10 brands I recommend from Winter Fancy Food Show 2019 in SF

Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco

I attended the Winter Fancy Food Show this year in San Francisco. This food-industry trade show features 80,000+ specialty food and beverages as well as thousands of new products, industry networking events, and 1,400+ exhibitors from around the planet.

I was able to try hundreds of new products coming to the food industry. These are the 10 brands that left the biggest impression on me and that I’m recommending to my readers.

  1. Ithaca Cold-Crafted Hummus: A premium hummus brand that is achieved by using cold processing techniques that preserve nutrients that are normally lost when heating ingredients to make hummus. There are no GMOs, no preservatives, no citric acids, no artificial ingredients, no canola, and no soy. What’s really incredible is how fresh this hummus tastes with each bite. My favorite flavors were the garlic hummus and lemon dill.
  2. Proud Label: This is a new brand that makes spreads made with different vegetables. It was in the Incubator Village at the Fancy Food Show. Each one I tried was truly delicious with my favorite being the Product Label Red that is made with beets and pepper. It tasted like it would go great on a breakfast item (maybe even some Huevos Rancheros). The Proud Label Orange was also delicious and uses carrots, cauliflower, and spices to create a great spread. I hope to see these in stores soon.
  3. Blue Evolution: An incubator that grows seaweed in Baja California and Alaska and is finding new ways to introduce them the public. Right now they sell penne and rotini pasta to the public, but soon they will release seaweed popcorn which was an awesome experience to try and is something I’ve never thought of doing before. I want more soon.
  4. Ocean’s Halo: Speaking of seaweed. It seemed to be an emerging trend at the Fancy Food Show. Ocean’s Halo had a variety of products on display but their kelp-based ramen broth blew me away as well as their soy less sauces made with seaweed. There are so many things I want to try now from this brand after this experience.
  5. Villa Piva Jucies: Southern Brazil is creating 100% natural juices that have no preservatives, no added water, no added sugar, and juices that are gluten-free and lactose-free. They are quite tasty and my favorite was the apple juice made with hibiscus, cinnamon, and ginger. Their tangerine juice was also quite tasty and is made with lemongrass. I’d recommend giving them a look.
  6. Exotic Food Thailand: This brand from Thailand is beginning to sell Thai chili sauces made with Stevia which is a nice alternative to the sugary Thai products currently on the market and can be helpful for diabetics who still want to have some sweeter flavor in their food. Upon sampling these sauces, even I would make the switch if the product becomes available to me.
  7. Shimadaya: This Japanese brand makes Shin Uchi Frozen Ramen which was probably one of the booths I ran past the quickest, but actually had a lasting impression because it tasted quite good and requires very little preparation. Just 20-40 seconds boiling depending on whether you want standard or thick noodles. This product is not out just yet on the market, but is coming soon.
  8. Roam Free Bison Bites: Food with a mission describes Roam Free Bison Bites. The owner, Brittany Masters, hopes to make grass-fed bison a staple of the American diet again. She owns a sustainable start-up ranch in Western Montana that smokes premium bison meat in small batches and flavors with organic spices. The bison jerky snacks are high protein (24 grams per snack) and sugar-free. Farmers need Americans to eat bison again to help make their farms grow and become more sustainable. Personally, I found the snacks to be quick yummy and healthier than beef jerky.
  9. The Swiss Rosti: This is a product from Portland, Oregon that can be used as snack, side dish, or hor d’oeuvre and is made with vegetables blended with potatoes or sweet potatoes. The one I tried was the Curry Lentil flavor whcih is made with shredded parsnip, carrot and potato filled with Curried Acorn Squash and Cauliflower. It was gluten-free, vegan, and incredibly delicious! I would buy these.
  10. Aedan Foods: This is a local SF food business that makes fermented rice with something called koji which can be used as a food starter for different dishes. They offer different fermented items for cooking including miso, shio koji, amazake, and sagohachi. Their products use non-GMO and organic ingredients. I tried the shio koji and it was delicious. Fermentation is so important in Asian food cuisines and there is plenty of ways this can be used in cooking. I’ve never seen something like it in the Southeast. There’s a bit of a learning curve to their products, but they have recipes and plenty of information on their website.

Until next time!

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Eating Cubans in San Francisco: Isla Vida

I was born and lived in San Francisco until I was 8 years old. During my childhood Caribbean restaurants were far and between. Caribbean culture in general was mostly hidden from public view.

Most food media was limited back then as well since it was the 1990s and media did not have the multicultural voices of today. My exposure to Caribbean cuisine growing up was mostly from home cooking until we moved to Florida where it thrives.

Now that I am back in San Francisco I see a number of restaurants taking root in the direction of this food and I welcome it.

Today I decided to check out Isla Vida (Island Life) after finishing an article about The International Cuban Sandwich Festival and making myself crave a Cuban nearly 3,000 miles from home. Isla Vida has a Miami-like vibe to its interior with floral features (without the house music) although there is still room for growth in the interior. It has only been around for a few months.

The menu is fairly simple with Cuban and Jamaican influences and Isla Vida proudly refers to itself as Afro-Caribbean. The signature items are the smoked chicken and sandwiches as well as the Guava BBQ Ribs.

The restaurant is fast-casual but feels similar to a sit-down restaurant. If it was in South Florida, there would be a DJ inside spinning music, but the playlist was pretty enjoyable regardless.

Chef and Co-Owner, Jay Foster, and Co-Owner, Matthew Washington, are one of the only black business owners in the Fillmore which is a historically black neighborhood once called “Harlem of the West”, according to KQED.

There are many recent cases of chefs and restaurateurs moving into specific neighborhoods throughout the country and world with a mission to enrich them with history and culture in the last few years, a renaissance of a past when immigrants and minority groups formed powerful neighborhoods filled with music, art, and food. Food is a powerful way to create change. That is the San Francisco I remember as a kid.

I went for the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano ($13) as they call it. The Cuban Sandwich is originally from Tampa so I wanted to compare and contrast how people in San Francisco are enjoying their Cubans compared to my home city.

The Cuban Sandwich at Isla Vida comes with oven-roasted and wood-fired pork, ham, manchego, mustard, and a pickle on bread and comes with a helping of mixed greens, dressing, and shoestring fries.

The first thing I noticed is that the sandwich does not have salami. Salami is included in a traditional Cuban in Tampa due to influences from Italian immigrants that goes back to the 1800s and a is a foundation of the sandwich. Although I did find myself missing my salami, I was quite happy with the additions added by the chef.

The second thing I noticed is the swap of dijon mustard which is something that might have people from Tampa fuming, but for me the dijon mustard worked really with the smoked pork stacked on top of the sandwich. The swap of Swiss cheese for Manchego wasn’t noticeable in my opinion due to the bold flavors throughout the sandwich.

I admit that I am much more open-minded than some of my fellow diners in the East Coast who expect their roots to be maintained exactly that way, but to me food is always evolving and chefs should be respected for taking risks and rewarded when it works well.

Isla Vida Cubano or Cuban Sandwich with smoked pork.

One of the biggest differences is the addition smoked pork. Isla Vida is not the first place to use smoked pork in the country, however restaurants in Tampa move towards pulled pork as a topping on their Cuban. The smoked pork really worked on Isla Vida’s Cuban and it has a very unique and flavorful finish that is perfect when you hit the aftertaste of ham, mustard, and crunchy bread as you take each bite.

The only thing I would add is more ham to the sandwich to better balance the smoked pork, it is great but personally I would add more ham to taste it more.

The smoked pork almost made me want Guava BBQ sauce on my sandwich, but I feel I would have completely betrayed my sandwich and roots if I fully entertained that so I ruled against it.

Fries at Isla Vida

The portion size was generous. I could have easily have split the sandwich with someone and ordered some more sides, but I hardly can ever finish a Cuban in general. Your mileage may vary. The salad and fries were plentiful.

I would like to try the tostones and maduros in someday to see how they line up to my experiences. Isla Vida is also offering brunch and I am interested in giving that a shot in the future as well.

Hopefully they also add some cocktails in the future as that would be a major add. I also found myself craving a Cafe con Leche with my sandwich and I think it would be a powerful addition to the menu if done right.

I will return to Isla Vida in the future for more food and am happy to recommend it as a former judge to the International Cuban Sandwich Festival.

Isla Vida San Francisco

Restaurant Name: Isla Vida

Cuisine: Caribbean, Cuban, Jamaican

Neighborhood: Fillmore

Address: 1325 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

Phone Number: (415) 678-5171

Website: http://www.islavidasf.com

Cost: $$

Menu: http://www.islavidasf.com/#menu

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/islavida.415/

Instagram: @islavidasf

Twitter: @islavidasf

10 food destinations to visit for a 24-hour trip to San Francisco

San Francisco is packed with thousands of restaurants and cafes to visit. It’s hard to filter through all of it and really it is all about knowing where to go without getting caught up by the hype. Here are my recommendations on food destinations to visit for a 24-hour trip to San Francisco.

No. 1 – Taqueria El Farolito – The King of the Super Burrito and Mexican food in San Francisco. Don’t let anybody convince you that the other spots are superior (they aren’t). El Farolito has been in this game for decades and still serves up the best burrito in San Francisco at decent prices. The best one is located on Mission and 24th Street. 2779 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 824-7877. Multiple locations. http://www.elfarolitosf.com

No. 2 – Balompié Cafe #3 – Salvodoran food can be found around SF just as much as Mexican cuisine. Balompié serves an authentic sit-down experience of the cuisine and is a hotspot for hungry customers. The signature dish is the pupusa and if you have never had one, I highly recommend trying one during your visit. You can get different stuffings inside this corn meal dish, but my favorites are beans, cheese, and mixed. 3801 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 647-4000


No. 3 – Ton Kiang – Good dim sum is hard to come by where I come from in the South (not true in SF), but Ton Kiang serves an excellent and wide-selection of dim sum that will keep it coming and the prices are reasonable. Their tea is excellent and the experience is one I need to have on every visit to San Francisco. 5821 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94121. (415) 752-4440 http://www.tonkiang.us

No. 4 – Boba Guys – The best bubble tea in San Francisco hands down and maybe even the United States of America. Boba Guys has a commitment to quality and excellence that is a rare find in the fast upstart tea business. Their Matcha Strawberry bubble tea is a must as are their frescas. Multiple locations. www.bobaguys.com

No. 5 – Señor Sisig – What started off as a random food truck bite to eat in SF during one Christmas has become an annual mission for me to find Señor Sisig wherever they may be roaming around the San Francisco Bay Area. Their Sisig Burrito is like no other. I LOVE it. It may not be traditional, but it packs flavor and understands the complexities between Mexican and Filipino cuisine and that is truly satisfying to my palette. Check website for daily locations. http://www.senorsisig.com

No. 6. – Kitchen Story – This fusion restaurant is the perfect blend of Korean cuisine with brunch and American food. The mimosas do pack a punch and is totally worth buying the unlimited price. Try the Pork Belly Rancheros if you have a chance and you will not regret a thing about life. 3499 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. (415) 525-4905. http://www.kitchenstorysf.com

No. 7 – I’a Poke – I wandered into here one day when a sushi restaurant I was heading towards nearby was closed for lunch and I had the best sushi burrito of my life. No lie, I’a Poke uses quality ingredients and has great customer service. They have since expanded more in the city and with every bite having a heavenly taste to it, I’m not surprised. Multiple locations. http://www.iapoke.com

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Chowda

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No. 8 – Alioto’s – Most visitors will no doubt wander into San Francisco planning to get a bowl of clam chowder from Fisherman’s Wharf. An investigation a few years ago found that most restaurants in SF are actually using Campbell’s Clam Chowder soup which is disappointing to say the least. Alioto’s is one of the ones who serves quality clam chowder and you can buy it in a bread bowl downstairs if you want to have a quick bowl and go explore the waterfront harbor. 8 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133. (415) 673-0183. http://www.aliotos.com

No. 9 – Mitchell’s Ice Cream – An ice cream staple for over 65 years in San Francisco. Mitchell’s Ice Cream has survived generations of transformation for the Bay Area and one taste of their ice cream makes it easy to see why. My favorite is their Ube ice cream which is inspired from the Philippines, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. It’s so good that you’ll even find people there on rainy days in SF waiting in line for a scoop. 688 San Jose Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 648-2300. http://www.mitchellsicecream.com

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難得的二人世界💑🍵

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No. 10 – Stonemill Matcha – If you love matcha tea and a zen environment, then you will love Stonemill Matcha. One of the newer businesses to open on Valencia Street, they have more matcha dishes and drinks on their menu then you will know what to do with. Their popularity is through the roof so expect a bit of a wait to sit. 561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 796-3876 http://www.stonemillmatcha.com

Carlos Eats San Francisco Guide – Where to eat, drink, and play

Visiting San Francisco? I was born there and have a history with the city. I’ve been visiting frequently since 2014 and have noticed a major shift in the city as Silicon Valley has pushed into the Bay Area.

There are great quality food destinations to visit, but it takes more work than before to find quality businesses so I thought I would share some of my favorites with you.

Hopefully this guide helps you when you are in San Francisco. I separated the businesses by neighborhood because San Francisco is really broken up by neighborhoods and there is an obvious change between each one.

I believe San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities on Earth and I hope you enjoy it.

  • Bernal Heights
    • Barebottle Brewing Co.
    • Bolompie Cafe No 3
    • Mitchell’s Ice Cream
  • Castro
    • I’a Poke’
    • Kitchen Story
  •  Chinatown
    • Boba Guys
  • Dogpatch
    • Harmonic Brewing
    • Triple Voodoo Brewery
  • Excelsior
    • Los Planes de Renderos Pupuseria
  • Financial District (FiDi)
    • 111 Minna
    • Cafe Madeleine
    • Tropisueno SF
    • Workshop Cafe
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
    • Alioto’s:
    • Surisan
  • Hayes Valley
    • Smuggler’s Cove
    • Whitechapel
  • Inner Sunset
    • Japanese Tea Garden
    • The Taco Shop at Underdog’s
  • Japantown
    • Kuchi Tsuru
  • Marina
    • The Brick Yard
  • Mission District
    • El Farolito
  • Outer Richmond
    • Ton Kiang
  • Russian Hill
    • Buster’s Cheesesteak
  • SoMa
    • Trademark & Copyright

Pop-Ups:

  • Eats By E

Food Trucks:

  • Senor Sisig

Suburbs & Surrounding Cities:

  • Daly City
    • Fil-Am Cuisine 2
  • Napa Valley
    • Back Room Wines
  • Oakland
    • Oriental B.B.Q. Chicken Town
  • San Mateo
    • Nini’s

I’a Poke serves delicious eats (San Francisco)

Poke (poh-keh) has taken America by storm over the last few years. Poke by definition is a raw-fish salad.

The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage states that poke first became popular in the 1970s in Hawaii. The trend spread to the U.S.A. in 2012 and at some point began appearing everywhere. Many places just started chopping up fish and selling “poke” to increase sales with no real focus on the history.

Much like “Kobe beef”, “poke” has become a strong sales buzzword without much meaning at many restaurants. Some restaurants actually stay true to the origins of the dish though and use attention to how the fish is prepared and served. Once you taste real poke, the knock-offs just aren’t good enough.

The sushi burrito seems to have come about in 2011 when Sushiritto was founded in San Francisco by Peter Yen. Sushi burritos are essentially a closed sushi handroll packed with tons of rice and ingredients. I tried Sushiritto last December in San Francisco and found the dishes to be rather dry and not quite what I expected and was quite disappointing.

I ended up at I’a Poke by accident this past July when I was looking for a sushi restaurant for lunch and found that most restaurants in SF close at 2PM. After trekking on the BART to the Castro to try Eiji, I ended up going to I’a Poke instead and was glad I did!

The restaurant takes Hawaiian-inspired poke and combines it to offer both sushi burritos and poke bowls. Large bowls and Burritos are allowed to have unlimited toppings, which rocks.

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I’a Poke allows you to build your own poke bowls or sushi burritos and also sells pre-arranged meals as well. The freedom to choose toppings was expansive and a great deal. I wasn’t ready for how delicious the food was going to taste.

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I’a Poke opened my taste buds to how amazing poke and sushi burritos can taste. There wasn’t any topping that did not pack full flavors. The fish was insanely good. I had a salmon burrito with spicy mayo, surimi crab meat, tamago (Japanese egg), sun dried tomato guacamole, masago, furikake, and it was incredible!

It absolutely blew Sushiritto away.

Never have I tasted better ingredients for a sushi burrito and the serving portion was fair.

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In addition, the attendants who made the sushi burrito were incredibly hospitable and the overall place brought me very good vibes.

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Cheers to all the poke lovers 🍻

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Watching the people around me eat their poke bowls stuffed with ingredients, it was clear I need to return one day for a bowl. Still, the sushi burrito itself impressed me enough to also recommend the poke bowl (the ingredients are the same after all).

I would recommend I’a Poke to anyone in San Francisco looking for an amazing sushi burrito or poke bowl. Here’s hoping that I quickly am able to return to San Francisco and enjoy I’a Poke again.

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Restaurant name: I’a Poke

Neighborhood: Castro

Cuisine: Poke, Sushi Burrito

Address: 314 Church Street San Francisco, California

Menu: http://www.iapoke.com/menu

Website: http://www.iapoke.com/

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/iapokesf/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/iapoke

Boba Guys: Best Bubble Tea Business in the USA

Boba Guys is the best bubble tea shop in the USA and a leader in their industry. It is much more than just a nice Instagram or Snapchat post. There are lots of factors that contribute to this opinion and they have been shaped over numerous visits over the last year.

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Consistency

One of the most important factors of any cafe or restaurant is consistency.

You want your drink or order to taste the same no matter which location or time you stop by at a business. I have visited at least 3 or 4 Boba Guys locations multiple times and have not been disappointed in the quality of my drinks on any visit.

The matcha strawberry latte or horchata drink tastes the same at all the different shops and that goes for their tea menu in general. This proves that there is proper training for baristas and oversight/quality assurance testing happening.

The tapioca pearls always have the same chewiness and are never overcooked or undercooked. This is a huge credit to their employees and management. I am quite a bubble tea fanatic in Florida and am often finding myself have boba balls slicing under my teeth or even tasting undercooked pearls.

Many people don’t know that the chewiness of boba balls is a Taiwanese cultural phenomenon and there should be a certain type of chewiness to the balls in order to have a quality experience. Boba Guys delivers on this experience. The sensation is called “QQ” in Taiwan and is essentially a type of texture.

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Quick Turnaround

I seem to visit San Francisco during every major national holiday when I am vacationing on the west coast and find myself at Boba Guys when there can be 30-60 people or more in line due to reduced operating hours. Despite this, the line always moves quickly and I never wait longer than a few minutes to get to the front. Once I order my drink it also comes out quickly.

I cannot say the same about bubble tea shops in Florida that sometimes take over 30 minutes to get you a drink when there are literally only 3 or 4 customers in the shop and half the time the employees forget your order completely. This goes back to management and how they train and manage their employees.

The quick turnaround is good for customers who have other things to do than waiting in line all day and for the business so they can turn as many orders as possible and make a better profit. Respect your customer’s time and your customer will respect your business. This brings me to affordability and quality.

Affordability 

When the bubble tea craze began an average drink was around $2 or $3, but the price of the drinks has soared in the last couple of years and many places are still using crappy artificial powders, low-quality creamers, and sweeteners. A few shops in Florida even charge close to $6 or $7 for a drink.

Boba Guys charges $4.50 and around $5.50 for a specialty drink with real ingredients in San Francisco, one of the most expensive places in the world to operate a business. San Francisco is filled with tons of costs you will not find anywhere else you operate a business.

It baffles me that shops in Florida are charging so much considering the rent is ridiculously cheaper in Tampa Bay compared to San Francisco and the minimum wage in Florida is under $9 an hour. The price of the drinks Boba Guys produces are a further testament to their commitment to their customers and to providing a great product at a price that general public can afford.

They could charge more and easily get away with it in San Francisco, but they would close their product off from a public that is already struggling with high rent and low wages in an increasingly expensive city. The ability to see this is definitely a credit to their business mindset.

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Quality

Quality would probably be first on any list about a great business you might read. However, many food businesses with great quality still fail without consistency, quick turnaround, and affordability and that is why I mentioned those factors first. Anyone involved in the food business is aware that the survival rate is less than 10% and perhaps lower in the San Francisco Bay area in the first two years of operations.

Boba Guys already survived those odds. No doubt quality has helped deliver Boba Guys this far and helped them to have a competitive advantage over other tea shops and boba shops which can easily be replicated and saturate markets (like many dessert or snack concepts).

No powders are used at Boba Guys. They use real tea. This is the first step in changing the quality of the drinks and advancing bubble tea. The artificial flavors and ingredients used to make bubble tea at most shops are hazardous to your health – not the case at Boba Guys because they use REAL tea. It sounds ridiculous that I have to emphasize this, but prior to Naga Tea in Tampa – you could never find a shop that did this in Florida.

There is plenty of research out there about how artificial food coloring and flavorings are bad for your health and Boba Guys may be one of the first, if not the first shop to push using real tea in drinks.

Boba Guys uses Straus Family Creamery organic milk which is local to California, organic, and rGBH-free and that really makes the difference in their drinks compared to most boba shops. I get hives from the creamers used in shops in Florida which does not happen at Boba Guys. Boba Guys also has options for lactose customers including Califia Farms Almond Milk and Organic Soy Milk.

Good luck trying to get more information from shops about their powder and sources for milk tea in Florida or trying to get almond or soy milk at a tea shop in Florida.

Housemade syrups used are brown-sugar based, no fructose. I don’t think I should have to really explain why fructose is bad for you. Sweetness levels are customizable as well which is catching on in Florida boba shops as well now. 100% sweetness might be a little much nowadays.

Clearly, the owners of Boba Guys considered what they love about bubble tea and what they could change to make experiences for customers better and implemented changes that are improving bubble tea cafes in general.

Transparency

Part of owning a business is your relationship with your customers and the owners of Boba Guys do their best to communicate with their customers and let them know how the progress of their business is going and answer any questions customers may have weekly.

Price changes and hour changes are clearly communicated so customers aren’t left confused and there is clearly lots of customer feedback that is helping shape their business into a successful one.

You will not find this kind of commitment to a business in general and I am a little blown away by how much energy and effort the owners of Boba Guys put into having a relationship with their customers. It is simply awesome and most certainly a key to their success.

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Boba Guys is the best bubble tea shop business in the USA and I will visit them anytime I am near one of their shops and support them. If you haven’t visited them, I highly recommend visiting them if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area or New York City.