This is an ongoing food diary. Stay tuned for updates.
No other music festival hypes up food like San Francisco’s Outside Lands does, because no other music festival devotes exorbitant amounts of square footage of the Golden Gate park to food like Outside Lands does. There are specific “lands” dedicated to beer, cheese, wine, and grass (read: cannabis). There’s even a perpetual bubble tea party.
But this specific food review will focus on the more traditional means of finding lunch at a festival. Throughout the weekend, we’ll be visiting the best and the worst of Outside Lands’ food tents, starting with a Bay Area classic:
Steap Tea Bar
Okay, disclaimer: Steap Tea Bar isn’t in the trail of vendors lining the festival. It’s in the aforementioned, never-ending bubble tea party, tucked away in the woods. It calls itself “not your average tea shop,” using premium teas that their website claims would retail for “about $100 a pound.” They also say they use local organic milks and sugars, and make their boba in-house, daily. Do their high quality ingredients make a difference—once that’s worth the steep boba price?
The answer is a flat no. At Outside Lands, one matcha latte with boba costs $9, as do the rest of their music festival offerings: taro milk with boba and hibiscus punch with aloe. The same drinks cost around $5 to $6 once you step outside of the Golden Gate Park’s gates, so unless you desperately need that caffeine to kickstart your day, bring water instead. That doesn’t mean the milk tea isn’t good, because it is. The default milk choice (at least when I went) was almond, which didn't overwhelm the drink with its almond flavor, and also prevented the undesirable filmy aftermath of other dairy-based drinks. The matcha was standard—grassy, rich, and bitter. The drink just isn’t $9 good. It’s hard for a non-alcoholic beverage to be $9 good.
Bonus: The drink came with a compostable straw. Not a bonus: Tapioca pearls kept getting stuck in said compostable straw, which was less the straw’s fault and more the bubbles’ gooeyness. Other than the five or so times I had to unclog the drink, the pearls were great, with just the right chewy consistency.
“KoJa” is short for Korean-Japanese. This Bay Area favorite normally serves an eclectic variety of Korean-Japanese fusion food: burgers, tacos, bowls, and salads. But for Outside Lands, KoJa decided to focus on their popular side dish instead: “kamikaze fries.” It consists of waffle-cut fries buried in minced bulgogi (Korean barbecue beef), kimchi, red sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and green onions. It’s a lot of topping for some plain waffles fries to handle, but they do so anyway, acting as the perfect vehicle for all the lightly spicy, tangy sweetness on top. The bulgogi has a fatty flavor that rounds out the sharpness from the kimchi, and the simple potato fries aren’t seasoned as far as I can tell, which works to the side dish’s advantage, preventing the already busy flavors from becoming overwhelming.
It’s a shame then—and really, truly perplexing—why these fries were cursed with such a disturbing, terrible name. The business explained its reasoning on Yelp: “Kamikaze fries! Why the name, you ask? Because it's killer delicious!” But their poor rationale and insensitive wordplay somehow sours the $14 fries’s aftertaste.
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