"In a lot of ways I think food is starting to take the place in culture that rock and roll took 30 years ago, in that eating has become incredibly political. And just as the street has always dictated fashions on music and other things, it’s starting to happen that way in food."
–Jonathon Gold, LA Weekly food critic
In 2008, the Sacramento City Council, under pressure from brick-and-mortar restaurants, voted 8-0 to pass Measure 5.68, which requires all mobile food vendors to relocate every 30 minutes, remain at least 400 feet apart and close at sundown. It was, at the time, effectively a death sentence for the Sacramento food truck.
If food is rock ‘n’ roll, then Sacramento is Beaumont, the town in "Footloose" that banned it. (The John Lithgow character is being played admirably by the godfather of the Sacramento brick-and-mortar mafia, Randy Paragary.)
But on Saturday, close to 10,000 folks converged at Fremont Park for the first Sacramento Mobile Food Festival, a celebration of street food featuring over 20 vendors from all over Northern California.
Like so many tractor-riding Kevin Bacons defiantly putting on guerrilla proms, Joshua Lurie-Terrell of YumTacos.com, Catherine Enfield of MunchieMusings.net, Paul Somerhausen of the Sacramento Epicureans, and Costa Apostolos of the Friends of Fremont Park organized the event.
“SactoMoFo” was an emphatic repudiation of the draconian mobile food restrictions imposed upon us by our elected delegates.
Basically, we voted 10,000 to 0 that Measure 5.68 is a crock.
We’re here and we’re hungry, and we don’t need our city council to protect us from cheap and delicious street food.
It’s a testament to the bewitching power of street food that, despite lines that would make DMV workers blush, the atmosphere remained convivial and celebratory throughout.
With the exception of the relatively speedy Fat Face popsicles, the shortest lines took close to an hour.
The lines for Curry Up Now, Chairman Bao, Drewski’s Hot Rod and others were between 90 minutes and three hours, depending. I don’t go three hours between meals. When I polled the folks in front of the Curry Up Now line as to the length of their internment therein, a wildly bearded fellow answered my query with one of his own: "What day is it?"
Once people (finally) got their food, they were, seemingly to a man, exceedingly pleased with the fare. I found Rebecca and Tim noshing on a Hemi (Carolina BBQ pulled pork, four-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese, caramelized onions and melted extra sharp cheddar grilled on brioche bread) and some deep fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls (self explanatory, served with a compound truffle butter) from Drewski’s Hot Rod. It had been a 90-plus-minute battle of attrition to get the meal, but they were enjoying the spoils immensely.
Jose Andrade braved a three-hour line to get a "Mustang" from Drewski’s. About the kimchi, short rib and havarti cheese concoction, he said, "worth every minute."
My personal heros of the day were Stephanie, Shaylin and Nicole. The three ladies arrived before noon and immediately took their places in three different lines. When I found them, an hour and a half later, they had just sat down to an epic spread of HapaSF, Chairman Bao and Curry Up Now offerings. It was an embarrassment of riches, and the consensus was "amazing."
I am sad to report that I, like many attendees, chose to avoid the lines and eat at one of the many brick-and-mortar establishments in the area. I actually didn’t avoid the lines so much as mitigate them. At Burgers & Brew, I stood in line for over 20 minutes before placing my order.
The entire neighborhood benefited greatly from the overflow. Hot Italian was full to bursting, Magpie was packed. By 3 p.m., Top This Frozen Yogurt looked like a plague of locusts had gone through their toppings. The fresh fruit was a distant memory. Chita’s Taqueria all the way down at 20th and Q even reported a boost in business, as did Zocalo on 18th and Capitol.
On my way over to lunch, I spotted Spencer’s on the Go taking off. Turns out the veterans of "The Great Food Truck Race" had run out of just about everything by 2 p.m. The last thing to go was, not surprisingly, the Escargot Lollipops.
The MoFo fest was "a victim of its own success," Leigh Coop said. "I’m glad it sent a message, but we went away without food and very hungry."
"We’ve received overwhelming feedback that people loved the event,” Enfield said. “Even though the lines were long, they made new friends, loved the beautiful day, had great food and are begging us for more."
Maybe most importantly, the organizers collected 3,500 signatures on the petition to get city leaders to relax regulations on mobile street vendors.
"The feedback we received from the politicians that attended was very favorable," Enfield wrote on the MoFo website.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Talk is cheap, but so is street food.
To paraphrase Gilbert from “Revenge of the Nerds,” "No one’s gonna really be free until food truck persecution ends."