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Food & Drink

Colombians flock to this San Francisco food truck for an authentic taste of home

A person in gloves holds a tray of loaded fries with various toppings and sauces.
The Colombian’s Food Factory serves up Colombian street food dishes like the salchipapas, french fries topped with cheese, plantain bits, sausage and a house sauce. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Colombians are flocking to a San Francisco food truck for an authentic taste of home after it opened in SoMa just a few months ago.

At the corner of Ninth and Folsom streets, Colombian’s Food Factory specializes in traditional Colombian dishes, like the bandeja paisa—a plate of carne asada, chicharrón, Colombian chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage) with rice, a fried egg, red beans, avocado and an arepa (cornmeal cake). 

The truck also serves Colombian street food favorites like the salchipapa—french fries topped with sausage, corn, cheese, plantain crumbles and a house sauce reminiscent of mayo-ketchup.

Owner Jose Acosta, who opened the truck in January, said he moved to San Francisco from Florida in 2020 to start the business after hearing from a friend about the lack of good Colombian food spots in the Bay Area.

A man in a beanie stands smiling in front of a colorful Colombian food truck on a city street.
Colombian's Food Factory owner Jose Acosta says he moved to San Francisco from Miami in hopes of bringing authentic Colombian food to the city. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“He would travel to San Francisco for work and told me there were a lot of cuisines here but not many Colombian options,” Acosta told The Standard. “We discovered that there was a good-sized population of Colombians here in the area that didn’t have a place to eat typical Colombian food.”

Like eating in Colombia

Maria “Mafe” Arenas, a Colombian who visited the truck on Thursday, raved about the food’s seasoning, saying it tasted like home.

“It’s not that there aren’t any Colombian spots in San Francisco,” Arenas said. “It’s just that the sazon (Spanish for seasoning) here makes you feel like you are eating back in Colombia.”

A colorful food truck with "COLOMBIAN FOOD" on it and people queuing to order.
Customers line up for lunch at the Colombian's Food Factory truck on Thursday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Acosta said he has always had a passion for food. Before immigrating to Florida in 2018, the 40-year-old studied culinary arts in Colombia. While in Florida, he worked his way up from dishwasher to kitchen manager at two different restaurants. But he always dreamed of starting his own business.

When the pandemic began, he felt the time was right to head west with his wife and child, so he took it.

“I had two restaurant jobs while I was in Miami at two different Colombian restaurants and became the kitchen manager after a year and a half,” he said. “That’s when I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore’—working all day to survive. So we sold all of our stuff and drove here right at the beginning of Covid.”

To bring authentic Colombian flavors to San Francisco, Acosta relies on his Florida connections to send him the authentic ingredients he needs.

A cooler filled with assorted colorful beverage cans and bottles on ice.
An array of Colombian soft drinks are sold at the Colombian's Food Factory truck, which sits at the corner of Ninth and Folsom streets. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“There’s more products from Colombia and South America in Miami and Florida at places like supermarkets and Walmarts than [what] you can find up here,” he said. “One of my goals when I started was to get these products here so that we could have that authentic feel.”

For every order, Acosta follows a “formula” to ensure that each empanada or arepa is the same, down to the ratio of meat to corn dough.

“Ideally, you would have the same experience every time,” he said. “Sometimes, there might be some differences, but these dishes are typically all done by hand.”

Another hit with his clientele has been Colombia’s famous pan de bono—a Colombian cheese bread that was voted as the third best bread in the world by Taste Atlas, an online travel guide that focuses on traditional dishes around the globe.

A platter of round, baked rolls on a checkered paper, held by someone in black gloves.
Pan de bono, a Colombian-style cheese bread, is one of the most popular items at Colombian's Food Factory, which opened up in January. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Acosta said business has been so good in the four months since opening that he now hopes to open a second truck by the end of the year.

“People love it so much that we are looking at other places,” he said while making arepas during the Thursday afternoon lunch rush.

Acosta said he is specifically looking at the Embarcadero or another more commercial area in downtown San Francisco that would have corporate employees and tourists—though no final decisions have been made.

A cheesy dish with a golden-brown arepa on top, resting on black and white checkered paper.
The Colombian's Food Factory serves up an arepa with cheese and steak topped with butter. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“We’ve identified a few of these other places where there are businesses that might also pay us to cater,” he said. “The point of this is to expand. I hope to one day have a storefront, but we are just taking it step by step right now.”

He also has ambitions to sell a frozen version of his arepas and empanadas to local grocery stores.

“For me, I hope to inspire others,” he said. “If there’s more competition among us, I think it would be awesome so that there are more food options for people to choose in San Francisco.”