La Cocina: What To Eat In The New Marketplace

la cocina marketplace

La Cocina means “the kitchen” in Spanish, and its commercial ‌kitchen is very much at the center of this non-profit business incubator, a shared space that has helped launch dozens of diverse food ventures throughout the Bay Area. Whether you’ve felt the warmth of Reem’s Arab bakery in San Francisco or have gone to town on Khmer fare at the fun and funky Nyum Bai in Oakland, you can trace the origins back to the shared kitchen on Folsom Street where these women-led businesses got their start.

But it’s more than a kitchen incubator—from street food festivals and a storytelling series to a big, beautiful cookbook (We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream), La Cocina has helped make the Bay a more equitable, inclusive, and delicious place to live.

And now, sixteen years after it opened in 2005, La Cocina has launched perhaps its most ambitious project to date: the Municipal Marketplace in the Tenderloin, America’s first women-led food hall. Here, you’ll find food from talented entrepreneurs that hail from all around the globe. And as at the original kitchen in the Mission, they prepare the food in a shared kitchen space—a small yet important symbolic detail.

Here are some of the tasty treats you’ll find at the Municipal Marketplace:

KAYMA ALGERIAN EATERY’S KAYMA BOWL: The number of Algerian eateries in the Bay Area you’ve come across over the years is few and far between–KAYMA, run by wife-and-husband duo Wafa and Mounir Bahloul, is one of them. Try the KAYMA bowl, featuring steamed kus kus infused with tomato sauce topped with your choice of protein. Chef will tell you to go with the dajaj, juicy chicken braised in tomato and yogurt, but I prefer the sirloin steak, fried with peppers, onions, and smokey cumin.

BOUG CALI’S RED BEANS AND RICE: Boug Cali is San Francisco native Chef Tiffany Carter’s Creole fare with California flair. You’ll find crunchy shrimp po’boys with creamy slices of avocado in between bread sourced from a nearby bakery and jerk chicken tacos on crispy corn tortillas—those are the obvious-once-you-see-them and destined-to-be-delicious things. But the sleeper hit on the menu is the $5 Daily Plate of red beans and rice. The beans are cooked slow and low with mirepoix, smoked turkey, and Creole spice until thick and glossy and include bites of andouille sausage. It’s simple, comforting, and warming, especially on a cold San Francisco day. ProTip: add some spice from one of Carter’s hot sauces at the counter.

TERANGA’S FLATBREAD PULAAR: Chef Nafy Ba Flatley’s flatbread pulaar is her spin on a popular street food she used to eat back home in Senegal. She sources disks of thick, fluffy pita bread from a local bakery, tops them with a spread of roasted butternut squash, a good amount of caramelized onions (“Senegalese people love onions,” she tells me), crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds, sweet pomegranate seeds, a bit of feta, lemony sumac, and zesty za’atar. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but the flavors work well together to make something that is unlike anything you can eat anywhere else in the world—it’s something uniquely Nafy. Wash it down with one of her signature Baobap juices—it’s a superfood that was the original focus of her business.

LOS CILANTROS CAESAR SALAD: We might tend to associate Caesar salad with American steakhouses, but as many people know the salad counterintuitively originated in Tijuana in the 1920s. Italian immigrant and restauranteur Caesar Cardini introduced the salad at his eponymous restaurant. Chef Dilsa Lugo offers her take, a lighter, brighter, extra lemony version featuring fried tortilla strips in lieu of croutons and cotija instead of Parmesan cheese;  sesame, chia, and pumpkin seeds add an extra crunchy texture.

So much more…

The above are just a few options of what to eat at the Municipal Marketplace—but there’s much more to explore and much more to come. Find your favorite guisado at Mi Morena (hello hongo!), pick a pupusa from Estrellita’s (I’m looking at you cordero con queso!), and grab a Paloma at La Paloma when the bar opens later this month. Bini will be bringing momos in September, and there’ll be a rotating roster of La Cocina program participants and guest chefs starting later this summer. 

La Cocina Marketplace

101 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Omar Mamoon is a columnist at The San Francisco Chronicle, a contributor to Esquire, and the proprietor of DOUGH XX.