Long gone are the days when San Francisco’s best food was only served on white tablecloths. For a while now, newcomers and proven chefs alike have been bringing their passion and skills to the food scene as pop-ups rather than traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants.
For some, they are a springboard to bigger things—SF’s Sorrel and Oakland’s Hi Felicia are just two that started out as pop-ups. For other chefs, it’s a way to do what they love without the pressure (or overhead) of maintaining a restaurant.
From Venezuelan arepas to Hawaiian comfort food, here’s what's on the menu at some of the Bay’s buzziest pop-up restaurants.
Claws of Mantis
Claws of Mantis is a tongue-in-cheek send-up to authentic Vietnamese home cooking. But while the irreverent eatery spearheaded by former Nari chefs Kevin Tang and Kris Hoang revels in silly send-ups to Asian and computer-nerd pop culture, they don’t mess around with their recipes. Menus include dishes like grilled trumpet mushroom skewers with kombu coconut caramel glaze, cod congee with ginger and seaweed barley sauce, and chicken wings stuffed with ground pork, glass noodles and shiitakes.
Find Claws of Mantis Friday and Saturday nights at the Joint Venture Kitchen (advance reservations required), and occasionally joining forces with other pop-up and brick-and-mortar restaurants around the city.
// Joint Venture Kitchen SF, 167 11th St (SoMa), clawsofmantis.com
Chef Michelle Nazzal’s grandmother taught her the foodways of her Palestinian heritage, but retooling the recipes into vegan delights, that was all Nazzal. After a year in business, her pop-up Mishmish is beginning to get the attention it deserves. In her cooking, Nazzal evokes the flavors of Palestine with kifta made with plant-based meat, labna made with cashews, and muhalabiya made with oat milk.
Get a taste at Oakland’s Super Juiced on Wednesdays from 11am to 2pm and on Saturdays from noon to 6pm at Berkeley’s Vinca Minor Winery.
// Super Juiced, 540 9th St (Oakland), Vinca Minor Winery, 1335 4th St (Berkeley), instagram.com/mishmishsouq
Hawaiian comfort food is on the menu at 2x4 bBox, the San Francisco pop-up with co-owners Sean Walsh and Kelly Teramoto (formerly of Mister Jiu’s) at the helm. Their menus are an ode to the islands with dishes like spicy somen noodles, hoisin barbecue ribs, and chicken katsu sandwiches. Teramoto, a pastry chef with an impressive resume, crafts bread pudding rolls and desserts like lilikoi (passion fruit) cheesecake.
The duo doesn't have a regular weekly location but they pop up frequently, either all on their own or in collaboration with other chefs and cocktail crafters, at places like High Treason, Fig & Thistle, The Sea Star, and Nisei.
// For details, go to instagram.com/2x4_bbox.
Arepas En Bici
While other restaurants were shutting down operations in April 2020, Arepas En Bici was just getting started. Combining his two passions, cooking and cycling, chef Victor Aguilera began delivering the Venezuelan street food of his childhood by fixie. Two years later, his eatery Arepas En Bici has evolved into regular pop-ups—at restaurants like Mayes Oyster House in the Tenderloin—that produce mountains of empanadas, tequeños, and arepas with a healthy dollop of guasacasa sauce (a Venezuelan salsa made with onion, cilantro, jalapeno and avocado).
Check Arepas En Bici’s website for upcoming events.
After earning rave reviews from the SF Chronicle’s Soleil Ho and other Bay Area big wigs, chef Anthony Salguero’s Popoca is already well on its way to opening a brick-and-mortar location. Until they do though, the El Salvadoran eatery will be popping up most Tuesday nights through May at Oakland’s Low Bar.
Be among the last to get to know Salguero’s handmade pupusas and Salvadoran soul foods (think chorizo con yucca and enchiladas stuffed with fire-roasted corn, watercress, black beans and crema) before Popoca becomes a household name.
// Low Bar, 2300 Webster St (Oakland), popocaoakland.com
Pastry chef Eric Chow’s fluffy, gooey coffee cinnamon rolls began turning heads back in the darkest days of Covid. But you don’t need a worldwide pandemic to fall for the Tartine and Bar Agricole alum’s brand of stunning sweets.
On Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 10am, Chow and his pastries—which include everything from hot cross buns with candied fruits to yellow corn pudding with red nicuatole and pink mole—pop up at the Mission’s Excelsior Coffee (pre-order online). Keep an eye on his Instagram for other pop-up events and collaborations.
// Excelsior Coffee, 4495 Mission St (Mission), instagram.com/astrandabakery
La Huerta Tacos
Every other Monday and Tuesday, the schnitzel and kasespätzle at Alameda’s Speisekammer take a back seat while La Huerta Tacos climbs behind the wheel. The pop-up by Mexican-raised chef Felipe De La Rosa is inspired by his mother, Doña Carmen, and the magic she made in the kitchen of their home in Zacoalco de Torres, Jalisco.
At La Huerta, De La Rosa combines fresh, local ingredients with traditional preparations to create tacos stuffed with cochinita pibil and queso birria, as well as quesadillas, enmoladas and ceviche. Check their website for specific dates and current specials.
// Speisekammer, 2424 Lincoln Ave (Alameda), lahuertatacos.com