Gourmet on the Go


Sarah Maccabee

It is a sunny afternoon in Hayes Valley, and Curtis, a.k.a the “Crème Brûlée Guy”, stands next to his wooden cart, shaded by a bright red awning overhead, assisting a customer. He sprinkles some sugar atop lavender cream, fires the top to produce the hardened sugar shell that characterizes delicious crème brûlée, and sends the happy buyer along his way.

Curtis is just one of the many owners of new gourmet food carts that have begun to populate inconspicuous alleys in San Francisco’s Mission and Hayes Valley neighborhoods. The Mission has long been legendary for its burrito and taco trucks. However, these recent carts are a new breed of gourmet on-the-go good that are redefining the meaning of fast food. Foods like escargot lollipops and crème brûlée now fit under the category of cheap and fast.

One of the factors that makes launching a food cart so appealing is the current economy. The cost of establishing a brand new restaurant is far greater than that of starting a fast food cart. A restaurant entrepreneur must consider finding and paying for a venue, hiring waiters and chefs, not to mention the maintenance that goes into keeping a restaurant hygienic. For foodies who do not have the time or assets to invest in such an undertaking, the benefits of starting a cart are innumerable.

Emily Moore, a student at Brown University who graduated from Lick-Wilmerding High School in 2008, thought about starting up her own food cart last summer as a way to earn some extra money in a creative way. She developed many ideas for it. “Ideally the start up costs would be pretty small,” she says, “we had the idea that we would build our own cart after visiting the Magic Curry Kart and saw that he had fabricated a cart on the side of his bicycle. I’m not sure how much that would cost, maybe $80.”

Jessie, an employee at Spencer On the Go – a newly opened food cart branch of the acclaimed French eatery Chez Spencer, located on 14th St., – says, “we have anywhere from 50 to 70 customers a day.”

The carts offer a variety of fresh and delectable sustenance. In its September 2009 issue in an article entitled “A Moveable Feast”, Sunset magazine called cart food “the cheapest alfresco meal in town.”

Enjoy a fresh and cool tomato salad with basil or typically buttery yet delicious escargot lollipop from Spencer on the Go, or a rich, not-too-sweet lavender or coffee crème brûlée from the Crème Brûlée Cart.

The best part is that almost all of these carts are located in close proximity to each other. Their frequent movement can be difficult to follow because they go from event to event, attempting to attract more customers. Luckily, most carts have their own personalized Twitter pages, which makes it easy to find their exact locations.  Follow the latest developments on the food-cart scene at twitter.com/streetfoodsf, or head out to experience the food-cart phenomenon yourself.

Twitter information:

Magic Curry Kart Man: twitter.com/magiccurrykart

Crème Brûlée Cart: twitter.com/cremebruleecart

Sexy Soup Cart: twitter.com/sexysoupcart

Spencer on the Go: twitter.com/chezspencergo

Amuse Bouche: twitter.com/amusebouchesf