Hi, everyone! I hope you’re hanging in there as we enter what officially feels like month 700 of the inescapable abyss we call pandemic life. I, for one, am keeping myself busy with a borderline-obsessive fixation on the 2021 NCAA gymnastics season, my new tortilla press, and, of course, doing what I do best: recommending restaurants. Or in this case, pop-ups.
The Bay Area has seen a huge uptick in pop-ups over the past year, and they’re redefining what it means to be (and eat at) a restaurant. Nowadays, you have to put in a bit of extra effort - I’ve set alarms to order bagels three days in advance, slid into DMs for some kalua pork, and shown up to an unmarked building to get my hands on a bowl of bun bo hue. But that’s precisely what makes pop-ups so exciting. And if you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got you covered. Read on for five of the pop-ups that I literally cannot shut up about, plus how to order from each of them.
Anyone who knows me knows that everything bagels are a foolproof way to open up the gates to my carb-loving little heart - especially if they’re from Poppy Bagels. The hand-rolled, New York-style bagels are perfectly chewy, with a shiny, crackly crust and copious amounts of seasoning all over, and they’ve set the bar pretty damn high for all other bagels. Consider yourself warned.
How to order: Orders for bagels by the dozen open here at 9am on Mondays. They’re available for delivery or pick up later in the week in SF or Oakland’s Jack London Square. If you’d rather grab a bagel sandwich, topped with things like whitefish salad or scallion cream cheese and wild salmon roe, do so at one of their pop-ups, which happen at places like Roses’ Taproom in Oakland or Queens in SF.
At this Hayes Valley pop-up, a Kin Khao and Night + Market alum is making incredible Isaan Thai dishes that are packed with heat, flavor, and texture. From funky, spicy crispy curry rice salad to sticky-sweet caramelized pork jowl, everything I tried here has blown me away. If it’s on the menu, order my personal favorite: the shrimp toast, a thick slab of milk bread topped with shrimp mousse, spicy mayo, and tangy pickled chiles.
How to order: You can pre-order here for takeout/outdoor dining at Birba on Saturdays and Sundays, or here for pick up or delivery from The Hidden Cafe on Fridays. Follow them on Instagram to see when pre-orders go live.
Okkon Japanese Street Food
Okkon specializes in okonomiyaki, and operates out of the O2 Artisans Aggregate in West Oakland (which is also home to other excellent food businesses like Magnolia Mini Mart, June’s Pizza, and Soba Ichi). The standard variation of their incredible, made-to-order savory pancake is topped with a crispy layer of pork belly, sweet okonomiyaki sauce, a drizzle of mayo, and bonito flakes. You can also customize your pancake with add-ons like mochi, spicy cod roe, or mozzarella.
How to order: Okkon takes pre-orders via DM or email a day in advance, or you can walk up to order. They’re open most weekends for takeout and outdoor dining from 12-3pm (they also have draft beer and sake), but check their Instagram to confirm before you head out.
After their jerk chicken pop-up Broke Ass Cooks was shut down last September, Bilal Ali and Keone Koki started another pop-up called Michoz, focusing on Peruvian grilled chicken. They’ll be changing up their menu soon, so get their pollo a la brasa set while you can. The grilled chicken - which is marinated in aji panca, beer, and spices - is unbelievably juicy and tender. I have never had better chicken in my life. The set also comes with crispy fried yucca sticks, aji amarillo sauce, a tub of warm chicken “tea,” and a crunchy onion and grilled pepper salad.
How to order: Michoz operates out of The Hidden Cafe in Berkeley on Saturdays and Sundays (you can pick up there, or have your chicken delivered if you’re in the East Bay). Orders usually open online about a week in advance, but check their Instagram for updates.
This fantastic Hawaiian pop-up is, well, popping up, at The Devil’s Acre’s outdoor dining setup from Tuesday to Sunday. The menu changes, but you can expect to see things like a panko-crusted cod sandwich or furikake fries on the menu. On my most recent visit, I ordered their plate lunch, which was loaded with furikake rice, crunchy, perfectly-fried salt and pepper karaage, smoky kalua pork, and a creamy mac salad that was by far the best I’ve had in recent memory.
How to order: Unco Frank’s is currently in charge of the food menu at The Devil’s Acre in North Beach. Keep an eye on their Instagram for updates.