The Peninsula is full of unusual pop-ups run by passionate cooks, bakers and restaurant owners.
There’s something alluring about pop-ups — both their ephemerality and the sense of community you feel eating with like-minded people who, like you, are willing to seek out birria tacos made out of a home garage on a Tuesday afternoon or to support a software engineer pursuing his true passion for making Asian-inspired croissants.
Pop-ups often lay the foundation for permanent locations for food businesses, and it’s exciting to follow up-and-comers as they transition to bigger things (such as Daly City ramen favorite Noodle in a Haystack, whose owners recently announced they found a semi-permanent home for the pop-up).
In no particular order, below are 11 pop-ups of note happening throughout the Peninsula.
You have to put effort in to get to CaterMeSilva, and that’s part of the fun. Follow the pop-up on Instagram, where chef Chris Silva posts his daily menu. You must text Silva your name, order and preferred pick-up time in advance (sometimes more than once — he’s a busy guy; don’t even try direct messaging him on Instagram) and quickly, because he often sells out. In return, you’ll get an address on the border of Daly City and South San Francisco.
At said address, on a quiet residential street, you’ll find Silva churning out some of the Bay Area’s best birria tacos over a plancha out of a home garage. Silva, who worked for 15 years as a cook in San Francisco, started the pop-up in 2019.
Birria, or quesabirria, tacos — tortillas layered with shredded cheese, stuffed with beef and then folded over and grilled on a flat top until the cheese oozes out to give the taco lacy edges— are taking over taco truck and taqueria menus throughout the Bay Area. Their namesake, birria, is a spice-forward Mexican beef stew. Silva’s are stuffed with tender shredded beef and a layer of cheese, cooked in sizzling oil on the plancha to supreme crispiness. Add a squeeze of lime and dip the tacos in the rich consommé (the broth from the stew) served on the side for pure bliss. The consommé, tinged with star anise, is good enough to sip on its own.
While the tacos are the main attraction, other menu items have included shrimp po’ boys, a gochujang chicken and rice plate, carnitas fries and double-fried buffalo wings.
Bring cash, or Silva accepts payment through VenMo. His hours are typically Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Amandine Project chef series
Jean-Luc Kayigire, owner of Los Altos cocktail bar Amandine Project, started last fall a pop-up dinner series featuring international chefs. The first event was a six-course meal cooked by Rodolfo Castellanos, the well-known chef-owner of Origen Oaxaca in Oaxaca, Mexico, which he opened after cooking in San Francisco restaurants, including the acclaimed and now-closed Jardinière. This past weekend, chef Raisaku Sawai flew in from Maibashi, Japan, to make his Japanese-influenced Italian food using produce from Luna Vez Farms in Los Altos and pasta from Los Altos Italian restaurant Tre Monti.
Kayigire has been inviting chefs he meets while traveling or through connections he’s made as a restaurant owner. (His business partner recently introduced him to Sawai on a trip to Japan, where Kayigire said he’s opening a gin and vodka distillery.) The goal of the pop-ups, he said, is to bring more visibility to Los Altos.
“Our job is introducing as many people as possible to come enjoy Los Altos,” he said. “I know a lot of chefs. For me, that’s the best way I can give back to Los Altos.”
Because Amandine doesn’t have a kitchen, most of the dinners have been hosted at Bumble in Los Altos, but once the forthcoming State Street Market, a massive food hall, opens downtown, Kayigire hopes to move it there.
The next pop-up will be in April and feature a yet-to-be-named chef from Paris.
It’s well worth the drive or train ride to San Jose for Hết Sẩy’s modern take on food from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Owners and wife and husband Duy An and Hieu Le, both natives of Vietnam, are obsessive home cooks who make their own sauces, salts and sausage from scratch. They serve traditional Mekong Delta dishes made with Bay Area products and sensibilities, like pâté vit ốp-la, a traditional Mekong breakfast dish, with homemade duck liver pâté, spiced sausage, a fried egg, pickled daikon and cucumber with salmon roe and hunks of toasted levain bread from the Midwife and the Baker.
The weekly pop-up is currently on hold while the owners look for a new space.
Little Sky Bakery
Tian Mayimin has drawn a local following for her naturally leavened breads, baked out of her Menlo Park home. A former criminal defense attorney and entrepreneur, she started experimenting with baking after moving to California, using a starter that has reportedly been nurtured by monks for more than a hundred years.
You can now find her orange-olive oil challah, sourdough baguettes and country bread at several local farmers markets: Portola Valley (Thursdays from 2–5 p.m.), downtown Palo Alto (Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), Menlo Park (Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), Mountain View (Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), where she recently started doing grilled cheese and breakfast sandwiches. She also delivers on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
Noodle in a Haystack
Clint and Yoko Tan started this ramen pop-up out of their Daly City home out of frustration with the quality of ramen in the Bay Area. While the couple is entirely self-made — they educated themselves about making ramen through trips to Japan, deep Reddit research and trial and error in their modest home kitchen — Noodle in a Haystack is not your average ramen pop-up. They make seven kinds of ramen, all in a lighter, refined style that Clint fell in love with in Tokyo.
The couple recently found a semi-permanent home for Noodle in a Haystack in San Francisco, where they hope to start with dinners two to three times a week and eventually grow to two seatings daily, which will double the amount of seats they can offer each month.
For now, getting into Noodle in a Haystack is like buying tickets to Coachella (almost). They release tickets via email and often sell out quickly. Sign up for the pop-up’s monthly newsletter to stay in the know or follow them on Instagram for all things ramen-related.
Lil’ Eagle Burger
The Peninsula’s only smashburger pop-up is run by Zack Fernandes, a communications manager at Apple by day and burger obsessive by night. He only serves smashburgers — his latest iteration being two 2-ounce patties made from an 80–20 chuck blend, smashed to peak thinness and topped with gooey Kraft American cheese, caramelized onions and a mayo-based sauce that he “umamifies” with fish sauce and other ingredients on an unfussy potato bun.
“Burgers are such a quintessential immigrant food for me,” said Fernandes, who was born in Singapore and moved to the United States as a teenager. “George Motz talks about this in his book (“Hamburger America”) and some videos, but there would be no hamburger if the hamburg steak from Germany didn’t end up at a world’s fair in New York where some dude slapped it in between two slices of bread.
“I think it’s funny that people view the hamburger as being so distinctly American,” he said, “and forget about that very important factor.”
You can find Lil’ Eagle in undisclosed parking lots, Redwood City bar Timber & Salt or Palo Alto natural wine bar Salvaje. His next pop-up is set for March 21 at Salvaje (369 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto).
Richard Lee will be popping up with his Asian-inspired croissants at Red Giant Coffee in Redwood City and San Mateo on March 7 and 21. The software engineer and lifelong baker challenged himself a year ago to perfect the “hardest thing I could think of: croissants.” He started Kaya Bakery about a month ago out of San Mateo, delivering his Asian-inspired baked goods — think croissants filled with Vietnamese coffee cream, matcha or yuzu and passionfruit ganache — which he described as “less sweet than American pastries, but intensively flavorful with real ingredients.”
“I think Asian flavors in the baking world are under-appreciated and I want to share my take on modern Asian patisserie,” he said.
Lee, who is from Toronto, Canada, plans to expand his offerings to include milk bread, chiffon cake, egg tarts and the next Cronut, but with “Asian flair.” He also hopes to eventually open a brick-and-mortar bakery in San Mateo — or in the meantime, serve his pastries daily at Red Giant.
For the pop-up, his croissants will be available at both Red Giant locations until they sell out.
Red Giant Coffee // 2400 Broadway St. #110, Redwood City; 390 1st Ave., San Mateo; 650.260.7918
Editor’s note: The Four Seasons announced on March 11 that the Pok Pok pop-up has been postponed due to “current events” surrounding the coronavirus.
Arguably the most exciting pop-up of 2020 will be Portland Thai food darling Pok Pok’s months-long event at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto. The pop-up — Pok Pok’s first ever in the Bay Area — will start April 3 and last through the end of June. In an email from his second home in Chiang Mai, Thailand, chef-owner Andy Ricker said the menu is still being developed but to expect “a mixture of Pok Pok favorites,” including Thai salads, curries and noodle dishes.
Ricker opened the first Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon, in 2006 after traveling and cooking through Thailand. He went on to win two James Beard awards as well as a Michelin star; open more restaurants in Portland, New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas; and write three cookbooks.
Bagel Tuesdays and pizza Wednesdays at Manresa Bread
Manresa Bread hosts two of its own pop-ups weekly: bagels on Tuesdays and pizza on Wednesdays, though the latter is only available at the Campbell location. All three locations of the bakery (Los Altos, Los Gatos and Campbell) serve naturally fermented sourdough bagels — plain, sesame, everything and cinnamon raisin — from 7 a.m. until the bakery sells out.
On Wednesdays, the all-day cafe in Campbell serves slow-fermented, house-milled Detroit-style pan pizza by the slice. Options include classic cheese and pepperoni as well as smoky squash with pesto, chorizo and chiles and rotating seasonal selections. Pizza is available starting at noon until sold out. Luckily, the Campbell location has a liquor license so you can pair your square pizza with a glass of natural wine or local beer. (Manresa Bread Campbell also hosts a monthly dinner series highlighting seasonal produce from local farms. The next one features Tomatero Farms from Watsonville on March 26 and 27.)
Manresa Bread, the bakery spinoff of the three-Michelin-star Manresa in Los Gatos, is the grain-forward brainchild of Avery Ruzicka, who last week was named a semifinalist for a James Beard award.
Manresa Bread // 271 State St., Los Altos; 650.946.2293
Manresa Bread // 195 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.340.5171
The Peninsula’s sole Swedish sweets pop-up serves kardemummabullar (a cardamom bun), drömmar (Swedish dream cookies, akin to a Mexican wedding cookie), semlor (a yeasted bun sliced in half and filled with cream, traditionally served on Fat Tuesday) and other baked goods. Something Swede-ish owner Denise Touhey, who grew up in Belmont with her Swedish grandmother, draws inspiration from Swedish cookbooks and family recipes. She pops up on Thursdays at Woodside cafe The Village Hub (3154 Woodside Road).
People went (do)nuts for this Honolulu bakery’s mochi donuts at a pop-up at the Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose last year — so much so that MoDo extended the pop-up and created a San Jose pop-up “survival guide” on its Instagram feed.
If you missed the donuts last time around, MoDo is returning to San Jose for a month starting this Friday, March 6, with flavors such as black sesame, strawberry, ube and lilikoi.
Mitsuwa Marketplace //675 Saratoga Ave., San Jose; from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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- Inside Noodle in a Haystack, the local pop-up poised to change the Bay Area ramen game
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