When we asked food influencer and YouTuber Christian Lapastora—better known as the guy behind Eat Like An Apex—about the future of street food, the answer was unexpectedly cheery.
While many businesses have struggled in the midst of the pandemic, there are just as many who are thriving. As Christian puts it, “People still want to eat—and they want to do it safely.” He even goes as far as to say it might actually be a good time to start a food truck.
Created for pickup, many street food vendors are well-positioned to take on the influx of takeout. Of course, without big markets or festivals and shelter-in-place restrictions, where to be and who to serve has become a lot more complicated. But Christian, who’s still on a mission to try all the new items and show you mouth-watering videos about them, had a few good (if not hopeful) points.
As part of our new food insider series, Eats on the Streets, we interviewed Christian to get a little more color on how he started, what he sees while exploring, what he predicts for 2021, and—of course—where and what we should be eating right now.
Give us the background, Christian. How’d you get started in the world of street food and content creation?
Oh, man! It’s all over the place. I have a huge passion for food and travel and always admired guys like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. My ultimate mentor is YouTuber Mark Weens, who’s based in Thailand. I learned a lot from him. And the way I got started was that I just hustled when it came to my food and travel and decided to create videos. I do have a full-time job in law enforcement. But, I would like to make this my full time eventually.
I started on YouTube as a content creator with nothing but my phone camera back in 2018. I just wanted to do something I enjoyed, and the real lightbulb moment for me came right after I got really sick and nearly died.
You almost died?! What happened?
I had what’s called Valley Fever; it is a bad virus and caused me to lose a lot of weight. When they found the right medication to help me, I realized I wasn’t entirely happy with how my life was going. I could’ve died. So, I started “Eat Like An Apex” to build in time to live with passion in my daily life.
One day, I just picked up my phone and recorded the first food truck video. It was so bad! But, it was the foundation; it was a base. Since then, I’ve created nearly 300 videos, and everyone revolves around street food. I attend food festivals, Off the Grid events, and scout out new places worldwide to visit. I also now do some social media strategizing and content creation for restaurants and other clients. Finally, my book that just came out is a compilation of all my favorite street food vendors around the Bay Area.
So, where does the name come from? What does it mean to Eat Like an Apex?
It’s based on the apex predator. I was watching this movie (I can’t remember the name), and the guy says, “I’m the apex predator!” And I think that my spirit animal is a shark. The shark is an apex predator, like a lion or a tiger, or T-Rex. It’s basically the predator at the top of the food chain. And I just thought that sounded really cool.
Now, I don’t want to be known as an apex predator, but I want to eat like an apex—a top-tier eater.
Sounds fierce and awesome. Why focus on street food?
Before even venturing into the whole food “vlogging” space, I wanted to open my own food truck. I might still in the future, who knows?! I was thinking of Cajun or some sort of Southern-style comfort food because I just love the cuisine. But, I went this route instead for now and focused on vendors in the street scene doing cool, delicious things. There’s just a lot of creativity in this space.
Did your business take a hit last year along with everyone else?
It actually wasn’t that impacted because I already had a lot of content I shot pre-pandemic lined up. I filmed 8 places in 2 months and did batch content. So, I was able to produce during the pandemic. I was also able to visit a lot of businesses within the restrictions and limitations of the pandemic. People still want and need a voice to help them promote their delivery and takeout options. I was able to give businesses a lot of visibility that they needed.
What about your peers? How’re other food influencers holding up?
I don’t go to too many food influencer events. Usually, when you go to events, you want to showcase the restaurant. I would assume they haven’t been meeting up much. I think a lot are helping restaurants advertise their delivery options and are promoting things like that on their own pages. I guess the biggest difference now is that everyone is kind of doing their own thing.
What’s the most innovative thing or biggest pivot you’ve seen with street food businesses?
What’s interesting is that a lot are pivoting to using these “cloud kitchens.” Basically, they’re providing the space to make food and delivery way more financially viable because it’s so expensive to station yourself on the streets. Many street food vendors are looking for alternative ways or sites like that to help alleviate those expenses.
Overall how would you say street food businesses have fared?
I think they’ve actually fared way better than restaurants because they’re built for takeout. The model is already there. Brick and mortars are by far more affected—as are pop-ups. It was critical for pop-ups to get visibility at food festivals. A lot couldn’t operate anymore because of shelter in place. I do know a few that have stopped doing their business altogether. But, I also know a lot who are thriving from the explosion in to-go orders.
Well, finally some good news! Please, tell us more about that…
For sure! I mean, people still want to get food, and they want to stay safe. So, as you know, many of these trucks are promoting pre-orders that you can just swing by and pick up at a designated time. For those types, they just find spots to park or pop up; it’s great.
How are the most successful businesses promoting themselves? How are food lovers finding their favorite foods?
It’s mostly social media and word of mouth. Also, things have just gotten even more hyper-local. These businesses are focusing on the community they serve. So, as a business, you really want to target your community and let them know they’re out there. Instagram is where a lot is happening, but also local Facebook groups like Bay Area Eats or SF Eats.
What do you expect going into this year? How do you think the street food landscape will change? Is it a good time to start something new?
It will still be tough. But there are still opportunities. People still want to eat out. They want takeout. They want good food. And like I said, I think street food has an advantage. I’m gonna even go ahead and say it’s an okay time to start a food truck business. All the platforms like Grubhub are making a killing with to-go orders.
Alright, let’s talk food. Any favorite new trends in the street food scene that emerged last year?
The Quesabirria taco—hands down. It’s a Mexican dish made with birria meat (beef or goat) that’s stuffed in a taco shell and slathered with this amazing sauce that you then dip in a container of meaty consume. You dip it, and you eat it. It’s sooooo good. It has been around for a while, but more food trucks started doing this, and it became a big trend.
Sign me up for some Quesabirria now, please. Who does the best one in San Francisco?
El Fuego has one. Meet you there next week?
Done. Any other trends to look out for this year?
I’ll keep an eye out. No predictions just yet.
You are the apex! Anything you don’t eat?
Stinky tofu. I cannot do stinky tofu. It tastes like dirty laundry and manure to me. But some people love it.
That’s pretty much how I describe durian fruit.
What?! I love durian. You have to learn to love it. I didn’t like it at first either, actually, but my wife taught me a trick. She said to eat it with a handful of nuts. So, I started chasing it with cashews, and the whole flavor changed for me. Now I actually crave it. I crave durian. There are actually 50 different types, and the more pungent, the better.
What’s your go-to comfort food right now?
Deep-fried soft-shell crab sandwich. It’s a terrific comfort food dish. I recently had one at Adam’s Grub Truck. They have something called The Kraken, which is a soft-shell crab sandwich with a sauce on a brioche bun.
This interview is making me so hungry. Last question: Best kept secret in the Bay Area for street food?
I’m going to go with the best burger. It’s actually one that Anthony Bourdain discovered. It’s called Sam’s Pizza and Burger in Chinatown. Surprisingly, not a lot of people know about it. I put it in my book! It’s actually easy to miss between all the dim sum restaurants.
Byline: Renee Frojo