Everything’s coming up pop-ups.   As with food trucks, this form of guerrilla cheffing borne of economic need has become a global phenomenon. Equal parts dinner party and dinner theater, a pop-up refers to a dining establishment that is open anywhere from one to several nights, usually in an existing restaurant or other commercial food establishment.

The impermanent nature of pop-ups means no real overhead or utilities, and little food cost and labor. They’re not enough to sustain chefs financially, but are instead a great way for them to make a name for themselves and draw some income in between (or during) gigs. Pop-ups also give chefs a chance to stretch themselves, stylistically or ethnically, although some prefer to let local ingredients shine. Most pop-ups give props to sustainability by sourcing product from local farms, which is part of what gives these fly-by-night operations such a wonderful sense of place.

The term pop-up originated in San Francisco, with the restaurant Lung Shan, in the city’s Mission District. Most days, Lung Shan is a nondescript Chinese restaurant that does a hum-drum business, but two days a week it metamorphoses into Mission Street Food, a serious restaurant with serious chefs cooking for serious customers. Such an arrangement creates a venue for aspiring young chefs, who can ply their trade without the monumental investment that starting up a restaurant normally entails. Pop-ups not only provide a stage for talented chefs but inject needed lifeblood into struggling restaurants whose kitchens are underused much of the time.

San Francisco has long been an incubator for innovative ideas involving food, so it’s no surprise pop-ups are, ah, popular there.  The pop-up trend–which now applies to boutiques, galleries, clubs, coffee houses, and bars–has gone national. Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Boston, Portland (Oregon), Miami: all popular for restaurant pop-ups.

Tip: Due to the nature of pop-ups, the best way to find them is to Google the words, “pop-up restaurant, ____ (city).” You can also go to Pop up Restaurants for news. Get popping!

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