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Taking it to the streets…and then back inside

Salad, wings, and Tabasco granita. Who knew?

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Here’s a riddle for you: when is a restaurant not a restaurant? Or, more intriguingly, how do you get your own restaurant without actually owning a restaurant? The answer can be summed up in three words: Mission Street Food.

It began a year ago when Anthony Myint, a local line cook eager to express his creative juices, decided to strike out on his own. Rather than go through the endless and frustrating process of opening his own “real” restaurant, he simply rented a taco truck, strategically parked it near Mission night spots, and proceded to crank out inventive, inexpensive nibbles for hungry Mission barhoppers one night a week. The venture, dubbed Mission Street Food, was an instant cult hit, but its popularity also led to the taco truck’s demise: complaints from neighbors eventually brought the operation to a halt. Undaunted, Myint approached a nearby Chinese restaurant (which happened to be delivery-only two nights a week) and worked out a deal to rent the space on those off nights. And thus, this semi-underground restaurant experiment could continue on.

The menu is brief – usually 8-10 items, including dessert – and is reinvented each night, often in collaboration with rotating guest chefs. On the night I went, the dishes boomeranged all over the world – from China and Japan with the shiitake and oyster dumplings in miso soup, to France with an escarole salad and a super-smoky bacon vinaigrette, and then to Buffalo (!) with double-fried chicken wings, ranch grits, and Tabasco granita. And even though such a mishmash of cuisines is typically too much to pull off effectively, everything was perfectly executed. Even the avant-garde desserts, as strange as they sounded, wowed us. A red velvet cake was given depth and complexity with the accompanying balsamic caramel ice cream, and the stand-alone salt & pepper ice cream pushed and pulled our palates from sweet to savory and back again. It was the kind of thing that you just have resist judging until it’s actually in your mouth, and once it’s there you are completely sold.

Between the three of us, we ordered almost everything on the menu and still got out for only $20 a person. It’s amazing to consider what interesting, delicious, unusual food can be had, in such an unexpected locale, for so little money. (And on top of that, all proceeds go to charity.) But by far, the most beautiful thing about Mission Street Food is that Myint found a way to be creative and take culinary risks. He reimagined what it means to have a restaurant, and is making it happen on his own terms. And it happens to be hugely popular.

As we wrapped up the meal with full and satisfied bellies, I had a momentary pang of sadness. Because of the ever-changing menu, I’d never be able to have this incredible meal ever again. Well, next week is another menu – and I have no doubt that it’ll be just as special.

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