By Tamara Palmer
On Thursday, November 15, the Mission Street Food 10th Anniversary Party takes place inside The Perennial in San Francisco as well as around a food truck that will be parked outside of the restaurant.
The truck will provide an homage to owners Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz’s unlikely roots in the restaurant industry, and will be where they serve the sandwich that launched their improbable empire a decade ago.
- The sandwich is only going to be around for one night — and you’ll want to try it because it’s the stuff of fantasies.
That legendary sandwich is called the “PB&J”, and it contains neither peanut butter nor jelly, but instead is a croissant-slash-Chinese-pancake-esque flatbread topped with Berkshire Kurobuta pork belly, marinated jicama, pickled jalapeno and cilantro aioli. Once Myint perfected the recipe in the kitchen of the former Bar Tartine in San Francisco — where he was a line cook at the time — he got the idea to sublet a Guatemalan antojitos truck on its night off to take the PB&J to the streets.
Myint had no idea if anyone would show up on that first night, but when he arrived at the spot, people were already waiting for him thanks to a blog post on Eater San Francisco and the then-magic of Twitter.
- After three wildly popular Thursday nights in the truck, they knew they had to take it inside. Plus a local business owner was starting to complain.
Myint and Leibowitz went door-to-door on Mission Street in San Francisco to try to find a restaurant where they could serve PB&Js one night a week. They settled with the one place that would take them — a slow Chinese restaurant called Lung Shan.
For two years and running two nights per week, they served PB&Js (which Leibowitz revealed in their Mission Street Food cookbook was almost named the “Clean Sanchez”), along with other magical offerings by Myint and a revolving door of guest chefs.
The music and themes changed frequently and the menus were a wonderful mix of high and low culinary arts (peruse the old Mission Street Food blog for some wild menu porn). But there was always a consistently fun communal vibe as well as a charitable business model; a portion of the proceeds (and eventually all of the proceeds) were always donated to an organization that feeds people.
Source: Instagram @theperennialsf
Wrote Myint on the blog in 2009,
- “Our ultimate goal is to inspire other businesses to employ charity as a viable marketing strategy (similar to the way that environmentally responsible products have gained momentum over the past decade).”
After two years, Mission Street Food remained at Lung Shan and morphed into the full-time restaurant Mission Chinese Food, which also now has two locations in New York City.
“We liked to think that we were starting an indie chef movement,” Myint wrote in 2016, when they hosted a special Mission Street Food dinner at The Perennial. “We ran two pop-ups each week and by the end, pulled off 140 unique menus. Karen called it the equivalent of planning a wedding twice a week.”
San Francisco Chronicle food editor Paolo Lucchesi — who broke the news of Mission Street Food’s first night in the truck in 2008 — recently called its subsequent run “the most influential SF restaurant of the past decade,” citing its heavy impact on the current landscape of food trucks (which includes Off the Grid’s events) and pop-ups.
And when we sat down with Myint to reflect on the past decade in the above video, he revealed that it was Lucchesi who reminded him that the big anniversary was around the corner, prompting the start of planning this week’s party.
Source: Instagram @infatuation_sf
Ten years went by in the blink of an eye, and the projects that Myint and Leibowitz have inspired from the charitable model of Mission Street Food have fed millions; he estimates that Mission Chinese Food, which contributes 75 cents from every dish to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, has donated about 1.3 million meals. Meanwhile, their ZeroFoodprint initiative is uniting restaurants around the world in reducing carbon emissions to make an even bigger impact on the planet’s food system.
- When they started in late 2008, Barack Obama had just been elected and positive change was in the air. “It was ‘the audacity of hope,’” Myint recalled. “It’s a fun time to hearken back on.”
The Mission Street Food 10th Anniversary Party will take place on November 15 from 5:30 to 10pm, with Myint cooking PB&Js (and maybe some new dishes) in the truck starting at 7pm.
There’ll also be a number of guest chefs who made cameos or had bigger roles during Mission Street Food’s original run, including former Lucky Peach editor Chris Ying, Jason Fox and Ian Muntzert from Commonwealth, Nick Balla from Duna and Reem Assil of Dyafa and Reem’s in Oakland.
Each item will run $10, and they’ll be purchased with tasting tickets that can be acquired in advance or at the door.