I'm still in mourning for the afterhour taco stand that was once wedged in front of Taqueria Vallarta. Huddled outside, bundled against the night air and only slightly buzzed, I've enjoyed many a midnight snack. At first, I alternated my orders, enjoying beef and pork, grilled and fried, sausage and offal. Eventually, though, the tender suadero owned me completely.
I know, I know. A 49 on the health inspector's score card justifies, in the modern logic of cleanliness and public safety, the shuttering of a restaurant. I only wish they'd let the taco cart stick around. Bereft, a friend and I recently wandered up and down 24th Street, sniffing the air for potential rebound consolation. We were in luck. A few doors down from our old taco love, inside a tiny space that was a butcher shop by day, an impromptu taqueria had been set up to serve the swing shift. A thin haze of smoke drifted from the shop, and once inside, we realized that three card tables and a portable grill were the only capital investments in this brand new micro-business. No fire extinguisher or ventilation hood in sight. No menu, no music, no English, and no smiles. Still, the minimalist approach was more than justified by the perfectly charred beef. We returned a few nights later but were disppointed to find only a dark, properly locked-up butcher shop.
For all its bragging about being a culinary capital, San Francisco is woefully behind the curve when it comes to good street eats. The occasional downtown hot dog stand and farmers' market tamale stalls are just not enough for this hungry girl. Where I come from, you can't walk twenty feet without someone grilling or steaming or frying or stacking or stirring something good to eat al fresco, but here in America, fast food ordered through a squawk box from your car is apparently safer for you.
Fortunately, immigrants from lands of good food persist in their attempts to share their treats. Whispers of "you want tamales?" from parked minivans have lured me to steaming bundles of masa joy, while contraband rice cakes reach me through trusted intermediaries. In between such priceless finds, though, it's the taco truck that assuages my need for street food.