Across the Peninsula, food trucks and pop-ups are, well, popping up all over the place. From yakitori-grilled skewers prepared at local breweries to regionally ranked tacos in a Redwood City parking lot, there's an abundance of good food being made outside of traditional restaurant spaces on the Peninsula. Here are five pop-ups and a food truck to consider scoping out.
Okibiyaki Kikuchi, various locations
This yakitori charcoal grill pop-up by 25-year restaurant veteran Yuji Kikuchi specializes in grilled meat and vegetable skewers cooked up at local breweries, including Alpha Acid Brewing, ShaKa Brewing and Steel Bonnet Brewing.
In 2022, Kikuchi started catering and making bento boxes. About four months ago, he began working with breweries to offer pop-up grilling.
"Most of what motivates me is that I get overwhelmed with compliments from my customers," he said in an Instagram message.
The meat menu consists of momo shio, or chicken thigh, with salt on the skin; pork belly with onion; salted gizzard; tsukune, a chicken-pork meatball with yakitori sauce; and hatsu, salted chicken hearts. Veggies include grilled king oyster mushrooms with garlic soy sauce, seared fried tofu with a citrus soy sauce, and grilled shishito peppers. The menu also includes a gua bao bun, served with a chicken and pork meatball and purple cabbage coleslaw, mozzarella onigiri – a cheese-stuffed rice ball – and a lamb chop marinated in rice bran.
The pop-up's mission is to offer "delight in every bite that's both healthy and delicious," according to its website.
Gibraltar Gems, Half Moon Bay
Gibraltar Gems pops up at Jettywave Distillery in Half Moon Bay Friday through Sunday and the first Thursday of each month.
The weekend Mediterranean restaurant is the latest by chef Jose Luis Ugalde, who with his wife Liam Durkee ran Coastside eateries Cafe Gibraltar and Chez Shea for years. The couple sold the restaurants to spend more time with their children, and Ugalde went to work as a chef at Oracle.
When COVID-19 hit and the need for on-site office lunches evaporated, he was sent home from work. One of his children got a job at Jettywave Distillery, which didn't serve food at the time. Due to the state's pandemic policies that were in place, the distillery wasn't able to open to customers without serving food. So he offered to prepare some meze platters to allow the distillery to serve customers. Since then, the menu has continued to develop and expand, and the restaurant is open primarily on weekends while Ugalde continues to cater during the week.
"The way it's going, everybody's happy," he said.
One thing he wants to highlight is the seasonality of the Mediterranean menu. On the current menu is a mesquite-grilled local king salmon, served with freekeh, arugula, tamarind and a moonshine glaze, as well as beef, chicken or cauliflower skewers served with lemongrass and coconut rice and crisp Asian salad. The menu also includes bobotie, a South African dish made with layers of cooked meat, curry and other seasonings and cooked with an egg custard topping. They also offer an antipasto platter with marinated beets, mozzarella, olives and roasted vegetables and mushrooms. The dessert menu includes a cherry-berry cobbler, flourless chocolate cake and a lemon blueberry tart. And there are often new specials depending on what's available, Ugalde said.
El Paisa by Los Alegres, Redwood City
Situated in the parking lot in front of Outdoor Supply Hardware near the Redwood City Costco, El Paisa by Los Alegres offers Mexico City-style tacos to busy shoppers. The food truck recently joined Off the Grid, and its tacos were recently ranked among the top in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Led by Jose Lasandro and Rudy Morales, the food truck opened about six months ago, according to Lasandro's nephew, Gerardo, who was helping with the cooking during a recent visit. Taquerias are a family business for Lasandro, who says he learned the craft from his father in Mexico City. With 20 years of experience himself, he says that working to open the taco truck in the U.S. has meant being on a long waitlist, dealing with permits and bureaucracy, and having to build up a customer base from scratch.
While it helps that Redwood City has a significant Mexican population, he says, that means he's also been having to compete with a lot of other taquerias in town. He says they're working to stand out with their friendly service and menu, which offers al pastor, lengua, quesabirria and suadero tacos, burritos, and papas locas, among a range of other Mexico City-style dishes. I ordered the fish tacos, which included juicy fish pieces placed atop warm corn tortillas loaded with purple cabbage, red peppers, tomato and a piquant chipotle sauce.
"We make everything from scratch. Everything is fresh," Lasandro said. "We have a lot of passion for the business."
El Paisa by Los Alegres, 2110 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, Instagram: @elpaisabylosalegres. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Ocean Malasada Company, San Mateo
The family-run Ocean Malasada Company holds weekly pop-ups at Takahashi Market in San Mateo. According to a spokesperson, the malasada makers have had connections to the market since the company was started by couple Randy and Dee Santos in San Francisco in 2016, using flavors made with ingredients purchased from the market – for instance, the crumble is made with School Kine cookies, a Hawaiian brand.
Their malasadas are hand-rolled and come in a wide range of flavors, such as guava, lilikoi, sweet cream, matcha and Nutella. Ocean Malasada Company also posts a preorder link on its Instagram account.
Nachoz, Santa Clara
Nachoz, a pop-up offering homemade nachos, sets up shop at Taplands in Santa Clara from 4-9 p.m. every Thursday, with other weekly pop-ups in San Francisco and San Jose. San José resident Anthony Vallarta said he started the business during the pandemic as a side hobby, and the venture took off.
A longtime fan of nachos who had a hard time finding ones he liked, Vallarta says he cuts and fries his own chips, marinates and cuts the meats, and tops the nachos with his wife's homemade cheese sauce recipe – which the couple has refined over the past 12 years since they made their first homemade nacho cheese sauce for a Super Bowl party.
"These are not your average nachos," he says.
Among the nacho varieties on offer have been smoked brisket, pulled pork, Philly cheesesteak, tri-tip, chicken, chorizo, and carnitas nachos. Additional toppings include a spicy jalapeño cheddar sauce and white cheese sauce. Vallarta says he's working to get a food truck up by the end of the year.
Started by two sisters last May, Mangia offers farm-to-table pop-up brunch and cocktails. They've so far worked with Pacifica locations like Table Wine and A Grape in the Fog. For Mother's Day, they offered a brunch box for two with items including quiche, potato salad, pickled vegetables, a "sort-of-Waldorf" salad, a crumble with farmers market berries, and fermented hot sauce. They also sold a pastry box with a curry scone, chocolate banana bread, a lemon bar, a panettone cookie, seasonal jam and homemade butter. All of its ingredients are sourced locally and made in-house. Check their Instagram for the latest updates.