Lucky enough to have a ticket to San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival this weekend? Consider us your gastronomic advance party.
With almost 80 restaurants, nearly 40 wineries and over 30 breweries, working out exactly what to eat in between the incredible musical offerings can be daunting, and you don't want to waste a second of your precious festival time. So we hit Outside Lands bright and early to bring you our tried-and-(literally)-tasted recommendations:
Best for "weird and wonderful"
“The Ringmaster” Donut Cheeseburger from Straw
A.K.A. the most Instagrammed food of Outside Lands 2015. If you're paying Golden Gate Park a visit this weekend, expect to be surrounded by people either eating or photographing this audacious #donutburger concoction (or both) -- but what is it? Imagine, if you will, a beef patty topped with cheese and crispy bacon snuggled between two glazed donut “buns.” (Note: that’s not a donut sliced in half – that’s two actual donuts.) I approached this beast with some trepidation, but to my utter astonishment, The Ringmaster totally works – because of the saltiness of the bacon, which works both with and against the sweetness of the donuts. Be warned: if you’re brave enough to try the #donutburger this year, people will come up to you and ask you what the hell you’re eating. (One person actually approached me on behalf of her boyfriend, who was convinced he was hallucinating a woman eating a cheeseburger on a donut. No sir, that’s just me!)
Best for post-entry brunch
Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich from American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
Unless you live undetected in a treehouse in Golden Gate Park, getting to Outside Lands itself probably took you a while. If you’re ready for brunch the minute you get past the entrance line, your most satisfying option is the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen’s Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich. The basic version comprises cheddar and Monterey Jack, but I had mine with an oozing fried egg (available as part of their Breakfast Special until 12 noon), Zoe’s bacon and lightly-fried jalapenos. It was the 11am diner food of my dreams, but served in a big sunny field.
Best for snacking
Fabulous Frickles from Those Fabulous Frickle Brothers
Another treat that ensures passers-by will stop you and either say “ooh, the frickles!” or “where did you get those things?” I urge you to visit Outside Lands’ one and only fried pickle truck for a generous portion of these super-crisp, intensely-seasoned little pickle slices, which somehow manage to stay crunchy under that bready fried coating. The frickles (so fun to say!) also come with a choice of house-made yogurt-based sauces, the most popular of which are the "Cukaracha Srichacha" with spicy cilantro and mint and the "Herman's German" with curry mustard and dill. To be honest, these sauces all tasted kind of the same, but who cares when you’re eating FRICKLES. Buyer beware: these innocent-looking discs are secretly dangerous, because they’re so light you don’t feel like you’re overloading on fried food – and before you know it, you’ll have eaten the whole tray.
Best for carnivores
Porchetta Taco from La Urbana
I’ll be brutally honest: I wasn’t blown away by this taco’s appearance when it first arrived into my hands. But wait! The blue-corn hand-rolled taco, while dismayingly drab and gray, was actually a soft yet mealy (and gluten-free) treat. And the worryingly crumbly porchetta inside? It turned out to be one of the tastiest things I ate at Outside Lands this year, studded with bonus pieces of crispy pork. Don’t judge a taco by its cover, guys! Be warned: the habanero salsa that comes with it is super-spicy – I loved it, but don’t dump the whole miniature container of it over your precious porchetta until you know you will too.
Best for a sugar high
Griddled French Toast from Il Cane Rosso
If you’re expecting something like sliced bread, guess again: this awesomely dense, soggy brick of home-made “toast” is more like a squidgy slab of cake, fried until crisped and warm on the griddle then doused in syrupy maple sauce. Having impaled it, my fork then refused to come back out without a fight. I strongly recommend buying one to share with a friend -- or perhaps ten of them. (While you’re at Il Cane Rosso’s stall, get one of their famous Olive Oil Fried Egg Sandwiches: apparently a particular hit with the roadies of Outside Lands.)
Best for late-night warmth
Hot Chocolate from Charles Chocolates
It’s a given that at some point, the Ocean Beach fog is going to roll in to Golden Gate Park (you brought your layers, right, like everyone told you to?) and this French-style hot chocolate is basically like pouring molten warmth into your veins through your throat. Super-thick and velvety, it’s like eating melted chocolate – mainly because that’s exactly what it is, accompanied by whole milk, a touch of cream and vanilla beans. It's even better with a sprinkling of gem-like marshmallows, which start to ooze into the drink as they soften, complementing its slight bitterness with their sweetness. This hot chocolate is the stuff that Charles Chocolates is rightly famous for (although oddly enough, their team say that it’s not this but their Brownie Ice Cream Sundae that festival-goers ask for most after dark.) For the true campfire experience, pair it with one of their Gourmet S’mores.
Best for the hangry
“The Works” from Little Skillet
It’s not cheap at $18, but if your stomach demands comfort food satisfaction, “The Works” is for you. Your money gets you two huge portions of delicious, crunchy fried chicken, plus nicely-sharp mac and cheese and a waffle the size of an iPad Mini. With maple syrup and Louisiana hot sauce available for liberal squirting, the only weak link is the cornbread – while still perfectly tasty, it’s a teeny, somewhat squished serving that doesn’t seem to belong on this otherwise bountiful plate.
Best for pizza addicts
Margherita pizza from Del Popolo
Sure, if you’re set on buying by the slice then head over to Escape from New York a few stalls down – but in all other cases, brave the line for Del Popolo’s phenomenal Margherita pizza. A perfectly light, puffy crust that’s blistered from just a moment in the pizza oven topped with fresh, sweet tomato sauce, a few dabs of creamy mozzarella and ever-so-slightly charred torn basil leaves: honestly, I defy anyone not to wolf down a whole one themselves. It’s the polar opposite of overly-cheesy takeout pizza and as close as you’re going to get to the authentic Italian version – ie. perfection – as you’re going to get without a very long flight. And you’re eating it at a music festival! What a time to be alive.
Best from Chocolands
Melted Chocolate Bar from Guittard
Sure, you could get something from San Francisco food truck staples Crème Brulee Cart or Kara’s Cupcakes in Chocolands – and you probably should, because they’re delicious. But if you try one thing in this cocoa-dedicated haven this year, have the Melted Chocolate Bar from Guittard, described to me by their team as “warm chocolate ice-cream.” This pretty much nails it: imagine a cup-full of oozing melted dark chocolate (or milk, if you prefer) topped with your choice of toffee bits, almonds, cocoa nibs or chocolate chips. I chose a combination of the first two, which made for a delicious crunch amidst the intense lava river of chocolate. It’s tactically accompanied by a tiny spoon, which you’ll soon realized is necessary for preventing a melted chocolate overdose.
Best for fish fans
Fish and chips from Pacific Catch
Take it from a native Brit who is mildly obsessed with the topic: these are really good fish and chips. The batter is light and crisp and the fish fresh and rich, improved by a squeeze of lemon. The sweet potato fries served up on the side are an unexpected treat, too: no sad soggy orange strips here, but perfectly-crunchy, salty bites. Of course, you’re still eating fried food, but it doesn’t feel that way.
Best faux-veggie option
Spicy Eggplant Parm from Stone’s Throw
A.K.A the delish veggie sandwich that could totally pass for meat (which may or may not be what you want.) Stone’s Throw’s veggie variant on their popular Spicy Chicken Parm boasts a big, crackly-fried slice of breaded eggplant, but the real star here is the not-too-spicy marinara sauce. It’s all arranged on a bed of pickled vegetables, topped with a sheet of provolone with garlicky herb butter and wrapped in ciabatta bread and it’s very, very satisfying.
What bites are you looking forward to -- or have eaten before -- at Outside Lands? Let me know in the comments!