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Sneak peek--best bites at the SF Street Food Festival

A huarche, from El Huarache Loco--a great bite try at the SF Street Food Festival this Saturday. (NOTE: these samples I tasted at a preview are much smaller than the actual dishes will be at the festival).
A huarche, from El Huarache Loco--a great bite try at the SF Street Food Festival this Saturday. (NOTE: these samples I tasted at a preview are much smaller than the actual dishes will be at the festival).
Original photo by Paul Herman

You noshed your way through Eat Drink SF. You chowed down at Outside Lands. Now, it's time to complete San Francisco's legendary August eating triathlon.

This Saturday, August 16, the SF Street Food Festival unrolls its last incarnation on Folsom Street (organizers aren't sure exactly where it might end up next year, or if it will even return). You can feast on food from more than 80 different vendors, with prices set at $10 or less. And in this case you're munching to benefit a very good cause--culinary incubator La Cocina, which helps entrepreneurs (primarily immigrant women) start and grow a food business.

Participants are a mix of La Cocina vendors, other street-food vendors and some bricks-and-mortar chefs doing their riff on street eats. A few weeks back, I got sneak preview of some of the dishes that will be making an appearance.

Here are the best bites you should be on the lookout out for:

Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas are heavenly--or "stuffed with love," as Alicia Villanueva says. Their freshness and exciting blend of flavors puts other tamales to shame. Alicia makes a delicious veggie version, too. "I'm living the American Dream!" she exclaimed when I told her how good her food was.

Rasoi is a big do not miss, with their unassuming-looking but wonderfully complex papdi chaat. It's a crispy wafer topped with potatoes and onions, then drizzled with chutneys and yogurts. The blend of flavors and textures is the epitome of what great street food should be.

Minnie Bell's Soul Movement (one of my La Cocina faves) is serving some amazing rosemary fried chicken. Owner Fernay McPherson's got a special touch that leaves her chicken crisp, but without a hint of grease. If you're lucky, she might break out some cornbread, too.

Rice Paper Scissors won me over with their "pho rolls," which really do pack all the tastes of pho into a neat little package. OK, not so neat, actually. The roll I had was so packed with ingredients that a few jumped out.

Bicycle Banh Mi will also be representing Vietnamese street tradition with--you guessed it--banh mi sandwiches, in this case, a fried chicken version.

Los Cilantros is offering up a perfect ceviche, set on crispy chips and topped with fresh salsa and avocado. I had to drag The Bottomless Pit (aka my husband) away from their booth at the preview before he devoured their entire supply.

Osha Thai isn't a street vendor, but they definitely draw from Thailand 's rich street food culture. Their chicken-pumpkin curry reminds me that I need to eat there more often.

Azalina, one of my favorite La Cocina success stories is going to be there, serving sweet potato dumplings (fabulous!), chicken noodle curry (ditto) and "rose basil coconut drink," which sounds suspiciously like an amazing drink I had in George Town on Penang island, where Azalina's from. The basil seeds are soaked, so they become surrounded by a gel, adding an intriguing texture to the drink. You've got to try it!

Mozzeria will be serving up slices, along with veal-pork meatball sandwiches. I sampled one of their meatballs and the flavor was great, with a sauce that didn't overwhelm the tasty meatball.

Bini's Kitchen will be dishing out momos, delicate little Nepalese dumplings that are nearly impossible to stop eating.

Crumble & Whisk's creative cheesecake flavors might remind you of a trendy cocktail or cutting-edge chef's concoction--the "Beet &Berry," for example: "roasted organic baby beets infused with blueberries and a hint of lemon swirled in, topped with blueberry-red wine reduction compote." I'm not much of a cheesecake fan, but Charles Farriér won me over with the perfect texture--not too heavy and not too light.

Deliciouso Creperie will be dishing out orange blossom crepes, folded around "Mexican Nutella" and topped with fresh strawberry sauce. Worth saving room for!

Sugar & Spun is doing some fun things with cotton candy. You definitely did not eat mango-chili cotton candy at the circus when you were a kid!

Frozen Kuhsterd will be dipping scoops and some crazy donut-ice cream sandwiches in interesting flavors like chocolate with green tea. Their frozen custard is smooth, dense--altogether better than their spelling.

Here's a list of participating vendors. There's also an iPhone app with all the vendors and what they're serving.

Smart tip: Buy one of the Passports, which are pre-loaded with varying amounts festival currency, making things a lot easier.

Hate standing in line? Buy a $25 ticket for the seated Aperol Spritz Brunch (11 am-1 pm) and enjoy complimentary spritzes, while food runners deliver your food order from the festival, with no standing in line.

But wait, there's more: On Friday night, instead of a night market, there's a "family supper" of unlimited fried chicken made by chefs from around the U.S.--and even one from Sao Paolo, Brazil. When you enter, you'll get a bucket for chicken and a flask for booze or beer. How much you get to drink depends on which ticket level you choose. Tickets start at $50, and you'll find them here.

Maybe now's the time to start dieting in anticipation?

SF Street Food Festival, Saturday, August 16, 11 am–7 pm; along Folsom St. from 20th St. to 26th St.; 21st St. and 25th St. from Treat St. to Shotwell St.; also at Cesar Chavez Elementary School parking lot, Parque de los Ninos Unidos and Jose Coronada Playground.

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