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Ten Years Ago, Mission Street Food Changed the SF Food Scene Forever

Celebrate the pre-cursor to Mission Chinese with a party at the Perennial on November 16

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The nature of San Francisco’s dining scene has changed drastically over the last decade, with an influx of restaurants, and a sharp rise in rents and labor costs. In 2008, when Mission Street Food debuted as a food cart (and Eater was still in its infancy in San Francisco), there was still room for failure and experimentation.

Mission Street Food did not fail, however. In fact, it immediately drew lines when Chris Ying (writer and former EIC of Lucky Peach) tipped off the then-Eater-editor Paolo Lucchesi, whose resulting post caused crowds to form before the truck had even opened.

That was the wild West of pop-ups in San Francisco, before food trucks and pop-ups were as commonplace and the labor wasn’t as throttled by untenable costs of living. Chef Anthony Myint was a line cook at Bar Tartine at the time and partner/co-founder Karen Leibowitz was a graduate student; they started MSF for fun, prepping out of Bar Tartine’s kitchen on days when it was closed. Eventually the pop-up moved from the corner of Mission and 21st into the kitchen of Lung Shan, a rather unremarkable Chinese restaurant on Mission.

The duo added a guest chef series, bringing in pals like Chris Kronner — who cooked a Valentine’s day dinner of grilled Prather Ranch beef hearts, fried cardoons and squid, and Szechuan iced chocolate soup with mascarpone semifreddo — and Ryan Farr (pre-4505 BBQ) who debuted his now ubiquitous chicharrones there.

A memorable menu was titled “2010: A Seafood Odyssey,” with a menu focused, clearly, on seafood and accompanied by some of Myint’s Photoshop skills. Check it out below:

Anthony Myint

This Thursday we’re pleased to have HAL 9000 as our guest chef. HAL will be presenting a seafood menu inspired by his recent eating tour of Jupiter.
MSF profits will go to the St. Anthony Foundation, which serves over 2,600 meals per day--365 days a year--and provides medical services, clothing, and housewares to those in need.
white soy, mirin and salmon roe gelee with beech mushrooms, rice and dill - $4

scallop tartare, water chestnut, golden chive, caraway, pumpernickel crisps - $10

seared mackerel, beluga lentil salad, fried nagaimo, wasabi creme fraiche, pea leaves - $8

shrimp and uni stuffed tofu, scallion soubise, chili vinaigrette - $7

spicy crab cake with fried plantain, mango, young coconut juice, rice paddy herb - $12

mussels, poppy cream, benton’s bacon, celery root, parmesan crouton - $9

fried catfish, avocado, cucumber pickle, tapenade on a homemade flatbread - $7

lung shan’s vegan delight: shitake and oyster mushroom dumplings in miso soup - $5.5

pistachio pavlova with citrus salad, sherry reduction, yogurt creme and nori tuile - $6

The charity component has been deeply rooted since its inception as well, with each dinner benefitting a different charity, and constant support for the SF Food Pantry. Profits from most dinners supported charities of the guest chef’s choice, from Kiva to the Western Addition Senior Center to the St. Anthony Foundation.

Not quite two years after its debut, Mission Street Food transitioned permanently into Mission Chinese Food (still in the former Lung Shan space), led by constant collaborator chef Danny Bowien. The rest is history, kind of: Myint and Leibowitz have since opened the Perennial, an uber sustainable restaurant in mid-Market, while Bowien has grown the MCF empire to include a second NY location in Brooklyn, which opened last week.

Anthony Myint

Ten years later, Leibowitz and Myint are celebrating the start of it all, with a party at the Perennial to celebrate (and one of Myint’s throwback Photoshop jobs to accompany it, including bad internet fonts, and Chris Ying as a baby, holding a peach).

“These days, the idea of cooks just having free time to goof and cook some stuff for a little money and charity is really hard to imagine,” says co-founder Karen Leibowitz. “The guest chef thing was a way for chefs to try out ideas and sous chefs to be the chefs for a night. The labor dynamic has changed a lot.”

To recreate those early days, Myint and Leibowitz have invited a bunch of chefs with ties (or not) to Mission Street Food for a night of dining. There will stations for each guest chef, each of whom will be preparing $10 dishes. Diners can buy tickets ahead of time (or at the event) to cash in at each station.

“In the beginning we had the advantage of being early to market and we also came at it with really low expectations,” said Leibowitz. “We just thought ‘we’re just going to have some fun!’ We had no reputation to uphold so we just did things.”

As part of the return to their laidback roots, Leibowitz says she’s not even sure what everyone is creating for the event, though this crew can be trusted to turn out something good. It’s worth noting that Myint will be bringing back his beloved PB&J: pork belly and jicama on a scallion pancake, served out of a food truck in front of the restaurant. Here’s the full guest chef lineup:

The event takes place at the Perennial on November 15 from 5:30- 10 p.m.; the food truck parked out front will start at 7 p.m. Food tickets are available here.

The Perennial

59 9th St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 500-7788