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Off the Grid, Oakland CA

a dozen trucks came out tonight!

a dozen trucks came out tonight!

You can count on variety when you go to Off the Grid.  Small mobile food businesses from all over the Bay come together with the help of this organization, which coordinates space, permits, garbage service, and live music.  On a section of 10th St next to the Oakland Museum of California, every Friday from 5 to 9 pm admission to the gallery is half price, local beer and wine are featured, and music has an actual stage and lighting.  With the acoustics of the buildings, the music floated all the way up from the bottom to the top of the block, entertaining all the diners out for the evening.

Kasa Indian, Sanguchón, Señor Sisig, WhipOut!, The Architect’s Kitchen, and KoJa Kitchen were half of a dozen vendors with broad and popular menus.  We confess, we got here with a little less than two hours before closing, so we didn’t get to try everything but we did what we could.

rice plate with chicken masala and palak aloo

rice plate with chicken tikka masala and palak aloo

Zach hasn’t had Indian food except for once, so he’s not an expert by any means on typical flavors of the subcontinent, but August felt the spices used by Kasa Indian were as authentic as they get.  In fact, we were so swept up with the flavor, August forgot to snap a picture of the truck, so thank you, Kasa Indian, because we’ve borrowed one of your images for our collage above.  And clearly, thank you for an impressive entree.  The masala sauce was spicy and rich over the tender, juicy chicken.  For how simple spinach and potato may seem, the palak aloo was deep in flavor.  The crew is definitely well trained in their preparation of Indian cuisine, because even the pickled onion and fresh, refreshing cilantro sauce were tasty condiments.

Sanguchón offers up sandwiches with Peruvian flair.  A sanguchería is a Peruvian sandwich shop, traditionally serving the types of sandwiches you might want at late hours of the night after lots of drinking.  We can imagine that this pan con chicharrón would win favor with native peruanos.  In fact, it is pretty special indeed because we noticed a plaque indicating that Sanguchón is a Peruvian ambassador in recognition for its representation and dedication of this sandwich with sliced pork loin, fried yams, marinated onions in lime juice, and crema de rocoto. Another type of sandwich we picked up here was the buttery, light cookies with dulce de leche.  These were a nice treat for each of us when we got home.  If you’re looking for an all-in-one meal with meat, vegetables, and bread, this is the thing to try.

señor sisig burrito

“señor sisig” burrito

The Filipino burrito from Señor Sisig was familiar in the basic burrito sense, but there were a few elements that made it new and zesty.  The adobo garlic rice, pinto beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cilantro cream sauce combined for a slightly spicy yet slightly sweet flavor mix, with savor throughout as it was packed with garlic.  This is a mild fusion of a Mexican-American burrito with Southeast Asian ingredients, so it is perfect for those with a craving but wanting to jazz up the taste experience.  The truck spends a lot of its time in San Francisco during lunch, so keep an eye out.

split pea fritter slider

split pea fritter slider

August wished the split pea fritter slider from WhipOut! was bigger.  Sure, she could go back in line to get more, but the line was long since the food is that good, and she still needed room for items from other trucks.  Being a vegetarian option in respect to Oakland Veg Week, of which Sunday is the last day (we had no idea it was going on until tonight), this was super delicious and further proof that vegetarian food isn’t always bland.  The patty was made from split peas and risotto rice, with a crispy exterior and creamy yet filling center.  The mild Serrano relish was sweet and tangy, and the garlic aioli added an extra richness.  Mustard greens were a surprising lettuce alternative, and the delicate brioche bun was perfect for keeping it all together.

the works

the works

ArKi (The Architect’s Kitchen) is all about fried chicken.  We almost got individual pieces of chicken, but we wanted to see what they would serve it with; we tried it in a sandwich called The Works.  All the sandwiches come on Acme Torpedo rolls, and The Works boasted coleslaw, hash browns, and sweet n’ spicy aioli.  This is likely a college-student favorite.

Zach was lured to the KoJa Kitchen truck when the kamikaze fries flashed on the flat-screen display, then August saw the mochimisu.  He enjoyed the crosscut fries with Korean barbecue beef, sauteed onions, kimchi, green onions, Japanese mayonnaise and the house’s special red sauce.  The mochimisu, though, blew both of us away.  It was definitely a traditional tiramisu as far as the main ingredients go, but the one variance was the addition of chocolate mochi.  The mochi soaks up the coffee-flavored alcohol, blending in taste-wise with traditional tiramisu, yet the gummy texture is a layer of newness and innovation that made this dessert really stand out.  Heads up, tiramisu lovers!  Track down this truck and try it for yourselves.

off the grid 030

We’ve gone to two Off the Grids and among 20 trucks total now, we only saw one repeat.  We are very much looking forward to future jaunts in order to try more of the Bay’s diverse foods from some very creative minds.  High five to the band, you were really spirited and maintained your energy through the evening!  And thank you, Off the Grid crew, for keeping a big supply of chairs so that anyone who wanted to sit, could.  Being able to sit when eating makes a big difference in the enjoyment of the food.  See you guys again soon!

La Piñata, Concord CA

La Piñata Restaurant is talked about a lot in Concord, and we didn’t realize they have a total of ten locations throughout the Bay Area.  Today we learned why it’s popular: everything is fresh.  If it wasn’t grilled or prepared right then-and-there, it was made in the morning.  Our waiter César was very proud speaking of the quality and freshness here, and it’s justified.

surprise salad (not on the menu)

surprise salad (not on the menu)

August ordered an entree that was listed to come with standard Mexican sides of beans, rice, picked carrots, and tortillas.  The beans are refried, unless you request black or pinto – it’s nice that they offer three styles of beans.  Not listed as a side, though, was a green salad.  She was a little surprised when César asked her what dressing for her salad (blue, of course), and Zach was impressed by the variety of greens when it came.  There were not too many croutons since they also added sunflower seeds, which added a pleasant crunch and nuttiness.

bistec al café

bistec al café

Then came this huge platter.  We wondered what would happen if two people ordered plates this big, side by side.  Another surprise not on the menu was the well done grilled green peppers and onions laying over the steak.  Bistec al café (a good choice, according to César) is thinly sliced top sirloin, marinated in 100% blue agave tequila, and grilled with chipotle and ground coffee.  The char is good and the flavor is curiously dark with nice spices, but it’s not particularly spicy.  This is definitely one of their specialties.  Another deep flavor is the mole over a cheese enchilada.  The mole sauce is rich with chilies, nutty and robust from the chocolate, with a smooth texture.  Next time August might order a second mole enchilada.

super famoso burrito

super famoso burrito

Okay, so burritos technically aren’t Mexican food, we know that.  But they have become equated with “Mexican cuisine” due to the melding of our cultures.  Zach was not prepared for this super to be as super as it was.  It was big.  Topped with classic red enchilada sauce, lettuce, and cotija cheese, he appreciated that the guacamole and sour cream were on the side to be dipped into at will instead of on top of the burrito and melting prematurely from the heat.  Rice and beans were wrapped up inside with chicken – of which he had two choices, grilled or stewed (he went with grilled).  Pico de gallo salsa is something Zach doesn’t usually like, but here it’s made fresh daily and he enjoyed it: the vegetables were still crisp, the tomatoes hadn’t broken down, and the cilantro was strong in flavor.  There was a nice ratio of meat to beans to rice, and it helped that the burrito was rolled properly.  Zach has worked at a taquería before, but he says that “the red enchilada sauce was one of the best I’ve had, if not the best.”

We didn’t see a need to take a picture of the chips and salsa that were brought to us first, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t good.  Like we said earlier, everything is fresh, and that’s including the chips and salsa.  All the staff here is super friendly and they work well as a team supporting each other.  The decor is visually appealing, and don’t forget that they’re also known for being a tequila bar – it’s incredible how many high quality bottles they have on display.  Zach’s looking forward to going some night to try a margarita.