What did I say? The SF Underground Market is the worst-kept secret for a secret underground market, and now it’s been shut down by the health inspector for not being secretive enough. It’s a shame, I truly hope the good folks over at SF Forage can find an alternative route to feeding our gaping maws with delightful treats from Bay area upstarts. Fortunately, I was there at the very last market in June. My bestie Julie was visiting and we pretty much ate our way through the city, stopping at the market during the day when it was wonderfully less busy but still vibrant and drool-enducing.
We started with fabulous veggie tamales from Tamales Oaxaca. They were moist and dense with a perfect amount of cheese in the veggie filling. Topped with a refreshing slaw and not-too-spicy salsa, these were satisfying and packed with flavor.
I can’t speak highly enough of the amazing – AMAZING – hand held (or shirt-pocket) pies from Desperation Bakehouse. This was their first (and unfortunately last) foray to the market, and they came with guns a-blazing. Julie and I tried a savory and a sweet pie – the English pea puree pie and strawberry and lemon pie. The pea puree was sweet, herby, and vegetal with a hearty but flaky crust. The crust is what really made these pies perfect, not too light to become dust but not overly chewy and dense – these were like the golden crust of a Southern biscuit yielding to a buttery rich crumb underneath. The strawberry and lemon pie was a revelation – the balance of sweet and tart was brilliant, and the sugar-studded crust wasn’t overly sweet but had a nice crunch. I was so enamored of them, I went back and bought two more for Adam and B for later that night because they HAD to taste these.
We were happy and full, but we didn’t stop. Oh, no. And I’m so glad that we pushed our gut to the limit because we definitely, definitely needed to have the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milk flavored frozen custard from frozen kuhsterd. In one moment, I was a blissed out kid watching Saturday morning cartoons with a bowl of milk leftover from that particularly wonderful sugar-bomb cereal. Oh, and did we want to add some of that not-quite-cinnamon, not-quite-toast but definitely crunchy cereal to the top of our custard? Hell yeah we did! Oh, SF underground market, you bring me such delight and I can’t wait for you to come back to us in whatever way is possible.
The night before, we had made our way to Fort Mason for the largest weekly gathering of Off the Grid SF, a street party with the best local food trucks. It was chilly and packed with hungry hordes of foodies and photographers, with live music, beer, and beautiful people checking out what everyone else is eating. It was rather dark to take photos, so I didn’t get to capture the revelatory croissant-like buttery and flaky wild mushroom empanada from El Porteno, but trust – it was glorious. And we didn’t have the patience to stand in the ridiculously long lines for Korean tacos and Indian burritos (this time). But we did try out the curious call of Hawaiian-Chinese-pan-Asian food at IZ IT. Julie had the tofu musubi, a non-greasy crisply fried (panko-breaded?) tofu with rice and wrapped in seaweed. Usually I only see spam musubi, so the fact they had tofu was awesome, but even better was that the tofu was packed with flavor and had obviously been marinaded in some delicious sauce.
I had the same crisp fried, savory tofu over lettuce with hot sauce and refreshing cucumber as a sort of Hawaiian/Japanese/Mexican taco fusion thing. I don’t know how to categorize it but the flavors were on point.
We have to start the way we finished, so another tamal at hand, this one from Chaac-Mool. They served up a ginormous moist and dare I say fluffy tamal with spinach and cheese and whole corn. Topped with piquant salsa and dusted with more queso, it was really filling and very flavorful. Tummies sated, we reverted to our happy places – shoulder to shoulder with other good-food hunters, bracing against the chill of the San Francisco bay wind.