dinner with strangers


For it is only in company that eating is done justice; food must be divided and distributed if it is to be well received. Walter Benjamin

San Francisco is a food lovers gastronomic paradise. Although I haven’t proven the theory, I am sure you can get just about any kind of food in the city or at least within the nine county bay area. Plus there are chefs fusing food traditions making new creations so that diners get food from two, three or more cultures in one sitting. My daughter and I are always discovering new places to eat.


One of our faves is the food truck extravaganza known as Off The Grid. Although the gathering is hosted in several places, we have only been to the Friday evening one. Basically, 30 food trucks and tents are set up in a parking lot at Fort Mason, a former military base at the northwest edge of San Francisco. A band plays while hundreds of people get food from the vendors, then stand or sit, eat and chat, while figuring out which truck to go to next.

The first time I went I didn’t know what to expect. I have been to county fairs and street fairs where food is sold from grills under canopies. This takes that and multiplies it making food the focal point.


I also couldn’t help comparing it to a mall food court. It has some of those elements but is still different. First all of the vendors are local small businesses, so you are supporting the local economy. Second, it is outside so the air is not stale and you can see the sun. Third, there is no mass marketing blinking or florescent lights shining in your face. Like a mall food court, you have choices. However, most of the portions are not oversized and the prices are reasonable so you can try multiple dishes. With 30 vendors, choosing is probably the hardest thing. If you come with friends, sharing is advised to get a taste of different foods.


On the business side, trucks are in demand. Manufacturers are getting bogged in orders (source). Off the Grid has added new locations. Some of its regular trucks have also expanded to add second trucks to be at multiple locations. Also, at the beginning of the summer, San Francisco announced a program to help entrepreneurs take their food business mobile (source).

Just like there are restaurants that have regulars, I am sure that the Off the Grid spots have their regulars. Most of the truck have built their own online communities and following using social media. You can find them individually or go to one of the various websites that track the truck locations.


Off The Grid is great for dates and family dinner out. You see groups of people from young to old, with and without children. My daughter loves that I can give her some money and let her roam with a friend to figure out what they want to eat. Families and friends stand in line chatting and get-in where they fit-in to find a spot to eat. Unlike going to a mall, you feel a sense of community with those enjoying food all around you. You can feel comfortable asking strangers what they are eating and from which truck they procured the dish because with so much food you are bound to miss something.

offthegridnight offthegridview

For the Fort Mason Off the Grid, there is also the wonderful views and the history rich location that just add to the whole experience.

In what ways have you found community at a food event or gathering?
All photos by Gary Soup

Read the other articles from the series here.

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