It’s very clear to me the first time I remember hearing the term “off the grid.” It has become a frequently used cliche in the Terminator movies. Like so many phrases and words I’ve picked up, I’m sure I first tested it out with my parents so that I didn’t lose any cool points with friends. The first time I did this was when I was a little boy and I wanted to practice cursing. Needless to say, it didn’t go according to plan. This time, I’m sure it went a little something like this: “Hey mom, I’m going to the movies. I’ll be off the grid for a bit.” Several years later, it’s not quite as cool to say “off the grid.” It would certainly make my A-list of cliche phrases I really don’t have to hear anymore. However, that was until I recently heard about an event in San Francisco called Off the Grid.

Off the Grid is the ultimate cure to my food dilemma. You see, I like food and when I want a certain type of food, I want it right then and there. I want to just step outside of my door, walk a couple blocks and it be like a big carnival of my favorite food and drinks. I’m first greeted by the bakery, where I grab a Nutella Crepe for now and a red velvet cupcake to-go for a late night snack. Next door is an Irish pub, where I enjoy a little footie, talk about our golf games with the locals, and enjoy a fresh pint of Guinness. I can hop across the street for a slice of NYC-style pizza or step next door for a couple fish tacos. I walk the back way home, which takes me past the beignet cafe, which I pick up a few for breakfast the next morning. I can hear some of you now: “But, Spencer, that’s nothing more than a glorified mall food court.” Um, no. Have you eaten at a mall food court lately. I don’t even know if that’s chicken I’m eating.

Looking down onto food truck heaven.

Is this wishful thinking? Maybe. Possibly. Probably. However, I found the next best thing with Off the Grid in San Francisco. I don’t even know how I found out about Off the Grid. I just remember hearing the following terms: Marina District, Golden Gate Bridge, on the water, food trucks. I was sold. As I headed over to Off the Grid, I began walking through the park, approaching the top of the hill of Fort Mason where I could hear music below. It was like a scene from a movie. I was like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, approaching the crest that looks down into Helm’s Deep, as he prepared to pillage the orcs down below. The only thing left would be some empty paper baskets, some lingering hot sauce, and a couple solo plastic cups.

On the horizon, the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Below, tucked between the piers and just off from the water was a bustling lot, filled with food truck after food truck that formed a square fortress. I climbed down the rugged mountain walked down the stone steps that zigzagged down to the pearly gates tented entrance. As I approached the entrance, I was greeted with “Welcome to heaven Off the Grid.” I tried to limit my usage of terms like y’all and you’ens, but imagine my accent still rang thick even when I responded with: “Why thank you.”

On the evening I was at Off the Grid, a Friday, I estimate there were 20-25 food vendors. They do smaller events throughout the week, but the main event is every Friday evening at Fort Mason in the Marina District, taking place from 5-10 p.m. My recommendation is to take a couple laps before ordering anything. See what people are eating, take a look at the menus, grab a beer or cocktail, and scout things out. Unless you’ve fasted for a week, which I don’t recommend, you’re probably not going to try everything. Keep an eye out on the lines. The longest waits I had, were the best food I ate. My first Off the Grid event included a taco, empanada, and pork dumplings. There were also a couple local bands playing, including a cool, funky jazz band. I was riding solo, but I would consider going with a group of friends or even a Friday night starter with a date. Fresh local food, drinks, and live music. What’s not to love?

That now brings me to the great 2011 summer food truck challenge. I arrive in San Francisco the first week of June to call the bay area home. I have challenged myself to eat from every food truck in San Francisco this summer. Off the Grid’s website lists nearly 50 vendors. I’ll start with that list and start checking them off as I eat. I’ll be writing about my experiences from time to time. Some of the foods I’m already excited about include cupcakes, steamed buns, fish tacos, Korean BBQ, and lobster rolls. “But Spencer, aren’t you going to get fat eating all of that food.” No. Have you seen the streets of San Francisco I’ll be walking up and down? Also, I imagine eating street food is better than eating McDonalds a few times a week and I see “healthy” people walk in there all the time.

Don't recommend bicycling up this hill.

So who’s with me? Has anyone ever tried something like this, but maybe in another city? Many stories, photos, and videos still to come as I tackle San Francisco’s food truck scene this summer.

Photo of Telegraph Hill from Howard on Flickr.