Book Review: Mission Street Food

Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant

2011_08_16-MSF.jpgMission Street Food isn't quite a cookbook but it's not not a cookbook either. It has recipes, yes, but more than half the book is taken up with the well-told and fascinating story of how San Francisco's Mission Street Food, a pop-up restaurant-within-a restaurant, was birthed, morphed, grew siblings and morphed again. It's a compelling, completely San Francisco story, one that I read like a novel, propped up in bed way past my bedtime.

Like the legendary pop-up restaurant it's named after, Mission Street Food won't appeal to those with conventional expectations. The food photos are roughly shot (the pictures of the kitchen will confirm some people's fears and stereotypes) and there's a funny but gruesome story that involves a rather plump rat. But those with an appreciation for a jump-before-you-think-too-hard-about-it attitude and quirky, unconventional, ballsy, eye-rollingly delicious food will be delighted and inspired by this tale.

But what about the recipes? While this isn't the kind of cookbook to pick up at 5PM to help you get dinner on the table, there is a lot to be learned here. For example, nine very helpful pages describe how to prep and cook a ribeye steak, followed by a simple steak tostada recipe (crispy corn tortilla, caper aioli, rare ribeye, radish, tomatillo, watercress, lime.) Additional recipes include Braised Sausage, and Marrow-Stuffed Squid.

There's also a delicious sounding Bacon Vinaigrette, Charred-Scallion Sour Cream and something called French Toast Crunch which is basically a piece of thickly cut bread that has been toasted with butter, coated with sugar, bruleed with a torch and served in a pool of cream. Even the more conventional brownie recipe gets some MSF love when it's served with a slab of Brillat-Savarin cheese and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts.

Having had the great honor of dining at all of Mission Street Food's incarnations, from taco truck to pop-up restaurant-within-a-restaurant to burger joint to fancy-fine dining establishment and back again to its current Mission Chinese Food, I can attest to the honest, crazy, exciting deliciousness of their food. And their 'business model' which gives a percentage (and sometimes all) of their profits to food charities only keeps my candle of love burning brighter.

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a conventional cookbook experience, then this book is probably not for you . But if you want to be challenged and inspired to create something that has never been done before, then don't hesitate. Just like the people that made Mission Street Food (the restaurant), it takes takes a odd but mighty combination of vigor, fearlessness and naiveté to pull off this kind of cooking. Are you up for it? There's only one way to find out.

The Details: Hard cover with no dust jacket; 223 pages, full-color photos throughout; an entire chapter told in comic book format; index; a few dozen recipes plus several charts and fascinating lists; assorted and fascinating essays on such topics as Orientalism, Popeye's Chicken, and Countercultural Capital. This is McSweeny's first release from their new Insatiable imprint.

More: Eater SF did a series on the Mission Street Food book, found here.

Get it: Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, $19.10 from Amazon.

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.