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Two dumplings covered in chile sauce on a plate, from pop-up The Happy Crane in San Francisco.
The Happy Crane
Dianne de Guzman

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Here Are the Hottest Pop-Ups to Watch in the Bay Area Right Now

From modern Cantonese bites to not-too-sweet desserts by a former Liholiho pastry chef

Pop-ups have long been a part of the Bay Area dining landscape, but in the last few years, the scene has grown exponentially, showing off all the culinary talent that exists outside four-walled restaurants. Home cooks and chefs of all levels are inserting creativity into their endeavors and showcasing a diverse selection of cuisines that maybe aren’t as common as they should be.

We’re scouting and writing about some of the more exciting pop-ups we come across and showcasing them all in one place. There are Japanese American snacks and delightfully blistered pizzas, and all in-the-know diners should have these pop-ups on their radars. Check back for updates as we add more spots into the mix.

Know about an upcoming pop-up that should be on this list? Email us at sf@eater.com.


November 2023

The Happy Crane

Crab har gow with caviar from the Happy Crane. Dianne de Guzman

Cantonese cuisine gets a modern update with chef James Parry’s pop-up, the Happy Crane. With stops this year at San Francisco’s Rich Table and Oakland’s Pomet, Parry’s touring his food around the Bay Area as he readies to open an upcoming restaurant in 2024. Hailing from Hong Kong, Parry moved to San Francisco to work at three-Michelin-starred Benu, and a recent collaboration with Rich Table chef de cuisine Gizela Ho featured bites such as crab har gow with caviar, a delicate “fragrant fish” dish made with black cod and black bean clam sauce, and dry-aged “Peking-style” duck.

Not Too Sweet

An up-close picture of a pumpkin-haupia shortbread bar from pop-up Not Too Sweet. Dianne de Guzman

The “not too sweet” complement for desserts is the ethos behind pastry chef Penelope Lao’s Not Too Sweet pop-up. Hailing from Liholiho Yacht Club, Lao’s treats are filled with flavors that shine through without the cloying sweetness of desserts found elsewhere. A recent pop-up event highlighted flavors such as a pumpkin-miso snickerdoodle, pumpkin-haupia shortbread bar topped with shavings of toasted coconut, and a passionfruit butter cookie. Other times, Lao features gems such as a Thai tea tres leches cake with salted cheese or matcha amaretti cookies, for that just-right pop of sweetness.

Ovinloven

Baker Rachael Strickler landed a pop-up residency at modern Irish bar, Casements on Mission Street, where she also works, sharing her style of Jewish-Irish fusion food with customers. Featured as a late-night menu Thursday through Saturday for the month of November, Ovinloven is “meant to evoke your favorite food memories and feelings of community with every bite,” Strickler shared in an Instagram post. Think comforting bowls of corned beef brisket and mashed potatoes or matzo ball soup perfect for chilly nights on the Casements back patio.

Porch Party

Onion rings and a sandwich from pop-up Porch Party Porch Party

Ari Louie grew up in Pasadena and came to Berkeley to finish school, learning and growing as she worked in the area at restaurants including Fava. Her food is nostalgic and comforting: Think gooey and crispy patty melts, garlic lemon herb chicken thighs. She’s got a cult status in the East Bay, now, and uses her time in the city’s deeply storied co-op landscape to feed hundreds of people every week. These days the chef is using her platform to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. “It’s the closest thing an average Joe can get to having a personal chef,” Louie says of her project.


August 2023

Jules

A cheese pizza with blistered crust from Jules, a Bay Area pizza pop-up. Jules

Jules is a new pizza pop-up from former Tartine culinary director Max Blachman-Gentile, pulling together his background in pizza and bread-making into his own take on ‘za. The pizzas are a cross between the slices Blachman-Gentile misses from his time working in New York, mixed with a bit of California sourdough starter, resulting in a thin, crisp crust with a light exterior. There is always a classic option on the list, like a done-up pepperoni with Calabrian chiles, as well as fun Jules-only options that rotate, such as a fennel pizza packed with fennel cream, fennel sausage, pickled fennel, and fennel pollen scattered on top.

Four Kings

Food from San Francisco pop-up Four Kings Pete Lee

Four Kings is all about “Canto nostalgia” and it's apparent from the Cantopop that plays in the background of each pop-up to the dishes that are served, such as the fried squab or honey walnut shrimp toast. The pop-up comes from a team of Mister Jiu’s alum, and they look at Four Kings as “an izakaya-type restaurant, but for Chinese food.” The menu does shift with each appearance but don’t skip the mapo spaghetti, kampachi crudo, or the xo butter escargot if it’s available.

Setsunai Snack

Beautiful, flavor-packed bites are what Setsunai Snack specializes in, serving what it calls “humble Japanese-American snacks.” Expect items like the egg-on-egg stunner on milk bread served with a chicken skin crisp and cilantro flowers that are seen above or the tuna tartare served on a scorched rice cracker. They’re carefully composed bites and items that are worth seeking out at their next pop-up appearance.

Batik and Baker

Serving Malaysian and Southeast Asian desserts, Batik and Baker showcases pastry chef Audrey Tang’s talents while also highlighting the dishes and flavors she grew up with. Expect colorful and flavorful sweets made with sticky rice such as kuih lapis and seri muka, alongside seasonal treats like this tomato tart dressed in olive oil and fresh basil.


May 2023

D.R.E.A.M. Doughnuts

There’s been a boom in pop-ups serving flavor-packed doughnuts lately, and for those with a sweet tooth, it’d be smart to track down D.R.E.A.M. Doughnuts. This pop-up serves both “Rings” (or, your typical hole-y doughnuts) and filled doughnuts, such as the Thai-Ger King filled with Thai tea cream. Croissant fanatics will be enthralled with D.R.E.A.M.’s “croughies,” which are muffin-shaped croissants that come filled with seasonal flavors, such as this month’s Honey Lavender Haze stuffed with a honey lavender creme. Those who prefer the savory side can try items such as the “Everything” croughie, which star smoked salmon, cream cheese, chives, and dill, or a mushroom-filled, goat cheese- and fontina-laden Danish. The D.R.E.A.M. team (see what I did there) makes regular appearances at farmers markets in Napa, at the Ferry Building, and in Marin, as well as other common pop-up spots, such as Albany’s Morningtide Shop.

Caldero

Dianne de Guzman

Chef Juan Lozano runs the Spanish food pop-up Caldero, which serves dishes such as paella, tortilla Española, and the tripe-filled stew callos a la Madrilleña. Lozano previously ran a restaurant by the same name in Venezuela, which closed, and now he’s touring his food around San Francisco, including a recent stop at Buddy in the Mission District. The food pairs beautifully with wine from the bar and is inexpensive enough to make it worth sampling as much as you can from the menu. Don’t skip out on the tortilla Española if it’s an option, it’s a current staff favorite.

Fish and Bonez

If you love a masterful charcuterie board — but don’t want to put the time in to make one — the pop-up Fish and Bonez has you covered. Fresh off a stint at Slug in Oakland, chef Booli Huerta is serving these bountiful boards loaded with pickled grapes, chicken liver pate, vegan mushroom pate, rillettes, and much, much more. If you’re lucky, they’ll also be serving the delightful spicy tuna, made with fish from Monterey Market, with a healthy dose of black tobiko on top. If you’re interested in a charcuterie board for home, Huerta offers the boards weekly for pickup.

Hadeem

Chef Spencer Horovitz, formerly of Oakland’s Slug and San Francisco’s Itria, is out to serve his own brand of California-Jewish cuisine with his new pop-up, Hadeem. Expect his take on Jewish dishes such as black sesame hummus or five-spice babka, as well as other items that borrow from other parts of Horovitz’s multicultural upbringing — think a “strange flavor-style dolma” or a barbecue harissa sweet potato. Already, a number of pop-ups are planned for the upcoming months, but his first pop-up is set for San Francisco wine bar Buddy on Wednesday, May 17.


March 2023

Rucolina Dining

Rucolina Dining is not just a pop-up, it’s also a multi-hyphenate business run by Natalie Nachtwey and Madison Derek, who somehow manage the pop-up schedule, along with cooking classes, catering, and private events — all on top of, y’know, cooking. Their food is fresh and highly seasonal, starring simple yet sophisticated dishes such as a charred romanesco number with toasted walnuts, mint, and pickled Fresno chiles that was available as a recent meal delivery. The duo’s been popping up most recently around the Gilman wine block parties, but follow their Instagram @rucolinadining to find out where to catch their food.

Tanoor

Yemeni food can be difficult to find in the Bay Area, so when a pop-up is attempting to right that wrong, it’s worth paying attention. This is the case with Tanoor, which serves Yemeni food in the East Bay. The pop-up has served all sorts of Yemeni dishes at past events, including kebab wraps and a lamb and bulgar wheat soup. Tanoor is now taking part in a four-week stint at Oakland’s Tamarack that started on March 30, serving slow-roast lamb served with basmati rice and tomato chutney.

Tasty Tings

Jamaican patties are another sorely under-represented food in the Bay Area, but luckily there are pop-ups like Tasty Tings that will help satisfy your patty needs. Owner Alyssa Magdaluyo was recently featured in a KQED story, discussing the journey that led her to running Tasty Tings. Madaluyo offers a variety of patties that can feed both omnivores and vegetarians, such as a jerk shrimp and cheese patty or a sweet potato version, both of which were part of a recent menu.

Salad Slvt

Take one look at the Instagram page for Salad Slvt and it’s easy to see this is a group that takes its veggies seriously — but not too seriously. Salad Slvt serves, yes, fresh salads, but also cheeseboards and paninis, in ways that make vegetables feel fun. Plus, it’s impossible to ignore pitch-perfect merch with suggestive, intertwined carrots. Maybe this is what we need to convince everyone to eat more vegetables.


December 2022

Daruma Kiosk

Sanae Shikayama of Daruma Kiosk serves delicious izakaya-style food and is more recently taking up a pop-up residence at Broc Cellars in Berkeley. Expect takoyaki cooked to order with a nice, crisp sear; items such as the beef nikumaki onigiri shown above; and vegetable side dishes like gochujang-spiced eggplant and tamari cucumber to accompany. Check the @daruma.kiosk Instagram for the latest pop-up dates and times.

Concession

Sometimes what you need is just some tasty, probably-not-healthy food, and Concession is ready to provide it. Dubbing itself as “casual Midwest grub” and “lowbrow eats,” this pop-up really serves just good ol’ concession-style food, but in San Francisco, typically at a bar, and with some good intention behind it. The menu changes slightly from pop-up to pop-up, but generally expect items such as Castle Sliders, a take on the White Castle classic, steamed with onions, and including mayo, pickles, and American cheese; Chicago Dawgs made with Vienna Beef franks; and a Mother-In-Law Sandwich, a beef tamale with chili, cream, and green onions.

Blooms End

Pastry chef Mary Denham runs just about the most whimsical pastry pop-up we’ve seen in a while: Blooms End, which combines her love of baking with her love of flower arranging. Denham’s pop-ups always have a number of pastries to peruse and obsess over, especially the sweet and savory croissants, which include the Monkey croissant with coffee and cardamom or the Flat Tart with Czech-braised sauerkraut, bacon, apple, and caraway. There are also always Other Things in the mix (that’s how she titles them on her gorgeous menus), such as coffee cake, muffins, cookies, and pie, so if you have a sweet tooth, this one is worth tracking down.

Chicken Dog Bagels

An Eater SF tipster wrote in to remind us that we’ve still yet to write about Chicken Dog Bagels, a bagel pop-up with the “best bagels in the Bay Area.” This is strong praise, but a sign of devotion from Chicken Dog’s fanbase. Still, if you’re still looking for that perfect bagel that embodies all of your ideal, subjective bagel qualities, Chicken Dog Bagel is worth a try with its selection of plain, sesame, poppy seed, and everything bagels. Unlike other pop-ups you have to chase down, Chicken Dog is steadily selling its goods at 237 Cortland Avenue on Fridays and Saturdays for preorders and walk-ups, with the option to order a bagel sandwich on arrival. Check the @chicken_dog_bagels Instagram for updates on weekly bagel drops.

SoDo Donuts

SoDo Donuts, the doughnut-centric pop-up of pastry chefs Elle Cowan and Heather Siperstein, makes appearances in the East Bay. The “SoDo” part of the name refers to sourdough, which is used to give these confections their unique and slightly bubbled texture, and which Cowan and Siperstein use as a base for a variety of doughnut flavors. Although most of the flavors tend toward the sweet side — such as the chocolate custard doughnut above or the cinnamon sugar doughnut — they do occasionally debut savory options, such as a recent caramelized leek and chevre cheese option and a sun-dried tomato stunner from the summer, filled with a mixture of goat cheese and sun-dried tomato.


Provecho

Offering both occasional sit-down dinners as well as its roving pop-up series, Provecho serves Oaxacan flavors in the form of small bites made with local produce and ingredients. Recent dishes including a crudo and the black adobo pork confit have been standouts, but the chef often changes up the menu to pair with the seasonal produce at hand. Provecho pops up on both sides of the Bay Bridge.

Year of the Snake

Patty Lu, who heads up the Berkeley pop-up Year of the Snake, has already gotten some press for her pastries but we’re happy to continue singing her praises. A former baker from Tartine, Lu is now serving her own style of pastries every Sunday in Berkeley (around the corner from Standard Fare), from Portuguese egg tarts to salted egg yolk cookies — and even a tea egg if you’re feeling in the mood.

Egg Pals
Dianne de Guzman

Egg Pals

Egg Pals is perhaps the newest pop-up on this list, with just one event under its belt so far, but it’s started off on the right foot. The pop-up specializes in (what else?) egg breakfast sandwiches, serving both a bacon and veggie version on a brioche bun with pickled red onions and tangy, herby mayo. You’ll be charmed by the smaller details including the foil wrappers that keep the cheese warm and melted to the joyous, egg-y logo.

Molly’s Refresher

In almost a two-fer, Egg Pals joined with pop-up Molly’s Refresher creating a well-balanced breakfast meal of sandwiches and refreshments. But Molly’s Refresher stands out on its own, with delightful vintage teacups and loose-leaf tea for sale alongside a menu of coffee, seltzers, sodas, chai, and pots of tea. Our go-to is the “rise and shine,” which is half-coffee, half-chai, but the black tea soda with vanilla whip looks just as enticing for another round.

Shine’s Kitchen

This Filipino pop-up showcases the diversity of food from the Philippines, but from a vegan perspective. While one recent pop-up focused on vegan-izing main dishes such as kilawen (Shine’s version was made with hearts of palm, rather than fish), another event delved into the popular Filipino bread roll pan de sal. An ube version came stuffed with a cheese filling with a side of ube halaya, alongside a corn pottage milk bread bun made by Mary Ann Chou. If that’s what a vegan pop-up can do with just a roll, we’re coming back.

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