be an even bigger mess, given that no one will have slept much. Tickets are still available for both, and that ff2010 code will get you a few bucks off admission.

Caution: DO NOT try to do it all. The Saturday and Sunday grand tastings, while offering some different chefs and food stations, are basically mirror images of each other, and if you're going to the nighttime events you should probably skip out on the day ones and rest your livers and stomachs.

S.F. Street Food Festival
When: August 21, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Folsom and 24th Streets, and surrounding blocks

We'll just say it: Last year's fest was a shitshow, largely due to it being the first one, it got boatloads of press, and everyone in the Bay Area showed up to a two-block stretch of food stands with a beer garden.

This year, organizers from La Cocina promise a festival footprint that's seven times bigger than last year's, with four times the number of vendors (see the full list here), but if we had to guess, there'll probably be five times the people because that's just how these things work. We're prepared to be pleasantly surprised, and also to be really, really full. Admission is free, but you pay for whatever you want to eat or drink.

Don't Miss: There'll likely be some great cocktails to be had, mixed by Rye on the Road, The Alembic, and Beretta, so don't limit yourself to beer.

Caution: For god's sake, get there early. The crowd will no doubt be manageable during that first hour or two, with the place reaching a peak frenzy at around 3 p.m. Also, because much of the booze gets donated, prepare for them to possibly start running low in the evening hours. Also, for drivers in the 'hood, note that most of the streets between Folsom and Treat, 24th and 26th will be shut down from midnight Friday to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Eat Real Fest
When: August 27 - 29
Where: Jack London Square, Oakland

Partially because the S.F. fest the previous weekend had been so chaotic, Oakland's answer to a street food fest last summer was a breath of fresh air. Organized by Slow Food Nation folks and founded by Anya Fernald, Eat Real is especially fun because, like Off the Grid, it's a circling of the wagons in which food trucks get to line up along the promenade facing the Oakland Estuary, with people wandering down the line sampling their wares. It's more of a beer-focused affair, with a central shipping container serving as a huge, multi-spout kegerator, and the food vendors come from far and wide to participate -- not just from the local region.

Don't Miss: Since it's spread over three days and has a lot more breathing room, Eat Real also offers musical entertainment, and food demos all day long on everything from pickling to beer making and urban homesteading. Definitely don't miss Saturday night's butchery contest, in which competitors race to properly break down a half steer, featuring defending champs Marin Sun Farms.

Caution: It's actually sometimes sunny in Oakland, so sitting outdoors through three days of this could be a lot. Wear sunscreen, and maybe limit yourself on your first day through and come back for whatever you missed on a second day.

Earlier: What You Missed at Oakland's Eat Real Fest [Grub Street, 2009]
What You Missed at SF Chefs.Food.Wine. [Grub Street]