Each year Oakland’s Eat Real Festival brings together the Bay Area’s best mobile food vendors, chefs, brewers and artisans in Jack London Square for a weekend of ridiculous overindulgence. In reality, the selection is far too vast to ever hope to conquer completely, but what’s the point of life if you can’t at least try to overcome the impossible? I tried, I failed, but whatever — that’s not the point. I had a blast following my nose and eating my way across the beautiful harbor of Jack London Square. While just about everything I had was great, there were some obvious standouts. Here are the highlights of my weekend at Eat Real.

Ñora Cocina Española’s Paella

Ñora’s paella mixto always had a line and for good reason. The flavors were bold and just what you want from a paella. The portions were generous and, most importantly, the rice wasn’t soggy. I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first–it’s really easy to make a mediocre paella, even in ideal conditions, so to pull a great one off under a tarp with portable burners is pretty amazing. The Ñora team showed a lot of skill infusing the saffron and shrimp flavors into the rice so successfully without overcooking it. And with 4 whole shrimp, several big pieces of squid, chorizo and chicken in one bowl, the portion was more than generous.

The Whole Beast Lamb Gyro

The Whole Beast’s lamb poutine was a crowd favorite all weekend, but it was also my top pick last year, so this time around I decided to try their gyro. Filled with roasted lamb, cucumbers, onion, harissa and chermoula sauce and wrapped in lavash, this wasn’t necessarily a traditional gyro, but the combination of flavors and the freshness of the ingredients made for one spectacular wrap. The sauces were great, the seasoning of the meat perfect and there’s nothing quite like that smoky taste of whole roasted lamb.

El Porteño Empanadas

Argentinian-style empanadas are probably one of my all-time favorite foods. The soft, flaky crust and combination of ingredients paired with the unique spices: it’s a thing of beauty when it all comes together and El Porteño definitely knows how to bring it all together. Grass-fed ground beef, onions, green olives, raisins and hard-boiled egg in a traditional pastry crust come together to make one simple, but amazing, empanada. Although all the flavors I had were great, the carne was my favorite of the lot.

Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ Brisket Sandwich with Corn on the Cob

Barbecue is such a ubiquitous fixture at street food festivals that it can sometimes be easy to overlook an item as simple as a beef brisket sandwich when there are much flashier dishes competing for your attention. Looking past Jim ‘N Nick’s brisket sandwich would have been a serious error in judgement. At first glance, there was nothing especially fancy about their sandwich: it was a pile of brisket on a roll with a little slice of pickle on top. You added your own sauce at a separate table. I got it almost as an afterthought on my way home from day one and it was probably the best decision I made all weekend. Words can’t do the flavor and texture of this meat justice. It was so damn good, I had to come back for it again the next day. Jim ‘N Nick’s has a number of restaurants throughout the south, with the only nearby location being in just outside of Denver, so you aren’t likely to see them at many other local events, but if you do, take my advice and order 5!

The Beer Selection

With plenty of options, from light to dark, high ABV % or low, the beer selection at the Beer Sheds wasn’t just passable, it was stellar! Beer curator Nicole Erny did an excellent job representing the diversity of brews being produced around the Bay Area, even acquiring a few exclusives from Linden Street and Magnolia Breweries that were available only at the festival. Again, there were more choices here than any sane person should attempt to consume in one weekend, but you’d have been hard pressed to make a bad decision from the selection.

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