Last Friday evening, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) was filled with more than 25 Bay Area street food vendors who came out to compete in Off the Grid’s Noodle Night Fight Food Fest for the title of “Best Noodle.” Many tried, but the ultimate victor was Hang Truong, the founder of Noodle Girl, a Vietnamese street food and catering business, inspired by her childhood memories of working in her mother’s noodle shop in southern Vietnam.
“I’m so happy. This is such a nice surprise,” Truong told the Foghorn about her victory. “It’s my first time in Fort Mason, but next time I’ll make a soup — it’s my signature dish.”
Although the night’s theme centered around the noodle competition, other vendors presented a wide variety of dishes, like baked macaroni, pork skewers, chicken sandwiches and crab puffs.
This isn’t the first time Off the Grid has hosted a noodle competition. The same contest was held in August last year, where 12 creators submitted their noodle dishes.
Off the Grid’s first festival hosted ten trucks at FMCAC in June 2010. In the 13 years they have been operating, they have expanded their food festivals to 15 other Bay Area locations.
FMCAC is their flagship location and remains their largest event. The Noodle Night Fight Food Fest on Sept. 15 was one of many events created to connect restaurants and chefs with San Francisco foodies.
Originally a headquarters for the U.S. Army, Fort Mason now hosts thousands of community events every year. Friday night, the fort was transformed into the likes of a yard party: fairy lights draped everywhere, dogs and their owners relaxing around fire pits, and a constant flow of hits from the DJ booth ranging from hip hop to electronic rap. Later in the night, Sonamó Music’s live performance took the vibe to the next level, with their brass-infused funk and rhythm music that brought everyone up to the dance floor.
“After the pandemic, there was a lot of sadness and a lot of hate,” said Hallie Beier, 22, who drove up from Half Moon Bay with friends to come to the event. “It’s good to see families and couples out enjoying food, not dwelling inside.”
Omar Rodriguez, who co-created Los Rockeros Food Truck with his wife Christina after losing his job, said that Off the Grid’s support gave him the confidence to keep building their business. Securing a spot as an Off the Grid vendor allowed Rodriguez to take risks with new recipes. This resulted in their most popular menu item, birria ramen, which started as an experiment based on a TikTok. Rodriguez explained, “I love ramen, and since we already had birria on the menu, I decided to try it out, not knowing the impact it would make for us. Two years later, here we are, at a noodle event for something that started out as an experiment from TikTok.”
Like Los Rockeros, many vendors featured at the festival are small businesses. One such business is GIM Belly, known for their grilled pork belly. Owners Liza and Jojo Dungca said, “These events bring people together to make memories and bond over delicious food. Food is a love language.”
This sentiment was echoed by Javier Uriegas, 25, from Mexico, who emphasized how food is a great way to build a city’s sense of togetherness. “I come from a country where community is a very big thing, and it’s very normal for people to be out and about,” he said to me while waiting for a fried chicken sandwich from Respectable Bird. “These types of events bring people out in a safe space, and I think they’re crucial to building a community.”
For Gladys Nguyen, the owner of The Chinita Baker, she said, “I’m truly grateful to be part of community-building events like Off The Grid, celebrating good food and creating a space for people to come together and share experiences. As a food vendor, it’s an honor to be a part of that.”
Off the Grid’s event schedule can be found at https://offthegrid.com/events/.