Tip-Top Popups

Story and photos by Meredith Pakier

 

From left: Okkon’s savory pancake, Randy’s Best Ice Cream, ribs plate from Bangin’ Ass BBQ and Sweets, and Bolita Masa’s huaraches con frijoles

 

From top: hand pies from Bicycle Pies, brioche buns from Blooms End, and an elote loco from Popoca.

The East Bay is exploding with popups whose followers appreciate the high levels of craft and creativity. As the nature of popups is inherently nomadic, locations, menus, and ordering systems change often and quickly, so I’ve found that the best way to keep tabs is to follow these notable popups on Instagram.

Crisp yet tender, hearty but not too heavy, Okkon’s okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake) is my kind of comfort food. Each pancake contains a core of pork belly, mountain yam, shredded cabbage, and green onions bound together by flour and egg. Add-ons are your choice (there is no going wrong) and range from mushrooms to cod roe. For the final touch––a quick zigzag of homemade mayonnaise and a slightly sweet, barbecue-like sauce, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger. @okkonpopup

Sporting a soda jerk hat, Brandon Nguyen of Randy’s Best Ice Cream scoops streetside from his retro cart on weekends in Albany. He achieves a surprising amount of nuance in the slight toasty note of jasmine rice in his mango coconut rice flavor, and there’s real county-fair whimsy in his popcorn salted caramel flavor. Each cup is just as dreamy as it is creamy. @randysbesticecream

Bangin’ Ass BBQ and Sweets (BABS) brings St. Louis to the Bay. The BBQ plate gives you a little bit of everything, like tender ribs with a slick coat of sticky, tomato-y barbecue sauce and mac n’ cheese with a crispy, caramelized top layer. The acidic cut of the tangy, crunchy, mayo-less slaw balances the rich combination. For dessert, the strawberry shortcake does not disappoint. @banginassbbqandsweets

In addition to offering fresh masa and tortillas made with landrace maize processed via traditional nixtamalization, Bolita Masa crafts heat-at-home meals like huaraches con frijoles––a thin disc of earthy, minerally, and chewy masa infused with black bean purée. It needs only the simplest of toppings, so I dressed mine up with slices of roasted poblano peppers, avocado, queso fresco, and generous dollops of Bolita Masa’s homemade salsa macha. @bolitamasa

You don’t go to Bicycle Pies––Bicycle Pies comes to you. Pre-order online and days later, buttery, flaky hand pies are delivered straight to your doorstep. Fillings range from savory to sweet, like the warmly spiced saag paneer or the gooey, summer-in-the-palm-of-your-hand treat of cherry almond apple. @bicyclepies

With a nod to seasonal ingredients, ad hoc bakery Blooms End boasts an impressively extensive menu for such a small operation. The highlight of my visit was the delicate brioche bun studded with corn kernels and dusted with the soft, fruity heat of urfa biber (a dried Turkish chili pepper). To satisfy my sweet tooth, the fudgy chocolate and orange tart hit the spot. @blooms_end

At the center of Salvadoran-inspired Popoca is the wood-fire grill that produces smoke-kissed papusas and succulent shredded chicken sandwiches. Don’t miss the elote loco, a whole husk of grilled corn that’s smothered in aioli, cotija, and a zippy, umami-laden salsa negra, which puts it over the top. Although Popoca recently secured a brick- and-mortar location at 3525 Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland, they’re expected to continue to run pop-ups until the new space is ready for service. @popoca.oakland  ´

Meredith Pakier is an Oakland-based food and wine professional. When she’s not writing as part of the Market Hall Foods marketing and communications team, she’s hiking with her dog, Nico, and dreaming about starting a garden.