happy belly sign

Now that Namu is taking a break from serving lunch, to focus on opening a new deli at Balboa and 3rd, their outpost in the park, Happy Belly, has been receiving lots more visits from yours truly. The next time you’re strolling from the Conservatory over to the DeYoung or taking a break from Lindy in the Park, stop at this modest little hot dog cart and read the menu carefully.

The three Lees — David, Daniel, and David — have transferred their Korean and Japanese sensibilities from much-loved Namu to the humble hot dog. Yes, it is most definitely worth the 6 bucks plus some to enjoy homemade kimchi relish and Japanese Kewpie mayo on a spicy dog.

happy belly hotdog

There are many reasons why San Francisco does not appear on the list of the Top Ten Hot Dog Consuming Cities. Fortunately, we have the likes of Happy Belly along with Rosamunde and What’s Up Dog, Sausage Party! in Mission Dolores Park and even Charles Phan’s new café at the Academy of Sciences, all fighting the good fight.

California Retail Food Code (Cal Code) passed in 2007 includes much more stringent requirements for individual food cart owners, including a commissary for preparing the food and larger, more expensive carts. It’s always been difficult to balance the public safety of hungry, curious foodies with the need to encourage microenterprise ventures. More recently, with the increased regulations for taco trucks and food cart vendors, there are even fewer options for small food business owners to thrive and grow within a wide range of opportunities.

happy belly mayo

It’s become such a challenge in California, where new immigrants and intrepid foodies rub shoulders and interests, that hot dog cart sellers have taken it upon themselves to offer free help with the health department and to translate the Cal Code into plain English (we’re still waiting for the Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese versions).

For those who don’t mind eating outside the law, follow the smell of bacon and caramelized onions through the Mission district on any warm, weekend night. At its source, say in front of the Roxie on Valencia, you can taste that amazing heart-attack-in-a-bun treat imported from Los Angeles, the bacon-wrapped hotdog that’s “so good it’s illegal.”

Happy Belly has the backing, facilities, and full resources of its restaurant partners, as do many of the vendors at our larger farmers markets, but the individual vendors have a much tougher go of making a living from our food dollars.

A truly food loving city needs to support the full range of food businesses. While we don’t want pigeon poop in our suadero tacos or listeria in our banh mi, San Francisco and all its citizens are only the poorer when we offer more restrictions than support for micro-enterprises.

It’s just as important to support the little cart as your local neighborhood café or downtown’s fine-dining establishments. Remember that local food includes the corner carts, so be proud to support everyone in the culinary spectrum.

happy belly menu

Happy Belly
Southwest corner of J.F. Kennedy Dr. and Tea Garden Dr.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco 94101

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Happy Belly's Kimchi Dog 24 October,2008Thy Tran

  • Brad L.

    “There are many reasons why San Francisco does not appear on the list of the Top Ten Hot Dog Consuming Cities.”

    I would guess the #1 reason is that folks around here are attempting to charge $8 for hot dog with kimchi and mayo. $8.00!? No thanks.

  • This is a truly great hot dog. I wish the kimchi were a tiny bit spicier, but really love the flavor combination.

  • Brad: I won’t go into the details here…but I think the phrase “real cost of good food in an economically, environmentally and culturally diverse and sustainable world” is one way to summarize the very complex issues behind why a hot dog could and should cost $8.

    Jen: I definitely agree–that kimchi could be way spicier. Maybe they could offer a kinda spicy version and then a really spicy one? Numa kimchi master…are you reading?

  • Matt

    Had one yesterday, it was $6 for the all-beef dog with kimchi and mayo, not $8. I had a dog from this cart back in June, something changed, this one was much better.

  • Thanks for the update, Matt!

    Also, I mistyped Namu’s name in my earlier comment. Sorry! Request for spicier kimchi still stands, though.


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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