For the food enthusiast, fall in the Bay Area means bacon-wrapped hot dogs, pumpkin pie eating contests and ungodly quantities of garlic noodles scarfed out of a little paper tray. In other words, it’s peak food festival season—or at least it was until the past two years, when COVID safety concerns cancelled most of these gatherings outright and forced others to shrink themselves down into Zoom- and takeout-friendly form.
It’s a sign of how far we’ve come, then, that most of the biggest and most beloved fall food festivals and other food-related events are back in full force—and fully in person—this year. Make no mistake: We’re still in a pandemic, and it’s important to be mindful of other festival-goers’ safety and comfort level. (Don’t let anyone shame you for wearing a mask!) But if you’ve been looking forward to standing in a line with a couple dozen other lumpia lovers or vegan ice cream aficionados, we’ve got some great options for you.
Church of the Holy Cross, Belmont
Sept. 3–4, noon–10pm
Michelin-starred restaurants are fine and all, but real connoisseurs of cuisine know that some of the most memorable eating happens not on white tablecloth but at the church (or mosque or temple) festival—the kind of paper-plate, bring-your-own-Tupperware affair where Uncle and Grandma trot out their most sacred family recipes. Hence the enduring popularity of the Belmont Greek Festival, which this year celebrates both its 50th anniversary and its first year back in person since the start of the pandemic.
Hosted by the Church of the Holy Cross, the fully volunteer-staffed festival is returning with a full slate of live music and traditional dancing (“Opa!”), but like any church festival worth its salt, food will be front and center—big, gut-busting plates of spanakopita, gyros and lasagna-like beef pastitsio, which visitors can enjoy on the church’s outdoor “platia,” made to resemble a bustling village square in Greece. Be sure to save room for dessert: It’d be a shame to leave without a taste of baklava or, the crowning glory of any big Greek celebration, the honey-drenched fried dough balls known as loukoumades. —L.T.
When Erika Hazel launched the Bizerkeley Food Festival, she wanted to make people more aware of just how diverse the Bay Area’s vegan food scene is—it’s not just “rabbit food,” after all. This Labor Day weekend, she’s continuing that mission with an event that will feature over 50 vegan vendors—more than double its 2021 debut.
“The purpose of the Bizerkeley Food Festival is to promote and uplift small businesses, POC businesses and women-owned businesses that are 100% plant-based/vegan while raising necessary funds for the Berkeley municipal animal shelter,” Hazel says.
The community-centered event has quickly become the premier vegan festival in the Bay. Held in the Sports Basement parking lot, this year’s edition will feature local favorites like Vegan Hood Chefs, Kubé Nice Cream, and Liquified Juicery serving a wide array of vegan treats—everything from jambalaya and barbecue sliders to full-fat coconut ice cream. All food and beverages will be sold a la carte. As Hazel notes, a portion of the ticket proceeds will benefit the Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services. —A.C.
Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco; TomKat Ranch, Pescadero
When Bryant Terry started 4 Color Books, his new imprint that's focused on BIPOC artists, writers and chefs, the Oakland-based chef and food activist wanted to help create an ecosystem in which Black and other BIPOC creatives would be able to thrive. Where were all of the talented Black cookbook authors, food stylists and food photographers, and why weren’t they landing the most coveted gigs from the prestige magazines and publishing houses? Were they getting the mentorship opportunities they needed?
Now Terry is using his platform as MoAD’s chef-in-residence to help grow that pipeline: In September, he’ll host a two-day Black Food Summit that will inspire—and teach practical skills to—anyone looking to publish a cookbook or carve out a career in food media. The summit will function, among other things, as one of the food world’s most exciting gatherings of Black talent, with nationally prominent writers like Nicole Taylor (of the Juneteenth cookbook Watermelon & Red Birds) and Osayi Endolyn (the New York Times, Food & Wine and more) on hand for a full day of panel discussions on topics such as storytelling, design and how to navigate the publishing world. On the second day, the summit will move to Pescadero’s TomKat Ranch for a day of restful rejuvenation and hands-on activities (some of which may involve horses).
It all culminates with a big, celebratory dinner out on the ranch, cooked by some of the Bay Area’s most accomplished chefs, including Matt Horn (Horn BBQ) and Fernay McPherson (Minnie Bells). Participants can buy a ticket for just one day or for the whole two-day summit. There’s also a livestream option for the Friday events at MoAD. —L.T.
Presidio Main Parade Lawn, San Francisco
Sept. 10, 11am–5pm
Ever since the event’s splashy 2019 debut, the organizers of the Bay Area Chuseok Festival have been chomping at the bit to bring the Korean harvest festival back to its in-person, deliciously food-focused glory after a couple of Zoom-centric editions during the peak of the pandemic. Eun-Joo Chang of San Francisco’s Korean Center, Inc., which organizes the event, describes Chuseok as the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving. Hosted at the Presidio, this year’s festival is expected to be bigger and better than ever—a larger outdoor space; more family-friendly entertainment, from K-pop to traditional crafts; and, of course, a whole host of food and beverage vendors.
Not all of the food will be strictly Korean, though most of the featured businesses have at least one Korean chef or co-owner. So, while there will be traditional items such as Korean barbecue and makgeolli, there also might be bulgogi-topped pizza and Korean-Mexican fusion. Oakland’s Noodle Belly will be on hand serving its signature garlic noodles; SF-based Dokkabier will be on hand to pour its lineup of Asian-inspired microbrews.
For those who like to get their hands dirty, San Francisco’s Korean consulate and the Korean food conglomerate and kimchi brand Jong Ga Foods will co-host K-Food, an event-within-event happening at the same time. The centerpiece: a hands-on cooking demonstration in which participants make their own ssamjang, the spicy-sweet condiment traditionally eaten with Korean barbecue. —L.T.
Alameda County Fairgrounds, Pleasanton
Sept. 17–18, 1–11pm
For concert goers who love soul food, the California Soul Food Cookout & Festival promises the best of both worlds. Going on its 12th year, the two-day event features a mix of family activities, gospel music, R&B, food trucks and comedy—with a portion of the proceeds going towards Bay Area charities to aid houseless individuals and domestic violence victims.
On the food side, the festival’s 2022 edition will be hosted by Chef Milly, known for his stints as a contestant on Hell's Kitchen—and for dishes like his signature Crabby Cheese Fries (topped with lump crab meat and Old Bay seasoning). Other vendors will include Hayward-based Filipino fusion pop-up Mekeni's Kitchen, Sacramento-based grilled oyster specialist Saucey Oysters & BBQ and the Filipino barbecue stand Gim Belly. The 30-plus diverse, mostly POC food makers were chosen by the organizers to represent the Bay Area’s cultural vibrancy.
If you come to California Soul for the food, you’ll stay for the grooves: Musical headliners include gospel and R&B stars like Musiq Soulchild, Angie Stone, Mario Hodge and Fred Hammond. There will also be a job fair and career expo sponsored by the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley Black Chamber of Commerce. —A.C.
Starting Sept. 29, Shifting the Lens will close out its first year with a residency by Shenarri “Greens” Freeman, a New York City-based wellness advocate and the chef of the vegan soul food restaurant Cadence. Over the course of two weeks, Thursday to Sunday, guests can book a two-hour, five-plus-course, fully plant-based tasting menu ($200) that comes with a thoughtful wine pairing for each dish. For those who want a little extra face time with the chef, a special VIP dinner on Oct. 1 will include a Q&A session. —L.T.
This year, the Undiscovered SF Festival asks the age-old question: If San Francisco had its very own Filipino theme park, what would that look like? Would mobile DJ crews usher each visitor in through ube-purple turnstiles? Would there be a lumpia-themed rollercoaster or a karaoke-themed merry-go-round? Most importantly: What would there be to eat?
Undiscovered SF 2022 will offer visitors the opportunity to see one possible vision for such a theme park come to life—though rollercoaster enthusiasts might have to wait for a future edition. Though the event’s earliest incarnations were set up as a Filipino night market, during the pandemic Undiscovered SF evolved into a daytime event spread across multiple indoor and outdoor venues in the SOMA Pilipinas cultural district. This year’s version promises to be the largest one yet, with a rollicking main stage set up at Parks at 5M, the neighborhood’s brand new outdoor park; a kaleidoscope of crafts and streetwear vendors; art exhibitions; and more than 20 food vendors (including local legends like Lumpia Company and Sarap Shop). —L.T.
You can’t celebrate fall in the Bay Area without attending a Día de los Muertos event—and, if you’re around Oakland, there’s no better place to do it than in Fruitvale. The cultural gathering has become one of the highlights of October, signaling the peak of “spooky szn,” autumnal changes and, of course, festival goodies. Now in its 27th year, Fruitvale’s Día de los Muertos event will return fully in person this Oct. 30 with a day of Aztec dancing, altar exhibits, live music and a more-than-you-can-eat offering of food.
According to the Oakland Unity Council, which organizes the event, “The festival will resume in-person activities, highlighting the ofrendas, Danza Azteca, and low-riders which are all vital elements of the celebration. Our goal for the 2022 festival is to create a physical space where people can safely gather and hone in art and culture as tools for community healing.”
With a themed-focus on honoring essential workers, this year’s celebration is meant to express a strong sense of gratitude to the food workers, cooks and purveyors of Latinx-focused meals. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the street vendors that the Día event is known for will be back in full force. From street-style elote dripping with sour cream, cheese and powdered chile, to classic Fruitvale staples like tacos, burritos and tortas, you can’t go wrong with a celebratory afternoon of comida in one of the Bay Area’s most vibrant communities. —A.C.
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