The Food King of Outside Lands: Your Guide to OL Eats

Outside Lands King of Food, Ari Feingold, talks about cat-herding 80+ restaurants at Outside Lands 2016, the Bay Area's gourmet music festival and best bets for this year.

With more than 80 restaurants, 40 wineries and 28 breweries, Outside Lands gourmet music festival (Aug 5-7, 2016) is as much about eating and drinking as it is about seeing bands. And for many gastronauts, it’s the entire point of walking miles around Golden Gate Park, alternately freezing and sweating, trying to hit as many restaurants as possible for three exhaustingly delightful stomach-filling days.

As opening day approaches, I spoke with Ari Feingold, who has spent most of the last nine years working with Bay Area restaurateurs — from Michelin-starred chefs to food trucks — to create the gastro-wonderland called Taste of the Bay Area.

What makes for a great menu item?
“The key is being able to eat it with one hand,” said Feingold. though its not a deal-breaker, it gives eaters a chance to be mobile, dance and walk around.

What’s it like in the hours before the gates open?
“I work on this year round, and we go from planning to execution, fully set up and ready to go, so actually its a pretty calm moment. All the work is in the time leading up to it, but once you’re on site, there’s almost like a calm,” said Feingold.

Is it hard for vendors like Rich Table to go from white tablecloth service to a small booth feeding thousands?

Many vendors are not accustomed to doing food at that kind of scale, and for both old and new vendors, so the OL team meets with the restaurants early on to work on layout, operations and logistics. “When they get to the event they are 100 percent ready for service, and that’s a commitment the festival has to make,” said Feingold. A small team of about 5 people work on the advance preparations, and about 20 onsite.

“Some of these restaurants are very expensive, and you can’t get in, but they’re all offering food in the $5 to $20 range, and its easier to access that cuisine,” he said. “You can eat Evan Rich’s (Rich Table) food for $10!”

How do you keep it interesting every year?
“We feel like its our obligation to make it better,” he said. When OL started, they looked at the landscape and realized there was no reason a festival had to be full of frozen food. As one of the first big festivals to make food a huge priority, OL has evolved into a food festival as much as a music festival. “At this point, it’s grown beyond all of our imaginations,” he said.

How do people apply to be a vendor?
More than 90 percent of food vendors return each year, so there is always a wait list. But the team looks for diversity in culinary and menu options, where the restaurants are in the Bay Area and the price point. “This is a real microcosm of top tier chefs selling right next to pop-up restaurants without brick and mortar restaurants,” Feingold said.

This year, there were more than 200 applications for only a few spots. “Every vendor serves a unique purpose,” he said. One newcomer is The Farmer’s Wife, from Sebastopol, at the festival farmers market.

Outside_Lands_2015_04714_JORGPHOTOAre there any white whales?
Not really, says Feingold. “It’s fun to get some time out of the restaurant, and a community is built to have fun in the park.”

Favorite restaurants?
“I couldn’t even limit it to 20,” he said, though he gets excited just like anyone else for newcomers.

BiteClub’s Guide to Outside Lands

The DL: Calories be damned you’re gonna walk it all off just getting from one food region to another. We usually start the day with a beer from Beerlands (breakfast of champs!) followed by a trip around the polo field restaurants, which get really busy later in the day. Once you’ve laid a solid base, head for Winelands and Cheeselands for a little upper crusting, as well as the new Outside Clams. We’re usually jonesing for a few sweets by then, so go back through the pass (hitting Bacon Lands and Cocktail Lands on the way, along with the GastroMagic Stage) with a destination of Chocolands. This area is usually a bit less nutty, and is a nice spot for a respite. Next be on your way to Hellman Hollow to find a few nibbles at EcoLands, and into the narrow pass through on the way back to the Polo Field. As evening rolls around the open area around the Sutro Stage cools off and you can hit the food trucks and vendors in Lendley Meadow. Repeat as necessary.

Coolest Upscale Experience: New this year is Forest Feast, a four-course dinner with the award-winning restaurant Trestle. The intimate, four-course menu includes falafel salad, corn soup, King salmon, braised beef shortribs, peach cobble, chocolate mousse and several wines. There are two seatings per day, and tickets are limited to $48 people per seating. Prices are $175 per person and include champagne, wine pairing and dinner. via

What’s New: Belcampo Meat Co.: Bini’s Kitchen, Fine & Rare, FK Frozen Custard Bars, Four Barrel Coffee, Itani Ramen, Koja Kitchen, Rove Kitchen, Smooth Detour, Farmer’s Wife, The Japanese Pantry, Trestle, Mozzeria, Homestead Cookies, Il Morso, Outside Clams (seafood).

Food On Stage: GastroMagic is a mashup of food, music, comedy and cocktails, with performances by musicians and chefs in a more-chaotic-the-better, usually unscripted set. This year, look for a chef cook off with ugly produce and food waste; a Prince tribute band and purple yam ice cream from Humphry Slocombe, and a repeat of the massively awesome Big Freedia Bounce Brunch where this gender-bending bounce queen pelts the audience with beignets and booty shorts.

Since many of the vendors have been around for years, we can tell you a few of our longtime faves…

Baconland: Bacon Flights
Charles Chocolates: S’mores
Little Skillet: Fried chicken and waffles
Namu street Food: Korean Fried Chicken
Nombe: Ramen Burgers
Pica Pica: Arepas
Rich Table: Porcini Donuts with Raclette Cheeese
Rosamude Sausage Grill: Poutine
Wise and Sons: Bagels and Schmear, Pastrami Cheese Fries
Bacon Bacon Truck: Chocolate covered bacon
Curry Up Now: Sexy Fries
Del Popolo: Pizza (always a massive line)
Humphry Slocombe: Secret breakfast ice cream
Senior Sisig: Pork Sisig
Chairman: Steamed baos
Frickle Brothers: Fried Pickles
Guittard Chocolate Company: Melted Chocolate bars