Many restaurants have closed since March 2020, when the Bay Area went into lockdown, and many more will shutter during these pandemic—and soon endemic—times.  In order to lend a helping hand, we’ve been getting more takeout than we ever did before 2020.  Perhaps some of you out there had the same idea.  We had also planned to use our platform to help small restaurants in the Bay Area in 2020, but the lockdown made that rather difficult.  Well, starting in September 2021, we put our 2020 plan into action by offering free promotion on our site’s prime real estate.

Every two weeks or so we add a couple of places of interest to this page and in the banner window above.  Feel free to send us your nominations.  If you are the owner of a restaurant and wish to nominate your own business, that’s fine.  And if you are hiring, we’ll help you get the word out (click on the Deals tab below).  Use our Contact form and rest assured we read every email and check the junk folder diligently.  Pizza joints are a low priority because we heard they’ve been doing great since 2020.  National and international chains probably don't need our help.

Women do more cooking at home than men.  Yet the professional kitchen is still very much male-dominated.  So we’d like to highlight places where the executive or headchef (or baker) is a woman.  Look for the [♀] symbol.  [≡] denotes the availability of a paper menu or printer-friendly menu on-line.  Click on the Detour tab below and see why it matters.  [@] means they read their emails.

Restaurants are like the radio stations of the hospitality industry.  Before the corporate takeover of the radio market, most listeners had strong feelings toward certain local stations.  In a similar fashion, most diners are devoted to their favorite restaurants.  If we removed all the restaurant reviews on social media, what are we left with?  Reviews of contractors and products.  Not everyone feels the need to talk about music and film.  But we all have an opinion about restaurants.

Every crisis has a silver lining.  Just as the pandemic has changed the way people work and the way students learn, it has also forced the restaurant industry to adapt.  Places that didn’t offer takeout before had to rethink that policy.  More restaurants started working with food-delivery services.  And after 2020, most businesses have the takeout packaging down to a science—from cardboard-lined bag to double bagging and extra care when dealing with leak-prone items.  We even saw a restaurant keeping takeout food in a warming cabinet.  Al fresco dining became a means to survival; parklets became more commonplace.  As the number of takeout orders surges, some restaurants need to be mindful of an old problem.  Click on the Detour tab below for details (and join our #MochiDonutsForICU campaign).

The pandemic has also given rise to ghost kitchens—some are legitimate business model and others are secretive operations associated with unscrupulous food-delivery services.  See reports on KTVU ([]) and Inside Edition ([]).

We’ve always said you can easily eat your way around the world in the Bay Area.  So let’s begin.

 


Some Food Stories While You Browse

All about bitter melon.  []
The frozen food market.  []
The look of whiskey.  []

Click on the Deals tab below for a comparison of business tools.

 

Many restaurants have closed since March 2020, when the Bay Area went into lockdown, and many more will shutter during these pandemic—and soon endemic—times.  In order to lend a helping hand, we’ve been getting more takeout than we ever did before 2020.  Perhaps some of you out there had the same idea.  We had also planned to use our platform to help small restaurants in the Bay Area in 2020, but the lockdown made that rather difficult.  Well, starting in September 2021, we put our 2020 plan into action by offering free promotion on our site’s prime real estate.

Every two weeks or so we add a couple of places of interest to this page and in the banner window above.  Feel free to send us your nominations.  If you are the owner of a restaurant and wish to nominate your own business, that’s fine.  And if you are hiring, we’ll help you get the word out (click on the Deals tab below).  Use our Contact form and rest assured we read every email and check the junk folder diligently.  Pizza joints are a low priority because we heard they’ve been doing great since 2020.  National and international chains probably don't need our help.

Women do more cooking at home than men.  Yet the professional kitchen is still very much male-dominated.  So we’d like to highlight places where the executive or headchef (or baker) is a woman.  Look for the [♀] symbol.  [≡] denotes the availability of a paper menu or printer-friendly menu on-line.  Click on the Detour tab below and see why it matters.  [@] means they read their emails.

Restaurants are like the radio stations of the hospitality industry.  Before the corporate takeover of the radio market, most listeners had strong feelings toward certain local stations.  In a similar fashion, most diners are devoted to their favorite restaurants.  If we removed all the restaurant reviews on social media, what are we left with?  Reviews of contractors and products.  Not everyone feels the need to talk about music and film.  But we all have an opinion about restaurants.

Every crisis has a silver lining.  Just as the pandemic has changed the way people work and the way students learn, it has also forced the restaurant industry to adapt.  Places that didn’t offer takeout before had to rethink that policy.  More restaurants started working with food-delivery services.  And after 2020, most businesses have the takeout packaging down to a science—from cardboard-lined bag to double bagging and extra care when dealing with leak-prone items.  We even saw a restaurant keeping takeout food in a warming cabinet.  Al fresco dining became a means to survival; parklets became more commonplace.  As the number of takeout orders surges, some restaurants need to be mindful of an old problem.  Click on the Detour tab below for details (and join our #MochiDonutsForICU campaign).

The pandemic has also given rise to ghost kitchens—some are legitimate business model and others are secretive operations associated with unscrupulous food-delivery services.  See reports on KTVU ([]) and Inside Edition ([]).

We’ve always said you can easily eat your way around the world in the Bay Area.  So let’s begin.

 


Some Food Stories While You Browse

All about bitter melon.  []
The frozen food market.  []
The look of whiskey.  []

Click on the Deals tab below for a comparison of business tools.

 

New

 

Featured Restaurants

Tai Kee Wonton, San Jose | [≡]

Tai Kee Wonton (our business story) [] Tai Kee Wonton (the legacy of TKW) [] Franco Perez [] feed meimei [] eatsbyrachel []

It pays to travel literally off the beaten path.  We usually go to the San Jose main post office by driving north on Lundy Avenue at Hostetter Road.  When we went south on Lundy at Trade Zone Blvd. recently, we noticed a few restaurants in the midst of an office park just two blocks from the post office.  We never would’ve stumbled across this Taiwanese restaurant otherwise.  As it is often the case, Taiwanese cuisine has much to do with the island’s history and location.  Its biggest culinary export to date is bubble tea.  We’ve ruled out popcorn chicken because it was developed in parallel in America (KFC popcorn chicken).

Tai Kee Wonton has been at this address since 2014; it was previously in San Jose’s West Valley area from 2008 to 2012.  So many restaurants across the country were started by immigrants.  And like a few other places in the Bay Area—Arsicault Bakery, Lolita Artisanal Bakery, and Lotus Falafel & Shawerma—this family-run restaurant is a continuation of something in the Old Country.  The original Tai Kee started in 1928 in Hualien, Taiwan; it finally closed after almost a century in business.  (Harvey F. from San Jose visited the original TK in Taiwan about 10 years ago.)  Living in the Bay Area, we kind of take dishes such as enchilada, burrito, pho, ramen, and wonton noodle soup for granted.  When we put together a roundup of soups for cold weather the last two months, we didn’t even consider these three Asian soups.  Who makes the best wonton noodle soup today?  Not sure.

In any event, Bay Area foodies know Cantonese-style wonton noodle soup is often the only game in town.  So you must try TKW’s Taiwanese wonton noodle soup.  Their signature wonton dumplings are indeed the kind of recipe you can build a business around.  The pork filling is nicely seasoned and the wrapper—no off-the-shelf product here—silky and fluffy (wonton does mean “swallowing cloud”).  Besides the fact that Cantonese wonton is predominantly shrimp-based, this noodle soup is also different because it includes celery, which imparts a slight bitter flavor, and fried onion.  The default noodles are not the thin type.  For that you have to order the rice vermicelli version.  And if neither noodle option quite hits the spot, well, they have a soup with just wontons and no noodles.

A bigger deal in Taiwan is the beef noodle soup.  TKW’s version is mildly spicy; the beef is tender and the broth is darker and thicker than the one for wonton soup.  Note that a certain restaurant in Taiwan charges over $300 USD for a bowl (watch videos below).  The sticky rice with meat in cone (tube rice pudding) is traditionally cooked in a bamboo tube (they do this in other Asian countries as well).  Think of it as sticky rice dumpling (zongzi) without the bamboo leaves or the dim sum dish lotus leaf rice (lo mai gai) without the lotus leaf.  Instead of a sweet chili sauce, TKW uses a sweet and tangy sauce.

The Taiwanese pork belly sandwich (gua bao) is a popular street food over there.  The clamshell bun is more substantial than the steamed bun for Peking duck.  The best part is the pickled mustard greens.  The steamed spareribs with rice powder come with sweet potato.  Their rendition is barely spicy.  Like the salt and pepper tofu dish at Nature Vegetarian in Oakland, TKW adds (fried) basil to the deep-fried squid, a nice touch.  The deep-fried tofu turns out to be unusually large chunks of tofu served with a sweet and spicy sauce.  Like Korea, Taiwan was under Japanese occupation for 50 years.  The bone-in pork chop rice plate is probably inspired by tonkatsu bento.  There’s also bonito flakes (katsuobushi) on the menu.

You can order a box of 20 uncooked wontons to take home.  A wonton party?

CNN Travel (Niu Ba Ba) [] Strictly Dumpling (the most expensive beef noodle soup) []
Lemon Films (bamboo tube rice meal in Taiwan) [] Dianxi Xiaoge (bamboo tube BBQ in Yunnan) [] Mee Living (sticky rice in bamboo tubes in the U.S.) []
Mark Wiens (Taiwanese pork belly sandwich) [] Luke Martin (Taiwanese hamburger) [] Goldthread (guabao) []

Nearby options:  Everest Cuisine, Pho Y #1 Noodle House, Ma’s, Kingwuu, Tokyo Sushi, Pho Thien Huong, Dough Zone Dumpling House, Shin’s Tofu House, Yomie’s Rice x Yogurt, Happiness Cafe, Gen Korean BBQ House, Boiling Point, Venus Cafe, Sharetea, Tiger Sugar, Paris Baguette

Fiery Shanghai, Pleasanton | [≡]

Part 2

Since Shanghai restaurants come and go in the Bay Area, we wanted to return to FS after last year’s visit.  We’d set our sights on eight more dishes; unfortunately, four of which were unavailable for different reasons.  For one thing, they have a new takeout menu for 2024; some sections lost a few items (the hot pot section is gone completely).  So we ended up reordering two items from our first visit.  The other six dishes we sampled this time are not as strong as our previous experience.

The best item is the Shanghai braised pork meatballs in brown sauce (lion’s head).  They are tender and moist and flavorful.  The batter for the crispy prawns has a smooth surface like the kind for fish and chips.  Once you get over not seeing the expected panko breading, the flavor is good.  The stir-fried pork kidney is one of the items missing on the new takeout menu, but it’s still listed on the illustrated menu (we assume they will update this menu album eventually).  The bottom line is we were able to order it.  In addition to the expected ginger, they also use chili pepper, which leads us to suspect this must be a Sichuan preparation.  This dish was not flagged as spicy on the old menu; Sichuan restaurants sometimes gloss over what they consider mildly spicy items.  Though we’re happy to see kidney anytime (shout-out to offal lovers out there), it’s too greasy compared with the Shanghai dishes we sampled last time.

Grease is also an issue for the two other chef’s specials we ordered.  The black pepper beef cube (chili pepper shows up again) is a bit too chewy (surely this kitchen is aware of the baking soda solution).  The whole tilapia with sweet and sour sauce looks impressive enough, but the deep-fried fish is not really seasoned and the sauce rather pedestrian.  We ordered the shepherd’s purse and shredded pork New Year rice cake (nian gao) mainly because we’ve never had this vegetable before.  The sticky rice cake is on the bland side as it usually is.

According to an on-line message from the restaurant, they have one chef for the Shanghai dishes and a different chef for the Sichuan menu.  You’ll find a poster-sized list of Shanghai dishes inside the restaurant.  Our recommendation is to stick with the Shanghai items.  Note that the braised pork shank we ordered last time is now A7/C20.  The other dish with the same English name is now correctly identified as steamed ham with honey sauce on the updated menu.  The celtuce dish from our first visit has moved to the new seasonal vegetables section.  Chop suey dishes are no longer available.

Like H.L. Peninsula in Milpitas, FS has a scattered menu.  Besides the takeout and illustrated menus we already mentioned, there’s a one page (8.5” x 11”) chef’s specials menu that’s worth a look.  It lists drunken shrimp, eel fried rice, and that stuffed eggplant dish we ordered previously, among others.  They now have a different Web site.

ATK (lion’s head meatballs) []

Nearby options:  CloudDish, Basil Delight, Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, Mumu Hot Pot, Top Pot, 85°C Bakery Cafe, Somisomi, Hey! I Am Yogost, Happy Lemon, Pacific Food Hall, Fallon Gateway in Dublin

 


Sneak Previews

Momo mia 2 and old Malaya.

 

SF

 

Past Featured Restaurants

 


San Francisco (3)

Arsicault Bakery | CyBelle’s Front Room | Recchiuti Confections

 

Arsicault Bakery, San Francisco (two locations)

CPBA []

After sampling kouign-amann from three bakeries in the Bay Area (you’ll find them all on this page), we were ready to try Arsicault’s version finally.  It was sold out on a Friday, but based on three of the pastries we tried, we can say Arsicault’s kouign-amann is proabably the best in the Bay Area.  The hazelnut almond blackberry croissant is indeed very flaky (all the other croissants were sold out).  Arsicault’s palmier is buttery (but light) and perfectly caramelized.  Kouign-amann is based on a laminated dough and the outside is caramelized.  The vegetable galette’s puff pastry is also impressive.  So clearly this bakery knows puff pastry.  By the way, that sliced blackberry croissant is almost like a sandwich.

The creme caramel (Parisian flan on the menu) has a firmer texture than the silky versions from Latin America and no caramel sauce; they should call it Parisian custard tart to avoid confusion.  Give Arsicault credit for offering scones, which have no French connection.  The bar-shaped savory scone is not as good as Castro Valley’s Seven Hills Baking Co.’s cheddar garlic scone.  The currant scone looks flat and does not distinguish itself from American-style scones.

Established in 2015, Arsicault’s business really took off the following year when it was named the best new bakery in the country by Bon Appetit.  It’s easy to see why the magazine was so smitten with its croissants.  We understand bakeries would rather sell out everything than have to deal with unsold products.  But when an item is gone three to four hours before the store closes in the afternoon, they should make more so that it’s sold out an hour before closing.  Just saying.

Pro tip:  While the Civic Center location does have a longer menu, stick with the original Inner Richmond location if you are the pearls-clutching type.  The McAllister address looks good on paper—and the store is very nice—but this part of Civic Center is near the intersection of the Tenderloin and Market Street.  As we drove around looking for parking, we saw a lot of people dressed like security guards (as of May 2022).  It turns out they are with a group called Urban Alchemy.  Despite SF City Hall’s efforts, we did see someone shooting up on Mission Street where we found plenty of parking.

Nearby options in Civic Center:  Golden Era, KAYMA Algerian Eatery, Jin Mi, La Bande, Himalayan Pizza and Momo, Morty’s Delicatessen, Hello Sandwich Noodle, Philz Coffee, La Cocina Municipal Marketplace

Nearby options in Inner Richmond:  Chapeau, Burma Superstar, Le Soleil, B Star, Unco Frank’s, Palmetto Superfoods, Eats

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CyBelle’s Front Room, San Francisco | [@]

CPBA []

Most pizzerias offer at least one pie with veggie toppings, and even major chains tout those meat substitutes from companies that made the headlines by late-2010s.  Now half of CyBelle’s Front Room’s long menu is vegan-friendly.  So whether you are a vegan looking for variety or someone who’s a bit v-curious, CyBelle’s has you covered.

The most intriguing item is the mermaid sandwich because konjac is used to mimic the deep-fried shrimp.  When made into noodle shape, konjac is usually used as a substitute for noodle/pasta in Japan.  Hayward’s Veggie Lee uses it as a stand-in for shark fin.  Konjac’s texture does feel like some shellfish.  How it tastes almost doesn’t matter since CyBelle’s has done a great job with the combination of tasty pretzel bun, aioli, and coleslaw.  What else can they do with konjac?  Well, they should make shrimp/scallop po’ boy, Ming Tsai’s octopus croutons, and Portuguese octopus salad (salada de polvo).

Here’s another example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  The vegan chicken on the golden dragon pizza is rather nondescript, but the addition of potato and a drizzle of BBQ sauce makes it work.  People who love lots of meat on their pizza should try the plant millionaire pizza, which is loaded with meat substitutes from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.  Vegan cheese has come a long way.  CyBelle’s uses GOOD PLANeT mozzarella for most of its vegan pizzas.  Check out our popular cheese guide (don’t miss the vegan section).  You may not like everything on CyBelle’s menu, but there’s love behind every dish.

CyBelle’s Pizza started in the 1980s and expanded to over 25 locations at its peak.  The owner of one of today’s four remaining CyBelle’s Pizza spots moved into The Front Room’s (an Italian restaurant) Inner Sunset space in 2004 and CyBelle’s Front Room was born.  Here’s an interview with the owner’s daughter.

More on konjac:  nhk.or.jp, euronews.com

Nearby options:  Marnee Thai, Fresca, Lale, Fiorella, Ebisu, Nabe, Sushi Kazu, Sunflower Garden, Perilla, Manna, Kogi Gogi BBQ, Pasquale’s Pizzeria, Patxi’s Pizza, Art’s Cafe, Jamie’s Place, Arizmendi Bakery, Tartine, San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery, Holy Gelato!

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Recchiuti Confections, San Francisco

ABC Localish []

Our collective sweet tooth has never been the same since a Swiss chocolatier created milk chocolate in 1875.  We’ve always thought how fortuitous that we have See’s Candies right here in California instead of those other national brands that you find at CVS and Walgreens.  We’ll take a box of See’s over those boxes anytime.  The Bay Area’s chocolate roots predate See’s when Ghirardelli Chocolate and Guittard Chocolate opened for business in the 19th century.  And we lucked out again in the 1980s when Joseph Schmidt Confections did for chocolates what Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse did for restaurants and Peet’s Coffee did for coffee.  By the late 1990s, three more local chocolate companies came on-line:  Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Recchiuti Confections, and XOX Truffles.  Check out what we had to say about Recchiuti and other Bay Area treats earlier.

You can watch below Burt Wolf’s take on the history of chocolate.  In 2016, Globe Trekker also produced “The Story of Chocolate” as part of its “Planet Food” specials.  Check your local PBS station schedule for the next rerun.

Burt Wolf [] The Candy Man [] Pure Imagination []

Nearby options:  The Slanted Door (closed for renovation), El Porteno Empanadas, Hog Island Oyster Co., Donut Farm, CheeseQuakes, Acme Bread Co., Golden Gate Meat Co., Humphry Slocombe, Dandelion Chocolate, Miette Patisserie & Confiserie

 

EB

 

Past Featured Restaurants

 


East Bay (36)

Bamboo Steamer | Bar Bay Grill | Belotti Bottega | Benchmark Pizzeria | Brenda’s | Los Carnalitos | Casa Barotti | Casa de Chocolates | De Afghanan Cuisine | Dela Curo | East Ocean | Fiery Shanghai | Flacos | Gaumenkitzel | Golden Bay Seafood Harbor | Hong Kong East Ocean | Imperial Soup | Juanita & Maude | Kendejah | Korner Kitchen & Bar | La Marcha Tapas Bar | Marica | Mingala | Momo & Kebab | Myanmar Tea Garden | Nature Vegetarian | Oaklandia Cafe | The Park Street Tavern | Rio California | Roasted and Raw | Seven Hills Baking Co. | Starter Bakery | Syma's | Top Hatters Kitchen & Bar | Veggie Lee | Wahpepah’s Kitchen

 

Bamboo Steamer, Hayward | [≡]

DeniseUSA []

There are restaurants that are mostly good; there are places that are mostly bad.  And then there are the ones that are uneven.  It’s more interesting to write about this last group because we get to discuss what works and what doesn’t.

But first...a bit of history.  Before Bamboo Steamer opened in 2019, this was the address for Buddy’s Bites and Brews, a popular neighborhood pub that was a hit with beer drinkers and families for about 10 years (over one thousand reviews on-line).  Perhaps as a nod to Buddy’s legacy, BS started as a “modern” Chinese restaurant that touted its bar menu.  When we first visited BS in July 2020, two dishes and a pastry left a good impression.  Thanks to BS, we discovered gin really does not pair well with Chinese food.  The restaurant closed during most of 2022 for remodeling.  The interior is no longer dark and grimy; the bar is still here.  BS is now more of a traditional Cantonese restaurant.

The dinner menu is clearly this restaurant’s strong suit.  The highlight of our meal is the beef chow fun with gravy.  When prepared improperly, the flat noodles remain stuck together or too much oil is added to keep them separate.  With a clean flavor, this may be the best chow fun in the Bay Area.  The tender greens with beef cubes also illustrates this kitchen’s beef skills.  The most memorable dish from 2020 was the BBQ eel fried rice with fish roe (we just call it unagi fried rice with tobiko).  It now appears on the menu as mentaiko BBQ eel fried rice.  It looks and tastes about the same as before, so we don’t get the reference to mentaiko or salted cod roe.  Unfortunately, the big boss fried rice is no longer available.

During dinner service, you can order dim sum from a limited menu.  We sampled more than half of the 18 items.  The steamed dumplings and buns feel tacky, a sign they are not perfectly cooked.  The bigger problem is the rather bland dough, so it’s up to the filling to do the heavy lifting.  When the filling is nicely seasoned, the whole thing is good; for example, pea sprouts and shrimp dumplings in XO sauce, baked almond buns, and steamed egg yolk lava buns.  Though they are not on the limited menu, you can order the Portuguese egg tarts if they’re not sold out during lunch.  Until San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bakery reopens in June 2023, these egg tarts are some of the best in the Bay Area.

And this would’ve been the end of story.  But as luck would have it, we had morning appointments in the neighborhood, so we were able to sample its full dim sum menu twice during lunchtime.  The good news is we did find items that are better than the ones on the limited menu.  The obvious question is why they don’t put the best stuff on the limited menu.  These are the highlights.

pan-fried rice noodle roll in XO sauce
spicy wonton
crispy pork belly gua bao (slider)
pan-fried turnip (daikon) cake
dumplings with sesame filling
deep-fried sesame balls
cordyceps flower chicken porridge

CPBA (Buddy’s Bites and Brews) []

Nearby options:  Hawaiian Drive Inn, Tomodachi Sushi Bistro, Krispy Krunchy Chicken

───────────────

Bar Bay Grill, Union City | [≡]

CPBA []

The name doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but it does rhyme with barbecue.  While we wouldn’t call this self-proclaimed sports bar a gastropub, the husband-and-wife owners do try to get creative with the menu.  Bar Bay Grill presents a pan-Asian medley of small bites and more substantial fare.  The inspiration for the curry chicken toast may be honey toast.  Like that Japanese dessert, the bread here is hollowed out and toasted.  The star of this dish is the perfectly toasted bread.  The same bread, made by Sheng Kee Bakery, also shows up in the wagyu beef sandwich.  (Good luck if you want to recreate this curry chicken toast at home.  The Taiwan toast bread for retail customers is pre-sliced, and you’ll need to remove the crust, apply just enough butter, and bake for the right amount of time.  Sheng Kee’s rectangle garlic bread is already toasted and tastes close to BBG.)

Both Malaysian-style fried noodles are good.  The version with glass noodles has more umami and wok hei.  The fried oysters are better than the fried calamari.  They’re served with a ubiquitous dip that tastes like sweet and tangy mayo.  The baked mussels are quite flavorful thanks to the same (?) special mayo.  The grilled mackerel has more meat than the grilled sardines at San Jose’s Petiscos by Adega.  The octopus balls (takoyaki) taste like they came out of a Japanese kitchen; the grilled pork belly (samgyeopsal) tastes like it came out of a Korean kitchen.

Quail eggs are one of those underused ingredients.  We can blame cooking shows and cookbooks for that because we haven’t come across a recipe that calls for them.  For this reason alone, you should order the bacon-wrapped quail eggs.  Other skewers from their charcoal grill include pork belly, lamb chop, scallops, beef, chicken, and two vegetables.  The eggplant could stay on the grill longer to soften the skin more (precooking in the microwave should help).  The shiitake mushrooms may have a fishy flavor (from something that was on the grill previously?)—they were better on our second visit.  We’d like to see them grill more vegetables and add some fruits.  Grilled pineapple and peaches would make wonderful desserts.

Located next to a Safeway in a large strip mall, BBG does not check your ID at the door, so kids are welcome.  Note that there’s a four-percent surcharge for payment by credit card.  The second location in San Jose did not survive COVID.

Nearby options:  Mr. Kebab, Pho Mama, JenJon’s Cafe, Bakery La Mejor, Happy Lemon, Golden Bay Seafood Harbor, Fong Kee Claypot, Din Ding Dumpling House, New China, Ramen Shu

───────────────

Belotti Bottega, Oakland | [≡] [@]

CPBA []

For years all we had around the country were Americanized Italian restaurants, Americanized Chinese restaurants, and Americanized Mexican restaurants.  Well, times have changed as chefs introduced American diners to more authentic fare.  There’s nothing wrong with Italian American restaurants, but if you want to move away from food that was made to appeal to “mainstream” palate a long time ago, come on down to Piedmont Avenue.  Chef Michele Belotti and his wife operate a sit-down restaurant and a takeout-only bottega (shop).  We prefer the latter for its location, another one of those two-lane restaurant rows.  The menu showcases food from various regions of northern Italy:  Piedmont (agnolotti, vitello tonnato, battuta), Lombardy (casoncelli, scarpinocc), Veneto (bigoli), and Emilia-Romagna (tortellini, tagliatelle).  The only thing missing is a baccala dish from Veneto.  Pour yourself a glass of Lambrusco or Prosecco.

How fitting that a place that serves Piedmontese food is on a street named Piedmont.  Yes, Herb Caen would’ve loved this twist on his namephreaks.

Nearby options:  Pomella, Monkey King, Malibu’s Burgers, Mistura, The Saap Avenue, Lo Coco’s, The Wolf, La Farine Bakery, Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery, Fentons Creamery, Piedmont Grocery

───────────────

Benchmark Pizzeria, Kensington | [≡]

CPBA []

Kensington is the smallest (population just over 5,000) of the three small cities between Berkeley and Richmond.  Unlike Brisbane, another small town across the bay, there really aren’t that many places to eat here.  Benchmark Pizzeria gets an A for creativity.

Even for North America where we get all sorts of pizza toppings, we dare say we’ve never seen anything like Benchmark’s fried sage pizza or pistachio pizza.  What makes the former work is the combination of mozzarella, brown butter, lemon, and garlic—the sage is really just a supporting actor.  The latter is a little messy to eat because the pistachios will fall all over the place when you pick up a slice.  Our suggestion for the kitchen is to mix some of the nuts into the ricotta to begin with—except there’s not that much ricotta to work with.  Benchmark’s pizza dough is quite chewy.  We’re not the type of people who leave the crust on the plate, and we were tempted to do just that with these pizzas.  For this reason you can skip the Benchmark pizza, which is essentially their version of Margherita pizza.

Benchmark’s creativity continues with spicy carrots, an interesting mix of Calabrian chili pepper, raisins, lemon, mint, and roasted almonds.  The mildly spicy pork meatballs are tender and come with house-milled polenta.  Their version of cacio e pepe, a Roman pasta dish with few ingredients, is well executed.  The farro bowl includes an unusual ingredient:  pickled lobster mushrooms.  They should seriously think about putting huitlacoche on a pizza in the future.  We like that the chopped salad features radicchio and an egg, but the dressing is off (mostly olive oil and not much else).

Here’s something we wish more restaurants would do.  Benchmark offers four different cocktails to-go (12 oz. each).  There was a second Benchmark in Old Oakland until 2020.  Note that they now operate a takeout-only place near their flagship location.

Nearby options:  Kensington Circus Pub, Benchmark Portavia, Semifreddi’s Bakery, Solano Avenue in Berkeley and Albany

───────────────

Brenda’s, Oakland + San Francisco | [♀]

CPBA []

From gumbo to etouffee and po’ boy, Brenda’s menu reads like the greatest hits of New Orleans cuisine.  The only thing we’d request is barbecue shrimp.  You’ll have to settle for shrimp and grits, a Lowcountry dish for people who think they won’t like corn porridge.

After eating Korean-style fried chicken, you might want to have some Southern-fried chicken again.  Brenda’s version is perfectly fried with no troubling red spots anywhere in the meat.  The batter is slightly spicy, and the meat is moist and flavorful.  You can specify whether you want dark or white pieces.  The biscuit that comes with the fried chicken is as light as it should be.  The hot pepper jelly may be meant for the chicken, but try it on the biscuit.

The beignet flight is a great way to sample Brenda’s selection of beignets, three of which are filled with savory crawfish, chocolate, or apple.  Our favorite is the plain (no filling).  It’s unlike the beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans because it has no air pockets inside and therefore more bread-like.  Anyway, Brenda’s beignets are more filling than your typical beignets.  Besides mimosa and Hurricane, you should try coup de cafe, a wonderful combination of espresso, chocolate, and Underberg bitters (an herbal digestive from Germany).

The menu at the Oakland location is slightly different from the original San Francisco spot.  Note that Brenda’s briefly partnered with 949 Ruff Food in 2021 to provide takeout in San Jose.  If the owner of Brenda’s wants to give this type of venture another try, Local Kitchens might be the way to go.

Nearby options in Oakland:  Teni East Kitchen, Mama’s Royal Cafe, Piedmont Avenue

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Los Carnalitos, Hayward

VidaEats []

Chilango refers to someone who lives in Mexico City.  Los Carnalitos (“the brothers”) specializes in Chilanga cuisine or food popular in the capital and largest city of Mexico.  Cheese isn’t the only moldy food people enjoy.  (Check out our popular cheese guide.)  We first heard about huitlacoche from an episode of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, the highly entertaining and educational series in 2007 (it’s a shame PBS no longer reruns this enlightening show).  Thanks to this unassuming restaurant in Hayward and others, we can all get a taste of what the TV series calls noble rot.  Huitlacoche is one of the options for quesadillas and huaraches at Los Carnalitos.  If you’re not ready for the full Azteca experience, go for alternatives such as chicken or beef tinga.

You’d expect to find Mexican sandwiches (tortas) on the menu at a casual place like this, but you must try pambazo, a torta-like item with different fillings between slices of pan-fried bread.  The traditional option is potatoes and chorizo.  The whole thing is comforting and surprisingly light.  The filling tastes like potato cake, and the bread remains soft and pillowy.  We couldn’t really taste the chorizo, which begs the question—why not add a potatoes-only option for vegetarians?  This may seem like a small detail, but having diced potato makes pambazo different from hash browns, Swiss rosti, and English floddies.  The mouthfeel is closer to the inside of a potato samosa.

Alambre is a dish for meat lovers.  The grilled beef is seared to jerky-like texture, and you also get chorizo and bacon.  Portion size is quite generous; you can easily make two servings out of the higher-priced dishes.  Panucho is another great value because it’s a lot of food at appetizer price.  The tortilla is stuffed with refried beans like Salvadoran pupusa and topped with zesty cochinita pibil (roasted pork).  Note that some of the dishes have a little more kick than the typical Mexican restaurant food.

They say when you cook with love, the food tastes better—so that’s why we love mom’s cooking.  There must be a love fest in this kitchen.  Even the horchata and mango agua fresca taste better.  The owners—yes, they are two brothers—started with a food truck in 2015.  They opened their first restaurant two years later.  They opened a second restaurant, La Fonda de los Carnalitos, in Redwood City in 2021.

Noble Rot episode snippet []

Nearby options:  Country Waffles

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Casa Barotti, Berkeley | [@]

The first time we heard about pizza al taglio or pizza al trancio was during the third season of You Gotta Eat Here! (this is the Ontario restaurant they visited).  We finally have a place in the Bay Area that serves northern Italian-style pizza by the slice (roughly 5” by 5.5”).  If you believe the only true pizza is the Neapolitan variety, then Casa Barotti is not for you.  The crust here is closer to focaccia.  Note that some of the toppings are on the salty side—we are talking about prosciutto (the good stuff from San Daniele), anchovies, and olives.  (Pro tip:  When we eat something as salty as Roquefort cheese, we like to follow with grapes as a chaser.)  In some parts of Italy, a spizzicheria or bacaro/cicchetteria is where you go to get your fill of small plates.  Besides pizza, Casa Barotti also serves focaccia, panini, Roman suppli, and Sicilian arancini.  A good time to come is during happy hour when you can enjoy a little bit of aperitivo.

ATK (pizza al taglio) []

Nearby options:  Mitama, Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, Oakland side of College Avenue

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Casa de Chocolates, Berkeley | [♀] [@]

ABC Localish [] ElTecoloteSF []

Considering people enjoyed some kind of chocolate drink in Mesoamerica 4,000 years ago, we think it’s only right that we have a place like Casa de Chocolates in the Elmwood area of Berkeley.  The Maya referred to chocolate as the food of the gods.  Using such intriguing flavors as mole, chipotle, tequila, and Inca peanut butter, Casa de Chocolates does its best to tempt us mortals with these heavenly offerings.  Chocolate truffles are fairly easy to make at home.  You’ll find lots of truffle recipes on the Internet.  Milk Street gives brownies a twist by using tahini.  You can take truffles and brownies to another level by adding a bit of chili powder.  Of course, chocolate is also good for cooking.  Chicken mole comes to mind.

Candy []

Nearby options:  La Mediterranee, Gai Barn, Donato & Co., Summer Kitchen, Organic Greens, Shen Hua, King Yen, Nabolom Bakery, Dream Fluff Donuts

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De Afghanan Cuisine, Fremont | [♀]

ABC Localish []

We figure Afghanistan will remain in the news for a while, so now is as good a time as any to talk about Afghan restaurants.  If you like kebabs, lamb, pilaf, or Persian food in general, then Afghan cuisine will give you a sense of deja vu.  Dari, one of Afghanistan’s languages, is basically farsi.  Try lamb shank pilaf (kabuli palaw) and stuffed flatbread (bolani).  De Afghanan, located in Fremont’s Little Kabul, has been around since 1993 and still maintains a small takeout-only place (limited menu and cash only) a few doors down from the main restaurant.  Note that there’s a ghost site put up by some company (cybersquatting?).  If you go to De Afghanan, tell them Baylindo sent you.

Nearby options:  Momo & Kebab, A Sack of Potatoes (int’l chain), Pav Bhaji Hut (int’l chain), Bun Appetit, MW Chinese Gourmet, El Halal Amigos, Madhuram, LiZhou

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Dela Curo, Oakland

CPBA (Fantastic Negrito) []

Curry is one of those culinary ideas Japan borrowed from India (via Britain), and they love it over there.  As the name suggests, Dela Curo specializes in black (kuro) curry.  We suspect Japanese curry and Indian curry have one thing in common:  Every restaurant has its own recipe.  DC’s version is more tangy than anything else.  You can get the curry here by itself or with pork, chicken, shrimp, omelet, or vegetables.  The most delightful item on the short menu is the fruit sandwich (sando).  Yes, home cooks can make this themselves, but we’re here to support our local restaurants.  Try mochi with matcha cream if you’ve never had mochi donuts before.  Modo Hawaii in Santa Clara remains our favorite.  Click on the Detour tab above for more on Japanese fusion food.  Located in Swan’s Market in Old Oakland, DC is near the corner of Ninth and Washington Streets.

Trails to Oishii Tokyo (Japanese curry) []

Nearby options:  The Cook and Her Farmer, Miss Ollie’s, Huangcheng Noodle House, Annapurna, Le Guerrera’s Kitchen, Taylor’s Sausage, Sincere Seafood, Square Pie Guys, Le Cheval, Ratto’s International Market & Deli

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East Ocean, Alameda | [≡] [@]

The word of the day is transformation.  The typical restaurant trajectory goes like this:  it starts out strong and over time becomes a shadow of its former self.  Two examples.  There’s a little place in Fremont that served very good food, but after the original chef/owner retired, it’s gone downhill (it still bears his name).  And we all know what happened to the once-popular Cooking Papa.  East Ocean bucks that trend by improving with age.  This neighborhood place opened in 1984; the current owner took over in 1995.  We managed to unearth a menu from the late 1990s.  The interesting thing is the menu hasn’t changed all that much, but we don’t recall local media talking about this restaurant.  So clearly the owner has transformed not just the dining room space but also the kitchen.

East Ocean is now almost as good as the best Hong Kong-style Cantonese restaurants in the Bay Area in their heyday.  The chef does two things really well:  beef and vegetables.  Try large pea sprouts, water spinach (ong choy), mustard greens, and bitter melon.  Note that black pepper beef short ribs are actually Korean-style or flanken-cut ribs—not the meaty short ribs that require a longer cooking time.  The service is personable and professional.  Like the best general-purpose Cantonese restaurants, East Ocean’s dim sum is above average.  The best bets are the steamed dumplings; the dough has the right thickness and chew.  For something mildly sweet and refreshing, go for the black sesame rolls.  A sushi menu is also available.  More than other places, this restaurant needs to rethink its billing procedure for takeout orders.  Click on the Detour tab above for details.

Located just a few blocks from the short Webster Street tunnel that connects to Oakland Chinatown, East Ocean shares a free parking lot in the back with Kelly-Moore Paints (enter from Pacific Avenue).  We like to think of this part of Alameda as OC extension.

Ocean [] Oceans Away [] Ocean Drive [] Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) []

Nearby options:  Kitchen of Alameda, Oakland Chinatown

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Fiery Shanghai, Pleasanton | [≡]

Luxllenium []

Part 1

Shanghai is the business capital of China.  Its cuisine is a part of Jiangsu, one of the major cuisines of China.  The reason this restaurant has “fiery” in its name is because it also serves Sichuan food.  Bay Area foodies should be quite familiar with Sichuan dishes, but restaurants featuring the food of Shanghai are rare.  We steered clear of anything spicy because we wanted to explore Shanghai and not Sichuan.  We love it when we stumble across an interesting find via Google Maps without the aid of TV shows, newspaper articles, or Michelin Guide.

The three dishes we ordered from the recommended section deserve that designation.  We’ve had dishes featuring salted duck egg before, but we’ve never seen it paired with puffed rice.  You must try the crispy rice with salted duck egg (the egg yolk is like grated parmesan).  We love this dish even though we’re not crazy about rice cakes or Rice Krispies Treats.  The deceptively plain stir-fried shrimp is a classic Shanghai dish.  It has a clean flavor, and the shrimp is perfectly cooked.  This style of cooking uses sugar more than other Chinese cuisines.  The mildly sweet brown sauce for the braised pork shank is proof of that.  (Note that there are two braised pork shank dishes with the same English name as of October 2023. The one we ordered is A9/C20 not A12/C21.)

We would’ve skipped the stir-fried lettuce if not for a photo on the menu, which shows that it is actually celtuce (aka asparagus lettuce or Chinese lettuce).  Though the leaves are edible, only the long stems, which have a similar texture as broccoli stems, are sold in stores.  Since celtuce is not in the brassica or cruciferous family, it doesn’t have a bitter flavor that some people are sensitive to.  If your kids don’t like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, they might like celtuce.  You can catch a glimpse of celtuce in an episode of Lucky Chow below.  The fish fillet with rice wine sauce has a subtle wine flavor.  The eggplant stuffed with meat and shrimp is another solid dish.

The salted pork and vegetable fried rice is definitely not Cantonese.  The cured pork tastes like salted fish, however.  The fried pork chop is like their version of tonkatsu.  Because American pork is lean and bland, we wish the breading is more strongly seasoned—and don’t forget to season the meat itself.  To cover all bases, FS also offers egg foo young and chop suey.  We love that they put these items in the nostalgia section.  If you grew up in the Midwest, knock yourself out.  To make their expansive menu even longer, they serve a few hot pot dishes as well.  Oh, did we mention there’s also northern-style dim sum on the menu?

Located in a relatively new strip mall in the Tri-Valley area, FS is the kind of place that we hope will be around for years to come.  Shanghai restaurants don’t have a good track record in the Bay Area; having a diversified menu could help FS beat the odds.  Some of the tables have an overhead frame that seems like a nice decorative element but may be a remnant of those lockdown days.

Lucky Chow (Chinatown) []

Nearby options:  CloudDish, Basil Delight, Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, Mumu Hot Pot, Top Pot, 85°C Bakery Cafe, Somisomi, Hey! I Am Yogost, Happy Lemon, Pacific Food Hall, Fallon Gateway in Dublin

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Flacos, Berkeley

CPBA []

We’re always on the lookout for more vegetarian places.  Flacos is a vegan Mexican restaurant.  We wanted to try the entire menu—easy to do since it’s rather limited and one of the items was not available on our visit.  The huarache (with mole rojo added) and taquitos are the best things on the menu.  They warn you the hot avocado salsa packs a punch, so ask them to let you have a taste first or stick with mild.  We can’t tell you if their Mexican brown rice and spring salad are any good because they come with plates.  Despite the fact we were pointing at the plates section of the menu, the person who took our order assumed we wanted everything a la carte.  Of the two aquas frescas, horchata is better because jamaica could use a bit more sugar.

Opened in 2010 in a small structure with a pointy roof (look up when you’re inside) that’s sort of whimsical like Mark’s Hot Dogs in San Jose, Flacos is now run by the original owner’s nephew.

Nearby options:  Easy Creole, Lemat Ethiopian, Vault Cafe, El Tiny Cafe, Zing Cafe, Ada Cafe, Sweet Adeline Bakeshop, Munch India, Oakland side of Shattuck Avenue

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Gaumenkitzel, Berkeley | [♀] [≡]

CPBA [] Bay Area Bountiful []

The nice thing about German restaurants in the Bay Area is that they’re a little different from each other.  Gaumenkitzel offers Hamburg dishes such as a lightly pickled cabbage salad and vegetable fritters made from carrot, parsnip, oats, and egg.  For comparison the fritters from Cook’s Country include zucchini, carrot, red bell pepper, and onion.  Pannfisch is another Hamburg dish that features pan-fried fish with mustard sauce.  When available as a special, Gaumenkitzel uses local lingcod and king salmon and serves it over rice (almost like risotto).  The pork schnitzel has a well-seasoned coating.  The red sauerkraut is one of the best in the Bay Area.  Matschbrotchen is a chocolate marshmallow sandwich you don’t see often.

Gaumenkitzel’s desserts are uniformly light and satisfying.  As the menu makes clear, Black Forest cake is made using kirsch brandy, which is not sweet like cherry liqueur.  It is not to be confused with German chocolate cake, an American invention named after its creator.  Streuselkuchen (yeasted dough version) and buttermilk dessert (served in a canning jar) are also good.  Gaumenkitzel is indeed a delight for the taste buds.  Oh, they make their own yogurt and jams.  The low-sugar peach and ginger jam is definitely not too sweet (could use more ginger).  The lemon marmalade is more like a compote with slices of lemon in syrup (grab a spoon or fork and ditch the butter knife).  You could serve it with ice cream or as garnish for cake.  Let’s hope they go back to their pre-pandemic hours soon; the kitchen closes at 5 pm.  For people who eat dinner around 6 pm, well, this’ll do for now.

Nearby options:  La Marcha Tapas Bar, Middle East Market, Thai Table, Babette, The Hidden Cafe, Belmo Cafe, Cafe Leila, Casa Latina Bakery, States Coffee x Bread, Rainbow Donuts

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Golden Bay Seafood Harbor, Union City | [≡]

We first visited this restaurant in August 2021.  A new owner took over in 2022, tinkered with the name, changed the logo, and introduced a revamped menu.  What was Grand Golden Bay Seafood is now Golden Bay Seafood Harbor with a red king crab logo.  The new menu includes at least 40 items from the Grand days, so there may or may not be a new chef behind it.  (The original Grand Golden Bay Seafood in Oakland closed in 2022.)

The most interesting item we sampled on the new menu is the Chuandao sauce shrimp.  As far as we can tell, Chuandao is a town in South China; there’s also a brand of shrimp paste we found on Amazon with that name (is there anything they don’t carry?).  This dish, which comes with puffy shrimp chips, may look like honey walnut shrimp but has a different flavor profile.  We detect garlic and a hint of wasabi.  (Compare with the wasabi shrimp at Myanmar Tea Garden in Fremont.)  The chef’s specialty steak bites (French beef cubes on the old menu) is the kind of dish one used to find on Chinese American menus.  This version has an understated coffee flavor and the tender meat is still slightly pink in the center.  It’s served with egg tofu and broccoli.  They should use something other than overly al dente—undercooked—broccoli.  The same egg tofu also appears in the assorted mushrooms and Japanese tofu dish.

The chicken, salted fish and eggplant clay pot has a wonderful flavor you can only get from clay pot cooking.  The eggplant is creamy; we would like a little more chicken and stronger salted fish flavor.  Yes, we know the salted fish is meant to be in the background like anchovy.  People should add more bitter food to their diet, so give the bitter melon beef a try.  Think of the tender and tasty beef as the spoonful of sugar that helps the bitter melon go down.  If not for the old and slightly fibrous pea sprouts, the golden silver egg and pea sprouts would be first-rate.  The name refers to salted duck egg yolk (gold) and preserved egg (silver).  You can skip the ginger lobster noodles—we’ve had better.  The noodles are on the greasy side, and the sauce for the lobster could have better flavor.

We’re always on the lookout for unusual restaurants and uncommon dishes.  There are some items at this Cantonese place—baked shrimp, vanilla cod fillet, and tea shrimp, for example—that we’ve never seen elsewhere.  Note that there’s a mini version of Buddha jumps over the wall on the menu, a break for your wallet.  You can order dim sum during lunchtime.  We like to trace the “provenance” of a location.  This space used to be Mayflower Seafood and before that Lucky Palace.

CHINA LIVE (Buddha jumps over the wall) [] Gregory Leow (Buddha jumps over the wall) [] TaiwanPlus (Buddha jumps over the wall) []

Nearby options:  Fong Kee Claypot, Din Ding Dumpling House, New China, Ramen Shu, Bar Bay Grill, Mr. Kebab, Pho Mama, JenJon’s Cafe, Bakery La Mejor, Happy Lemon

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Hong Kong East Ocean, Emeryville | [≡] [@]

HKEO3199 []

Since Hong Kong East Ocean opened in 1989, it qualifies as an OG dim sum spot in the Bay Area (we recently discovered there’s one in San Francisco that dates back to 1920).  Like Alameda’s East Ocean (no relation), HKEO has managed to stay fresh and relevant after all these years.  When you look at the building from the outside, you wouldn’t think it can accommodate about 600 guests, which is a good thing because one big mess hall is rather boring (see H.L. Peninsula in Milpitas).  Seafood is their specialty and they do something with the fish tanks that other places don’t do:  they put the market price of each live fish for all to see.  (King crab is not the most expensive item; that honor goes to Australian lobster on our visit.)  They also post pictures of their chefs on the wall inside and on their site.

We don’t know if this is a trend or not, but HKEO is one of those restaurants where you can order dim sum all day.  (Digression:  We only added HKEO to our culinary tour after we noticed a few unusual items on its dim sum menu.  This is why all restaurants should have a site or at least upload the menu somewhere on the Internet.  A Facebook page is a terrible substitute.)  We ordered six items from the dim sum menu and six from the dinner menu.

There are dim sum places that try to go upscale and trendy (multi-colored dumplings and expensive ingredients).  HKEO doesn’t try to be grammable but still maintains a few tricks up its sleeve.  Anyone who’s familiar with dim sum must order the pickled bitter melon.  For one thing, you can tell all the kids in the playground you’ve had pickled bitter melon.  It’s delicious and the best part is you can still taste the bitterness.  Another unusual item is the plain rice noodle roll with hoisin sauce and peanut sauce, a street food in Hong Kong and other Asian cities.  The daikon cake (kudos for not calling it turnip) in a clay pot has more complex flavor than the typical pan-fried version; the XO sauce also gives it a little zing.  The coconut gelatin with sweet taro paste is a nice dessert because it tastes more like custard than jello.

Though HKEO’s dinner menu looks ordinary—compared with the dim sum menu—it surprises in its own way.  The dishes we sampled are Cantonese but have a slightly different flavor profile from other Bay Area restaurants.  The nobleman fried rice with seafood is a prime example of that.  Eggplant is usually braised; here it’s steamed and served with minced pork and preserved cabbage.  Unlike the more common steamed eggs with clams, the steamed egg white with seafood is kind of soupy and the egg white could be mistaken for soft tofu.  The assorted seafood with glass noodles is a comforting country dish (the squid is oh-so tender).

The waterfront location is ready for its close-up, and the Emeryville Marina is not as cold and windy as one would expect.  About the view...from the parking lot you get a good view of the Port of Oakland above all else (de cranes, de cranes).  Since the restaurant windows face west, the sun may be in your eyes anyway in the afternoon.  So come for the food and think of the view as a bonus.  Note that there may be a sister restaurant in Manila (same red logo with ocean waves).  Pixar is headquartered in Emeryville.

If you’re coming from the South Bay via I-880 and want to take the Powell Street exit off I-580, you have to use I-980.  That’s because by the time I-880 merges with I-580, it’s just past the Powell Street exit (you can take the Ashby Avenue exit and turn right onto Shellmound Street to get back to Powell).  Alternatively, if you want to avoid the MacArthur Maze of flyovers and mergers leading to the Bay Bridge, take the Broadway exit, then San Pablo Avenue and turn left onto Stanford Avenue, which becomes Powell.  It’s about five miles from Broadway exit to the restaurant.

Diana & Kenny’s VLOG (Filipino-style pickled bitter melon) [] Hawaii’s Pickle Lady (Burmese-style bitter melon) []
Rack of Lam (rice noodle roll) [] East Meets Kitchen (rice noodle roll) []

Nearby options:  Trader Vic’s, Powell Street Plaza, The Public Market

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Imperial Soup, Oakland

Here’s another unique restaurant in the Bay Area, a place that specializes in herbal soups.  While we can’t vouch for their medicinal properties, what Imperial Soup offers tastes as comforting as, well, chicken soup.  The English menu simply describes the 18 herbal soup options as “herbs.”  Try the soup with American ginseng (#5) or the one with blaze mushroom (#7) or the one with sparerib (#9).  It’s a nice change from the ubiquitous hot and sour soup.  A couple soups also feature the distinctive Silkie chicken.

The desserts are on the “healthy” side as well.  If they run out of double-layer steamed milk, steamed red bean milk with sago would be a good plan B.  The rest are barely sweet—though where else can you find peach gum and tragacanth on the dessert menu?  The main entrees are mostly steamed or braised (nothing deep-fried here).  Hainan chicken rice is one of the better versions in the Bay Area.  If you like food bundles, try steamed rice with pork belly in lotus leaf.  Imperial Soup also serves noodles and noodle soups.  There may be a $25 minimum for credit cards.

When the English menu fails to tell the whole story, we wish there’s a mobile app that allows one to point the camera at a foreign-language name or sign and get an English translation.  Apple’s own Translate app doesn’t do that.  If you find double-boiled herbal soup at other restaurants, it’s higher priced and usually requires a reservation.  To learn more about food as medicine and food philosophy in general, check out episode #102 of Confucius Was a Foodie.  KPJK is currently airing this Canadian series on Saturdays at 7 pm (starting in October 2021); KQED and KRCB will probably rerun it in the future.

Trails to Oishii Tokyo (Silkie chicken) [] Soup for One []

Nearby options:  Peony Seafood, Cafe Gabriela, Battambang, Tay Ho, Nature Vegetarian, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, Shooting Star Cafe, C&M Bistro, Shandong, Eden Silk Road, Golden Peacock, New Gold Medal, UC Dessert

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Juanita & Maude, Albany | [≡]

CPBA []

Named after chef/owner Scott Eastman’s grandmother and mother, Juanita & Maude is the kind of place that does not rest on its laurels.  All the dishes diners raved about a few years ago are no longer available.  Anyone who misses J&M’s olive oil cake should check out this relatively simple recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.  So if what’s past is prologue, the menu we sampled in November 2022 will be very different by the time you make your way to this small city between Berkeley and Richmond.

Like San Jose’s Paper Plane, J&M’s menu is the United Nations of food.  There’s a little bit of Italy, Mexico, Japan, and other locales.  Even duqqa, an Egyptian dip, makes an appearance.  The best thing about chicken under a brick (pollo al mattone) is the accompanying gnocchi.  Served with a Marsala sauce, this is textbook gnocchi and the star of the whole meal.  J&M’s take on donburi is topped with scallop and eggplant and decidedly spicy—definitely not your typical donburi.  For liver lovers and doubters, try the chicken liver canape (crostino).  Of the two desserts we sampled, the clear winner is the matcha cream puffs.  You can taste the yuzu gelee.  These profiteroles are better than what you find at chains like Beard Papa’s or even some boutique bakery.

Having the bar in the middle of the restaurant makes sense because it helps delineate the different dining areas.  And the drapery next to the table next to the door provides a modicum of privacy.  It’s the little things that mean so much.  It’s easy to see why this is such a popular neighborhood spot.

Nearby options:  Sugata, White Lotus Thai Cuisine, Rendez-Vous Cafe Bistro, Aangan, Everest Kitchen, Picnic, Syma’s, The Hot Shop, Sam’s Log Cabin, Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery

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Kendejah, San Leandro

CPBA [] The Charlie Boots Show []

For some reason, Ethiopian restaurants are well represented in the Bay Area.  Whether or not you’ve had your fill of injera, check out other African eats such as this Liberian restaurant in downtown San Leandro.  Liberia is one of 17 nations in West Africa, where most American slaves originated.  Sampling West African food is like tasting the American South’s mother cuisine.  Jollof rice is likely the inspiration for jambalaya and other Southern rice dishes.  We don’t consume enough collard greens outside of the South; Kendejah offers sweet potato greens and cassava leaves in addition to that Southern staple.  Also try torborgee or bean stew.  For marketing purpose, the owner of this restaurant chose to spell Kendeja, an artists’ village outside Liberia’s capital, his way.

Liberia has another special connection to this country—if you know your U.S. history.  Follow chef Marcus Samuelsson as he visits the Nigerian and West African community in Houston in episode #203 of No Passport Required.  Chef Vivian Howard explores the ways greens are prepared in the South and observes someone in Georgia pounding cassava leaves and making fufu in episode #105 of Somewhere South.  KQED will rerun these series in the future.  In the meantime, you can watch below Michelle Kavachi make fufu (also seen in the Samuelsson series).  Also check out her book on fufu.

The Houston Cookbook [] Liberian Girl []

Nearby options:  Slice House, Xiang Yuen Xiao Long Bao, Maejoo Wings, Indian Grill, Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, Cafe Sorriso

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Korner Kitchen & Bar, Oakland | [@]

CPBA (starting at 21:47) []

Featuring...
: Sammy’s
: SMAX

Located at the corner of Fruitvale Avenue and San Leandro Street, Korner Kitchen & Bar is a mini-food hall near Fruitvale BART Station.  It has two sections connected via a narrow pathway.  They have plenty of benches where people can sit and hang out.  This being an outdoor venue, it’s best to come between March and October.  Beware the lineup of vendors changes over time.  When we visited one Saturday in October 2022, there were more arts and crafts vendors than food vendors.

SMAX’s signature dish is the fish sandwich (The Fizzy).  The brioche buns and tartar sauce with dill are good, but you taste the batter more than the fish fillet itself.  They also make chopped cheese, a sandwich that might evoke an emotional response from native New Yorkers.  It’s a cross between cheeseburger and sloppy joe.  Sammy’s specializes in hotteok, small pancakes Chinese immigrants brought with them to South Korea.  The traditional version (brown sugar and cinnamon) is better than the one with mozzarella.  They also make a pizza version.  After talking with these two vendors, we got the impression the endgame is not a brick-and-mortar restaurant for either.  One vendor that already has a store is Ono Bakehouse (cash or Venmo only).

The highlight turned out to be the house bar, which specializes in Asian/Latinx-inspired cocktails.  We enjoyed Nevermind, a rum and sherry drink, and a mocktail called You Nice Keep Going (tamarind and makrut lime).  The menu changes often; in the past, they made a drink featuring bitter melon syrup (Halo at Me) and another with lemongrass syrup (Benne Black).  We also picked up a kimchi sour beer made by a Bay Area brewer (we first spotted it in the fridge near the kitchen and restrooms).  Unfortunately, Noodle Belly and Padron Grill were not present—contrary to what the official site stated.  And Sugarmama Sugarcane and Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream close early in the afternoon.  Surely these vendors can arrange for their products to be sold after they leave (especially frozen ice cream).  There’s no street parking in front of KK, so follow our suggestion for Wahpepah’s Kitchen.

Digital Dreams (AV installation) []

Nearby options:  Fruitvale Village, Fruitvale Public Market

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La Marcha Tapas Bar, Berkeley | [♀] [≡]

CPBA [] Visit Berkeley []

Michael Bauer called La Marcha “[p]aella, perfected” in 2016.  Well, maybe he didn’t because someone else at San Francisco Chronicle likely wrote that headline.  La Marcha’s paellas are indeed solid.  Of the two paella options we sampled, the marinera (four types of shellfish) is better since the mixta (chicken, Spanish chorizo, and shell-on shrimp) is a tad too salty.  The ingredients are great and portion size generous.

The best tapas item is the wild boar and beef meatballs (albondigas).  They are tender and the sauce is very tasty as well (too bad the kitchen forgot the toast).  The goat cheese and basil filling is what makes the stuffed peppers (piquillo rellenos) sing.  The octopus leg is fine, but the king of pulpo remains Teleferic Barcelona’s version in terms of flavor and presentation.  Ricotta cheesecake (tarta de requeson) is the perfect, light dessert to go with hearty paellas.  If Kraft Foods, the producer of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, ever decided to go into the ricotta business, more Americans would make cheesecake with ricotta.  The restaurant’s background music (rock en espanol) is something else La Marcha got right.

More on paella protocol...some people would argue the best part of paella is the crunchy rice (socarrat) at the bottom of the pan.  Unfortunately, it seems you can only enjoy it if you dine in.  Note that it’s not a given the rice will crust on the bottom—it depends on the cook.  If the kitchen packed socarrat for takeout orders, it would require an extra container and more work.  Yes, we’re aware this is a first-world problem, but we are curious how they handle it in Spain.  If anyone knows the answer, give us a shout.  By the way, Chinese and Japanese restaurants face a similar problem with clay pot rice and kamameshi, respectively.  And Persian restaurants resolve the issue by selling the scorched rice (tahdig) as a separate item on the menu (usually).

Nearby options:  Gaumenkitzel, Middle East Market, Thai Table, Babette, The Hidden Cafe, Belmo Cafe, Cafe Leila, Casa Latina Bakery, States Coffee x Bread, Rainbow Donuts

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Marica, Oakland

Jason Nou []

People who live in Oakland’s Rockridge area are lucky ducks because every neighborhood should have a place like Marica.  Named after a nymph in Roman mythology, Marica is cozy and quite a bit smaller than on-line photos would indicate.  We’ve visited over a dozen restaurants that were awarded Bib Gourmand or Michelin Plate a few years ago, and Marica stacks up quite well against them.  Michelin Guide should send somebody to College Avenue pronto.

The seafood stew (scallops, rock cod, shrimp) has the color of lobster bisque since the stock is made with lobster, shrimp, and chicken.  It’s very fragrant (herbes de Provence?) and has a slight kick.  They should call it Christopher’s bouillabaisse.  We’ve never made Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon, so we don’t know how close Marica’s version (one of only two non-seafood mains) comes to its inspiration.  We imagine she would be pleased.  The meat is tender and luxurious and just the right size.  They probably add the wine at the beginning and at the end of cooking to maximize its contribution.  The pencil-thin asparagus is an unusual but welcome pairing for this stew.

If you’re not a fan of beets, don’t let that stop you from ordering the mixed greens salad.  The roasted red beets here are not as earthy as some, and the kitchen also makes sure they don’t bleed all over the dish.  The green olives are a nice touch; the balsamic vinaigrette is more viscous than your typical dressing.  The wok-fried calamari is served with a mini version of the mixed greens salad (but a different dressing), so that’s a selling point.  The squid is definitely deep-fried, but the sauteed part doesn’t add much to the final product.  If the kitchen was aiming for wok hei, they missed.  The good thing is you do get both the body and the legs.

Marica offers only two desserts, so try them both.  The old-school banana pudding is fine, but it really can’t compete with the creme brulee.  The custard seems to have a boozy note (or really strong vanilla), just the excuse to keep your kids away from it.

Chef/owner Chris Cheung first opened Christopher’s Cafe in Berkeley Hills in 1984 (now Troy as of 2022).  Later he relocated down Solano Avenue to Albany (now Fonda).  He opened a second location on San Pablo Avenue (now Syma’s) in 1988.  Like Sunnyvale’s Magic-Wok, Marica is well-positioned to weather the pandemic—for very different reasons.  Simply put, Cheung is not afraid of change.  When he and his family opened Marica in 2000, he shifted from Mexican to seafood.  Most of the dishes mentioned in two newspaper reviews (one in 2001 and the other in 2011) are no longer available.  And Marica turned into a pizzeria in 2019.

Julia Child (boeuf bourguignon) [] Julia Child (bouillabaisse) [] Jamie Oliver (fish stew) []

Nearby options:  Pucquio, A16, High Peaks Kitchen, Khana Peena, Bangkok Garden

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Mingala, Fremont | [≡]

OneStopGuy [] Honda Nguyen []

When it comes to Southeast Asia, there are plenty of Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino restaurants in the Bay Area.  You can count all the local Malaysian eateries on one hand.  Two things set Mingala’s menu apart from other Malaysian places:  the inclusion of a few Burmese dishes and more vegetarian options.  Instead of ground catfish, Mingala uses split pea fritter in mohinga, Myanmar’s national dish.  Surprisingly, Mingala’s version has a little more heat than Myanmar Tea Garden’s.

Malaysia’s population is 23 percent Chinese and 7 percent Indian, and Malaysian cuisine reflects this diversity.  Most of the fried noodle dishes at Mingala look and taste close to what you find at Cantonese restaurants since Malaysian Chinese originated from southern China.  Roti and samosa are examples of Indian influence.

Rendang is as much a Malaysian dish as it is Indonesian.  Mingala uses beef shank for its beef rendang.  Gado-gado is another dish adapted from Indonesia.  Basil fried rice has a flavor profile you don’t taste at Chinese restaurants.  Malaysian food is one of the first fusion cuisines.  And you also get friendly service to go with your order.  You can catch reruns of Taste of Malaysia With Martin Yan on KQED.  Yan meets royalty in the 12th episode.

Nearby options:  Gourmet House, Happy Lemon, Hong Kong Chef, A Plus HK Style Cafe, Chaat House

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Momo & Kebab, Fremont

Nepali Riders in California [] Indian in USA [] Rice and Travel []

When we visited a nearby eatery during lockdown, we noticed a “Coming Soon” sign for Momo & Kebab.  Well, it did open in 2021, illustrating once again what we love about living in the Bay Area—the diverse culinary scene.  We’d been to one Nepali restaurant in Cupertino years ago (the first on the West Coast?), so we’re thrilled M&K seems to be thriving, not to mention there are quite a few Bay Area food trucks pushing various Nepali dishes.  Nepal is sandwiched between two big neighbors:  India and China.  Its cuisine is worth seeking out because it’s familiar and different at the same time.

Every culture has some sort of dumpling.  Georgia has khinkali; Nepal has momo.  These dumplings are usually served by themselves or maybe with a sauce or soup on the side.  M&K includes one option where they serve them (eight per order) with noodles.  Close your eyes and you just might think you’re eating really good spaghetti and meatballs (we opted for chicken momo).

Now that winter’s here, we’ve been sampling some wonderful soups lately.  Besides Korean samgyetang and Latin American cocido, you can add M&K’s noodle soup (thenthuk) to the list of comforting soups.  The chicken and egg version is a winner.  The chicken tastes like it was grilled before joining the pot of soup; the strips of flat noodles remind us of the Appalachian dish chicken and slicks.

The tandoori chicken (leg quarter) is just different enough from the Indian version to make it interesting.  Sekuwa, the other clay oven dish on the menu, has a flavor profile we’ve never encountered before.  The roasted fish is perfectly cooked (they use basa/swai, a type of catfish).  Sekuwa is served with a salad whose dressing/sauce is really spicy—good thing they put it on the side.  The lamb shank is good as lamb shank dishes usually are; however, the sauce is a bit too salty.

Not every Indian restaurant serves korma dishes nowadays, so it’s fun to try M&K’s navratan korma, which, as the name suggests, is supposed to include nine ingredients (green beans, carrot, corn, peas, lentils, etc.).  If you’ve never had Indo-Chinese food before, try their take on fried rice.  You should definitely order the honey baked yogurt because it tastes like cheesecake.

Located at the front of the Artist Walk Apartments complex in the Centerville District of Fremont, M&K and other dining spots in the area certainly can’t complain about the address.

Nearby options:  A Sack of Potatoes, R&B Tea, Pav Bhaji Hut, Bun Appetit, East Bay Cafe Depot, De Afghanan Cuisine, Bismillah, El Patio Original, Taqueria “El Chavito,” Dino’s Family, Billy Roy’s Burger Co., Ox 9 Lanzhou Handpulled Noodles, Madhuram, Kiya Sushi, Kyain Kyain, Satomi Sushi, Gangnam Tofu House, Dosa Express, Suju’s Coffee

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Myanmar Tea Garden, Fremont | [≡]

This family-owned restaurant is located in a strip mall anchored by Apna Bazar.  Chef U Win Aye has a resume that includes Burma Superstar and Rangoon Ruby.  While those two restaurants have multiple locations, there’s only one Myanmar Tea Garden.  When the trailblazing Nan Yang opened in Oakland in 1983, Burmese restaurants served mostly Chinese-style dishes.  That’s no longer the case in the Bay Area.  Burmese cuisine includes salads—that alone makes it very different from other Asian countries.

Mohinga is Myanmar’s national dish, a rice noodle soup that’s traditionally made with catfish.  MTG and other local Burmese restaurants use ground catfish.  Think of mohinga as the Burmese answer to Vietnam’s pho.  Chef Aye has created unique dishes such as wasabi shrimp and tea leaf shrimp.  The former is served on a bed of chopped cabbage.  Mix the mildly spicy-sweet wasabi cream sauce with the cabbage and you have yourself some coleslaw.

It’s a little unexpected to find biryani on a Burmese menu (danbauk in Burmese).  MTG offers four options:  chicken drumsticks, lamb, shrimp, and lamb shank.  Unlike the Indian version, the Burmese take is not spicy at all.  Pumpkin (kabocha?) is another item that makes multiple appearances, accompanying chicken, shrimp, or tofu.  These stews have a slightly sweet flavor.  The prosaic description doesn’t do Myanmar fried rice justice; this dish with yellow beans will grow on you.  For a sweet ending, try dessert palata (Burmese paratha) with banana and ice cream.

Rockstar Eater []

Nearby options:  Bombay Street Food, Gonutz, New Yong Kang Seafood, Halal Wings Plus, Biryani Bowl, Line Thai, Vasy’s Donut Shop

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Nature Vegetarian, Oakland | [≡]

Shutter Swoo []

Like Hayward’s Veggie Lee, Nature Vegetarian is also allium-free (no garlic, onion, shallot, leek, or chive).  We felt quite satiated after sampling eight meatless dishes, which is not always the case when we go vegetarian.  You can start with the salt and pepper tofu appetizer.  Many non-vegetarian places offer this dish; what makes Nature’s version a little different is the addition of basil, red/green bell pepper, and whole chili peppers (for those who like more heat).  This kitchen does something to elevate the humble bell pepper—it tastes almost pickled.  So it’s a good thing it’s a recurring ingredient in some of the other dishes.

Nature’s shark fin soup tastes close to the real thing.  While we suspect Nature and Veggie Lee both use konjac as shark fin, this rendition has better flavor with bits of ham and mushroom.  If you’ve never had sea cucumber before (it’s not cheap and maybe you’re a little hesitant), try the veggie sea cucumber and mixed mushrooms with BBQ sauce.  Mushroom lovers will appreciate the use of shiitake, button, and what looks like king oyster.

The veggie cod fish steak and eggplant with BBQ sauce is another safe bet.  The fish actually looks and tastes closer to swordfish.  The surprise ingredient in this clay pot dish is snow fungus, more commonly used in soup.  Let’s stipulate that shrimp is the weakest link in the world of mock meat/seafood.  That said, you should still order the sauteed veggie prawns with pumpkin because the squash is nicely caramelized on the outside and there’s zucchini for a bit of crunch.  Lotus root is one of those underused vegetables, so give Nature credit for sauteeing it with snow peas and mushrooms including wood ear.

Singapore-style rice noodles is another dish you’ll find at most Cantonese restaurants.  Nature’s curry has more complexity than average.  It would be better if they use chicken instead of shrimp.  The fresh mushroom chow fun is full of wok hei.  We did learn from a TV show that you can mimic that charred, smoky flavor and aroma by using a combination of caramelized green onion, ginger, and shallots.

Nature is literally a mom-and-pop operation.  He is the chef and she works the front of the house.  They owned a non-vegetarian place at the same address years ago.  Even though Nature has been around since 2012, we never noticed it because it’s located near the edge of Oakland Chinatown where it’s the only eatery on the block.  The upside is there’s meterless street parking right in front of the restaurant.  They will resume dine-in service in November 2023.

Nearby options:  Imperial Soup, Peony Seafood, Cafe Gabriela, Battambang, Tay Ho, Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, Shooting Star Cafe, C&M Bistro, Shandong, Eden Silk Road, Golden Peacock, New Gold Medal, UC Dessert

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Oaklandia Cafe, Oakland (two locations) | [@]

ABC Localish []

When we first visited the spacious 12th Street location near Oakland Convention Center, we were a bit disappointed because we saw pastries we can make at home (muffins, scones) and things you find at 7-Eleven and most supermarkets (Danish, croissants, muffins, scones).  Well, all that matters is if what comes out of a professional kitchen tastes better than homemade.  We’re happy to report there’s not a dud among the eight pastries we sampled.  Nothing is too sweet, and everything looks good.  While Castro Valley’s Seven Hills Baking Co. may have better scones and San Francisco’s Arsicault Bakery may have better croissants, there are definitely items at both places we would not order again.

It seems most small, independent bakeries don’t make Danish pastries much because they’re not trendy.  So it’s surprising our favorite item here turns out to be the apricot Danish.  A Danish is a puff pastry just like croissant, which means it’s not something the average home cook can make.  Oaklandia’s spinach ricotta croissant is perfect if you’re looking for something savory.  The scones have interesting flavors such as lavender blueberry and honey walnut.  The most uncommon item is the angel foods apple cake.  Oaklandia also serves sandwiches and salads.

This is another mom-and-pop business that deserves your support.  The couple met when they both worked for Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery years ago.  He is Oaklandia’s pastry chef; she is an Oakland native.  They were able to expand their operation thanks to an angel investor.  The 12th Street cafe/bakery is on the ground floor of a 21-story office building, one of five properties that make up Oakland City Center.  It’s easy to spot this curved building because it’s shaped like the CBS eye or a football from a bird’s-eye view.

Nearby options (Oakland City Center):  Rio California, Roasted and Raw, Pachas Afghan Kabab House, Tigrai Cafe, Old Oakland

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The Park Street Tavern, Alameda

CPBA []

The Park Street Tavern, not to be confused with San Francisco’s Park Tavern, wouldn’t be out of place in North Beach.  It’s an old-fashioned Mediterranean restaurant with touches of Italy and Greece.  It’s a relatively new restaurant with a lived-in feel because this was the address for Gold Coast Grill from 1992 to 2017.  We suspect that restaurant’s customers are quite happy with its successor.  Like Albany’s Juanita & Maude, you face the bar as soon as you walk in.  We noticed a table in the bar area with a dedication (leftover from the days of GCG?).

Even people who aren’t sure about beets should order the beet and arugula salad.  The pieces of beet don’t taste earthy at all, and that honey lemon champagne vinaigrette is a winner.  There are some surprises among the five appetizers we sampled.  The grilled octopus is served with Greek garlic mashed potatoes (skordalia).  Their version of Sicilian arancini is moist and comes in a tomato sauce.  A touch of sweetness sets their calamari fritti apart thanks to caramelized onions (onion petals on the menu).  The Lefkas bruschetta uses Ionian anchovies that aren’t salty at all.  The pancetta-wrapped prawns have good flavor as expected but taste overcooked.

The sweetness of the sauteed shrimp in the capellini scampi pairs well with the lemon-garlic white wine sauce.  The beef short ribs need something to make this dish sing; using roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach doesn’t cut it.  The bone-in pork chop with crispy three-cheese polenta is a little more interesting.  The lemon torte (torta della nonna) is sweeter than we prefer.  The Greek yogurt with sour cherries is marred by medicinal-tasting syrup.

Note that there are two paintings (from the owner’s private collection) by a certain Oscar-winning actor known for his iconic portrayal of a Greek character.  One is a self-portrait and we didn’t get a good look at the other.  Enter the parking lot from Clement Avenue.  Beware of published hours by Google and others:  the dining room opens later than the bar (check official site).

ABC Localish (Anthony Q. Public Library) []

Nearby options:  Dragon Rouge Bistro, A-Town Pizza & Kabob House, Monkey King, McGee’s, Mama Judy Singapore Hawker, Jim’s Coffee Shop, Crispian Bakery, Coffee Cultures, Alameda Marketplace

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Rio California, Oakland

CPBA []

When a restaurant doesn’t have a long menu, it needs to make everything count.  Well, Rio California has passed that test with flying colors.  Chef/owner Ney Araujo describes his restaurant’s food as continental cuisine with a Brazilian accent (he has lived in Brazil and Europe).  After sampling about 10 dishes, we feel confident you can close your eyes and point to anything on the menu.

We’ve avoided Brazilian restaurants in the Bay Area because most of them are the very meat-centric steakhouses.  So we’re happy to finally have an opportunity to try feijoada, the Brazilian stew with pork and beans served with rice and sausages and a sprinkling of farofa or yuca flour.  The accompanying collard greens are not completely soft, which is a nice change from the norm.  It’s only available on Wednesdays and Thursdays—though we got it on a Friday (stews and braised dishes in general taste better the next day anyway).  The other Brazilian treat on the menu is coxinha or chicken croquette.  If this is Brazil’s answer to empanada, we are Team Coxinha.  You get three pear-sized croquettes per order, which is plenty for lunch.  RC’s version seems to have potato in the dough, and yet it’s still very light.

Whether you order rice or mashed potatoes with the shrimp with chipotle sauce, what you get is kind of like RC’s version of shrimp and grits.  The grilled vegetables provide a nice crunch in all that lovely sauce.  The creamy lemon seafood risotto features fish, shrimp and mussels.  The jerk chicken is mildly spicy (they do give you a more potent sauce on the side).  Also good are the grilled tilapia with capers and butter sauce and the two chicken breast entrees.  The kitchen clearly knows how to make tasty rice—judging by the rice that accompanies the jerk chicken and grilled tilapia.  If you like cilantro, ask for the cilantro garlic dressing for your salad.

Located inside Preservation Park, RC is open for lunch on weekdays (there’s a catering menu for lunch/dinner/weekends).  If you have a soft spot for painted ladies, Preservation Park is a collection of 16 Victorian-style buildings that now house nonprofit organizations.  Only five were here originally; the rest were relocated due to the construction of I-980.  Once you step inside the park, you do feel like you’re transported in time (check out the Parisian fountain, park benches, street lamps, and plants).  This site is available for weddings and other events.  Note that inside parking is for tenants only.

Nearby options:  Roasted and Raw, Pachas Afghan Kabab House, Oaklandia Cafe x Bakery, Tigrai Cafe, Old Oakland

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Roasted and Raw, Oakland

CPBA [] Plant Based Partnas [] Zennie62 []

With few exceptions, vegetarian restaurants in the Bay Area like to offer faux meat and seafood on the menu.  That’s probably a sound strategy because these items (textured vegetable protein, tempeh, seitan, tofu, and others) are a source of protein, and we imagine there are some former meat eaters who still yearn for the flavor and texture of meat and seafood.  The good news is our local vegetarian places are different from each other—and mock meat has come a long way.

Outside of Indian, Persian, and Afghan restaurants, you don’t see basmati rice on the menu much.  We’re not saying all other restaurants should switch to basmati rice.  It would be highly unusual if Mexican and Japanese places started serving basmati rice.  Since Roasted and Raw does not specialize in any one cuisine, they are free to do what they want.  So kudos to R&R for using basmati rice exclusively.  The only suggestion we would make is to add brown rice as a second rice option.

Food bowl is quite popular these days.  Having tried three of the five bowls here, we can say what matters more is which protein you choose for your bowl.  The clear winner among the six protein options is the chicken.  R&R’s chicken is the best faux chicken we’ve ever had.  Kids who will eat only chicken nuggets will like this chicken.  The fish is pretty good except once it gets soggy (after coming into contact with the rest of the bowl), it loses its fish texture and flavor.  The walnut-based chorizo does resemble the Mexican original.  This chorizo is what they put inside the oh-so crispy and large empanada.  Each bowl comes with a choice of basmati rice, quinoa, or greens (or half-and-half mix of any two).  The bowl size is eight inches in diameter and about 2.5 inches tall (comparable to what they use at World Wrapps).

Of the two cold (they call them raw) dishes we sampled, we prefer the broccoli and bacon slaw.  We like the bacon and there’s the right amount of smoked cucumber ranch dressing.  While we respect that the kelp noodle pad thai has a surprising kick from the sweet chili and that it does not come with a peanut sauce (that would be a cliche), the whole dish is drowning in sauce.  The maple-glazed sweet potatoes are too sweet and lack dimension (some ginger or lemon juice might help).  If you want just a taste of these sweet potatoes, note that they are a part of the curry chickpea ragu bowl.

R&R keeps a good balance between fake meat and vegetables, especially if you order half greens for your bowl.  We appreciate details such as grilled corn and that the broccoli is cut into perfect bite-sized pieces.  They also serve breakfast items until noon:  chicken and waffle, yuca hash, breakfast burrito, and bacon and egg sandwich.  R&R shares space with Powered by Pure, a juice and smoothie lounge that used to have two other locations.

Nearby options:  Rio California, Pachas Afghan Kabab House, Oaklandia Cafe x Bakery, Tigrai Cafe, Old Oakland

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Seven Hills Baking Co., Castro Valley

Luxllenium [] Living in the East Bay []

Simply put, this baker knows scones.  The cheddar garlic scone is one of the best scones we’ve ever had; it’s certainly the best savory scone we’ve ever had.  The use of wheat flour probably gives it more structure than the typical American-style scones.  Yet it’s as soft as biscuits if you eat it fresh.  Less unusual but almost as good is the currant scone.  If you’ve never had bostock before, you’ll enjoy how they make French toast in France.  Seven Hills’ kouign-amann is not as good as Manresa Bread’s version.  But give this bakery credit for trying something different—sea salt doesn’t go with this type of pastry.  The morning bun is for anyone who loves sugar donuts.  They also make a couple of pizzas and the usual suspects such as baguette and ciabatta.  Some items are only available on certain days, so check the bakery site.

Aside from the scones, the other reason to visit Seven Hills is the Castro Valley Marketplace, a food hall that manages to squeeze in a mix of tenants on multiple levels at the site of a former department store.  Every city in the Bay Area should be so lucky to have a place like this.  Click on the Detour tab above for other food halls.

Nearby options:  Akemi Sushi, Cannery Kitchen & Tap, Oculto, Baron’s Quality Meats & Seafood, Castro Valley Natural Grocery, Oaktown Spice Shop

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Starter Bakery, Berkeley

Starter Bakery’s main focus is wholesale business.  One customer mentioned it does a little bit of retail at the Berkeley address once a month.  Thanks to an article in The Mercury News, we found a more convenient way to sample SB’s baked goods.  You see, some of them are sold at Philz Coffee, which has 40 locations throughout the Bay Area.  (SB’s own site does not provide the list of coffee shops that carry its products.  You can also look for them at Mollie Stone’s and a few other supermarkets and some East Bay farmers markets.)

The twice-baked almond croissant is the best thing we tried; we also enjoyed the chocolate croissant and wild blueberry muffin.  Like Castro Valley’s Seven Hills Baking Co., SB adds sea salt to its kouign-amann, which we feel is a bit off-putting.  Manresa Bread’s version is better.  SB does make a chocolate variation, which should work better with sea salt.  You can order these and other items via the bakery site.  Enter your ZIP code and see if they deliver to your area (it seems the coverage is limited to a portion of the East Bay).

Nearby options:  Lulu, Italy on Gilman, Lama Beans, East Bay Pie Co., Happy Donuts, Philz Coffee

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Syma’s, Albany | [♀]

CPBA []

When restaurants change hands, the new owners sometimes add a few items that are near and dear to their culinary heritage.  It happened with Foster City’s Waterfront Pizza.  The owner of Syma’s (pronounced sigh’mas) decided to add Persian dishes to the restaurant’s Mexican menu.  That’s a very good thing because there are a few items we’ve never seen at other Persian outlets.  Halim gandom is wheat porridge with pulled lamb.  Anyone who likes oatmeal, polenta, grits, and other types of porridge will eat this up.  Kalle-pache or khash is a lamb soup that’s hard to find—and perhaps an acquired taste.

If you love fesenjan as much as we do, then you know Bay Area restaurants usually serve this stew with chicken.  Syma’s uses beef meatballs instead, giving the dish a beefy, liver-y note that fesenjan fans must taste for themselves.  More so than chicken, these small meatballs become part of the sauce.  Serving pre-cooked pilaf is a tricky thing.  We find the three different pilaf options a little on the dry side.  Click on the SV tab above and see House of Kabobs in Sunnyvale for comparison.

From the Mexican menu we sampled mole enchiladas and pescado Veracruz.  There’s nothing wrong with these dishes, but if you want more exciting Mexican fare, try places like Los Carnalitos in Hayward.  When you order food to-go from Mexican and other Latin restaurants, they usually give you tortillas.  Syma’s gives you a stuffed bag of tortilla chips (house-made?), which turns out to be serendipity.  These are some of the best tortilla chips we’ve ever had—perfectly fried and salted.  They don’t really need the salsa verde (more tart from tomatillo than anything else) or the salsa roja (the one with some heat).

Syma’s is also set up like a mini-market similar to Berkeley’s Middle East Market and Antipastos by DeRose in San Jose.  With a clean, pleasant space inside and a parking lot in the back, Syma’s is reason enough to make your way to Albany, one of three small cities between Berkeley and Richmond.  Here’s the story behind Syma’s.

Nearby options:  Juanita & Maude, Aangan, Everest Kitchen, Picnic, The Hot Shop, Sam’s Log Cabin, Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery

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Top Hatters Kitchen & Bar, San Leandro | [♀] [≡]

CPBA []

If not for the U.S. government’s “adventures” in Vietnam, there wouldn’t be so many Vietnamese restaurants in California and other states.  The same goes for certain Latin American restaurants.  It’s like the only good thing that came out of the British Empire is the fact that English became the closest thing we have to a universal language.  Spanish is second thanks to the Spanish Empire.  The jokes about Spanish colonies getting a better culinary deal than British colonies kind of write themselves.

After operating a food truck for a few years, chef/owner DanVy Vu decided to open her dream restaurant near her home in 2019.  The name pays homage to the hat shop that occupied this space; it was in business for over 60 years in Oakland and then San Leandro (here’s a photo of the hat shop sign [see post #13]).  Vu was indeed a refugee whose family settled in Southern California.  Some of her dishes are clearly based on Vietnamese traditions; some items are inspired by her husband’s Italian heritage.  The rest is just food she likes.  Our philosophy is to enjoy the food and not worry about labels.  That’s why we purposely separate the restaurants on this page by location but not cuisine.  We want our visitors to read everything we have to say and not focus on just the type of food they’re into.

The tissue bread is Top Hatters’ take on roti.  It pairs well with a simple garlic tamari dipping sauce and pickled fennel or daikon (?).  The kitchen clearly knows how to pickle, so we’d like to see a pickles platter in the future.  We figure the bacon and cheese donuts must start with the same dough that powers the lemon ricotta donuts.  Yet for some reason we much prefer the savory version.  The optional sauces for the zeppole-like dessert donuts do help, especially the matcha cardamom cream and Earl Grey chocolate ganache.

If you’ve never had castlefranco before, try the radicchio salad which also includes the eye-catching watermelon radish.  The red wine-braised oxtail with grits (or rice) is comforting and has deep flavor.  The grits taste more like polenta—well, it’s all porridge.  The grilled lemongrass beef short ribs are actually Korean-style or flanken-cut ribs (not the meaty short ribs that require a longer cooking time).  Nevertheless, they’re better than what you’ll find at the average Korean restaurant because they are meatier and less sinewy.  The cucumber dipping sauce is also good.

We’d love to talk about the rolled pork belly, but something went horribly wrong with our order.  Click on the Detour tab above and read all about it.

The front patio/courtyard is smaller than it appears on TV.  Though San Leandro is not a big city, the Broadmoor neighborhood is kind of tucked away next to I-580.  If you’re driving north from the South Bay, do not take SR 238 (Mission Blvd.) as Google Maps suggests.  It’ll take twice as long even on a Saturday.

Nearby options:  Paradiso, Rubiano’s, Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen, Sistas Soul Food Kafe, Kingkong Imperial, Red Pepper Pizza, Zocalo Coffeehouse, Lucky Donuts, Koolfi Creamery, Loard’s Ice Cream

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Veggie Lee, Hayward | [≡]

[Note:  This restaurant relocated two miles north to a larger strip mall in 2022.]

As the name suggests, this is indeed a vegetarian restaurant near Chabot College.  What distinguishes Veggie Lee from other vegetarian places is the fact that owner/chef Che Heng “Veggie” Lee used to work in non-vegetarian kitchens in the Bay Area.  Salt and pepper pumpkin is not the heavy and greasy rendition you often find elsewhere.  Everything under Chef’s Specials is a safe bet, including pine nuts with Chinese toon fried rice.  Veggie Lee uses konjac as a substitute for shark fin in a couple of soups.  As far as we know, the only other place that serves konjac is CyBelle’s Front Room in San Francisco (not sure about Millbrae's Earl Spicy).  Note that all the dishes are allium-free (no garlic, onion, shallot, leek, or chive), which is important to some Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains.  San Jose’s White Lotus was a beloved vegetarian spot until it closed in 2007; Veggie Lee has the potential to become an institution.

More on konjac:  nhk.or.jp, euronews.com

Nearby options:  Bamboo Steamer, Hawaiian Drive Inn, Eon Coffee

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Wahpepah’s Kitchen, Oakland | [♀]

CPBA [] KRON 4 [] NBC Bay Area [] ABC7 News Bay Area [] 7GenFund []

Part 1

Chef/owner Crystal Wahpepah is an Oakland native and a member of Oklahoma’s Kickapoo nation.  She finally opened her first restaurant in 2021 after spending some time in the catering business.  All of this is interesting, but the food at this Native American restaurant must stand on its own.  We’re happy to report everyone should come for the food, if nothing else.  Lidia Bastianich is fond of saying there’s no such thing as Italian food because the country has different regions with their own food traditions.  There are over 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States today, so don’t expect Wahpepah’s Kitchen to represent the full spectrum of Native American food.  We visited WK right after they introduced the fall menu.  At first blush, seven items sound Mexican.  Well, keep in mind Latin American food has indigenous roots, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.  WK’s take on “Mexican” food is fascinating.

This place strives to focus on pre-Columbian ingredients, which means no beef, pork, chicken, or wheat, just to name a few.  Tamale fans must order the red chili rabbit blue corn tamale.  For starters, blue corn is used instead of typical masa, giving it a different mouthfeel and flavor.  The braised rabbit has a hint of heat; the roasted pepper sauce brings the whole thing together.  The tasty wild rice is a great side for this dish.  Since there are a handful of meat dishes on the menu, we can see why the one mole item is vegetarian.  WK’s mole verde is quite flavorful and has a little more kick than the tamale.  You won’t miss the meat because the hen-of-the-woods (maitake) mushrooms are a great substitute.  The bison meatballs are tender; the colorful turnip slaw rivals the best sauerkraut from German restaurants.

If you’ve never had venison before, try the deer skewers.  Deer has a mild beefy flavor; the chokecherry sauce is slightly sweet.  The elderberry dressing is the best part of the Cherokee purple tomato salad.  The berry pudding is supposed to consist of mixed berries.  Raspberries seem to dominate during our visit.  This is one dish that could be refined a little—some if not all of the seeds should be strained.

This is a well-curated menu.  We like how it appeals to both carnivores and vegetarians, and we appreciate the different sides that accompany each dish.  We’ve only said this of one other place on this page to date:  It would be a shame if we lost a unique restaurant like WK.  Oh, there’s no frybread anywhere—not that there’s anything wrong with frybread.

BART riders will be glad to know WK is located next to the Fruitvale BART Station.  Occupying a corner unit (Reem’s original address) in Fruitvale Village, WK is surprisingly spacious inside and out (the front patio area), proving once again on-line photos give the wrong impression.  If you come on weekends or in the late afternoon on weekdays (the restaurant closes at 6 pm Wednesday through Friday as of September 2022), there is free parking on Oscar Grant III Way.

Part 2

After we sampled the Fall 2022 menu, we knew we had to come back to try the Summer 2023 menu.  The biggest change is the addition of native language for all the dishes.  If French, Italian, and Asian menus include native names of dishes, why should WK be any different?

The most memorable dish this time is the Cheyenne River short loin bison with the inspired salad of honey pecans, beets, and goat cheese.  You get to taste the bison meat whole and not ground.  The bison are our national mammal—after Americans hunted them for their hides to near extinction by the end of the 19th century (check out Ken Burns' documentary below).  As expected, the two stand-alone salads are also good:  three sisters veggie bowl and smoked salmon berry salad.  The Hatch green chili stew is comfort food with a gentle heat from the New Mexico chili pepper.

Most restaurants don’t offer taquitos, so give these a try as they’re stuffed with potato and smoked hibiscus.  Even something as simple as potato wedges becomes noteworthy because of smoked cedar salt and maple chili oil.  Frybread shows up on the menu as taco (in place of tortilla) and the berry frybread dessert.  The latter looks like a giant raspberry-glazed donut, a sight to make Homer Simpson swoon.  As we discovered previously, WK’s desserts are barely sweet, especially a dish like the blue corn mush (porridge).  We made sure to try WK’s drinks this time.  Tea drinkers should definitely check out the Ceyaka wild mint tea.  The prickly pear limeade is slightly sweet.

Note that WK adds a one-percent surcharge as part of Oakland’s Dining for Justice program.

PBS NewsHour (The Sioux Chef) [] TED (Sean Sherman) []
PBS NewsHour (cultural legacy/UC Berkeley/Cafe Ohlone) []
The American Buffalo []
All Things Considered (bison's height advantage) [] Trails to Oishii Tokyo (maitake) []
As Long as the Grass Shall Grow [] The Way West [] Simple Gifts []

Nearby options:  Obelisco, Taqueria San Jose, La Torta Loca, Camchilao, Mariscos La Costa, Taqueria El Farolito, Lucky Chef Chen, Pan Sevilla, Nieves Cinco de Mayo, Powderface, Cheri’s Ice Cream & Deli, Korner Kitchen & Bar

 

SV

 

Past Featured Restaurants

 


Silicon Valley/South Bay (51)

Al Forat Market | Aldo’s Cafe | Anatolian Kitchen | Angkorian Express | Athena | bb.q Chicken | Bevri | BN Chicken | Braise | Chez Sovan | Clover Bakery | Desi Express | Dolce Sicilia | Doppio Zero | Los Dubon | Esther’s Kitchen & Beer Garden | Ettan | Falafel STOP | Fugetsu | Gulzaar Halaal | Habana Cuba | Happiness Cafe | Hardy’s Bavaria | H.L. Peninsula | Holder’s Country Inn | House of Kabobs | Isfahan Kabob | Jackie's Place | Jubba | Kabul Afghan Cuisine | Krispy Krunchy Chicken | Local Kitchens | Magic-Wok | Manresa Bread | Maya's Cafe | Mexitamalli | Mio Vicino | Modo Hawaii | Naschmarkt | One Fish Raw Bar | Paper Plane | Pastelaria Adega | La Penita | Petiscos by Adega | Sizzling Lunch | Stone Stew | The Tamale Factory | Tamarine | Teleferic Barcelona | Umi Hand Roll Bar | World Wrapps

 

Al Forat Market, Sunnyvale

Sisters Forever []

We’ve been to at least a couple of markets where they do some cooking on the side.  Al Forat Market is the first one worth talking about.  The owner is from Iraq, and the limited menu consists of grilled chicken, beef, and some lamb.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have chicken thigh or drumsticks when we visited.  So we sampled the other two chicken items, one beef, two lamb, and some vegetables.

To our surprise the best thing is the ground chicken kebab.  This moist and flavor-packed chicken may be the best ground chicken we’ve ever had (granted, we don’t order ground chicken much).  The boneless breast (Lahori chicken tikka) is a little dry.  The lamb loin chops and New York steak are somewhat overdone—and we’re not the type into bloody meats.  The same goes for the lamb liver, which we don’t come across often (you can also order lamb kidney or heart).  The mixed veggies are properly grilled.  You get the usual tomato, onion, bell pepper, and something unexpected:  chili pepper (jalapeno or serrano).  Compared with Persian and Afghan places, Al Forat uses stronger seasoning or just more salt.

We appreciate how they put everything in one convenient aluminum tray for to-go orders.  They give you a lot of bread, some of which lines the tray and soaks up all the meat juices.  Unlike Persian and Afghan restaurants, this market does not serve any rice.  Located at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and El Camino Real, this place is kind of tucked away if you’re going north/west on El Camino Real because you can’t turn left onto Fremont.  There’s more parking in the rear.

And now for the best part...the owner is opening a sit-down restaurant with an expanded menu next-door in December 2023.  Let’s hope it’ll be the first (?) Iraqi restaurant in the South Bay.  There was an Iraqi place in San Francisco (watch below).

CPBA (Jannah) []

Nearby options:  Radhe Chaat, Chutneys Udupi Fusion, Chaat Bhavan, Chelokakabi, Abhiruchi, Chaat House, Sakebomb Oyster Bar & Izakaya, Sunright Tea Studio, Cold Stone Creamery

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Aldo’s Cafe, Los Gatos

While Aldo’s Cafe, formerly Aldo’s Deli, is not a direct-from-Italy type of place like Oakland’s Belotti, it isn’t exactly one of those run-of-the-mill Italian American eateries either.  Chef/owner Cataldo “Aldo” Maresca is an immigrant from Sorrento after all.

One bite of the Gorgonzola and prosciutto pizza and you’ll wonder why pizza makers don’t take advantage of Italy’s premier blue cheese more often.  They add just enough of it in the center so that it doesn’t overwhelm the whole pie.  Since most Americans eat a slice of pizza starting from the tip end, the flavor of Gorgonzola lingers as you enjoy the rest.  You should also order the basa fillet with lemon white wine sauce.  Basa is the kind of catfish that pleases everyone.  The kitchen could level up the accompanying vegetables just the same.  Keep the zucchini and carrot (for color) but add fennel, broccolini, and perhaps radicchio or escarole.  This is the Bay Area where vegetables are not treated as mere plate fillers; they should taste great on their own.

When done wrong, gnocchi can be heavy and monotonous.  Aldo’s gnocchi Sorrentina is light and served with a tomato sauce instead of the usual browned butter and sage.  (For your information, Cook’s Country has a gnocchi recipe that requires no whole potatoes.)  If you’ve never had arrabbiata, one of the few spicy dishes in Italian cuisine, try the penne arrabbiata with spicy tomato sauce.  Of the two desserts we sampled, the tiramisu is better than the cannoli.  The shell of the cannoli is a bit too thick and the filling—though light—is underwhelming.  See Dolce Sicilia in San Jose below for comparison.

We’ve only seen the inside of Aldo’s Ristorante & Bar from a local TV show (see below), but our impression is the cafe is smaller, quieter (no piano), and more intimate.  The menu at the restaurant is longer and different in other ways; for instance, no pizzas.  Maresca and his wife opened the restaurant in 1999 and the cafe in 2008.  Before the restaurant, they took over La Strada in the late 1990s until that location was redeveloped (now the site of Hotel Los Gatos).

CPBA (Aldo’s Ristorante & Bar) []

Nearby options:  The Bywater, PintxoPote, Sweet Pea’s Cafe, Nothing Bundt Cakes, downtown Los Gatos

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Anatolian Kitchen, Palo Alto | [≡]

CPBA []

Let’s get topical...again.  Since Turkey has been in the news lately, we decided to visit our first Turkish restaurant.  The timing turned out to be perfect because Anatolian Kitchen actually closed in 2021 after about 10 years.  Fortunately, the owners decided to reopen the following year just around the corner from the previous location, which is now the address for sister restaurant Naschmarkt’s Palo Alto branch.  Note that most of California Avenue is expected to remain closed to traffic through the end of 2023.

Location often informs a country’s cuisine.  Since modern-day Turkey was the heart of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish cuisine reflects its Ottoman heritage and includes some dishes that you’ll find in neighboring countries such as Armenia, Greece, Iran, and the Middle East.

Liver lovers should order the pan-fried liver.  It has a flavor profile very different from the classic liver and onions or other liver dishes we’ve ever had.  It is also visually distinct from what we’re used to.  The pieces of liver look like blackened chicken nuggets, which you just might be able to convince your kids to try.  The artichoke stew (anginares alla polita) is more like an artichoke and potato salad with a light broth.  The artichoke is probably the marinaded kind from a jar.  As we stated earlier, people should always try to order something they’ve never ordered before.  We’re glad we ordered this artichoke dish.

While we’re thrilled U.S. restaurants of all stripes have finally embraced octopus, sustainability could become an issue in the future.  AK serves this meaty cephalopod in a salad.  The best part of Alexander’s favorite (Iskender kebab) is the pita bread underneath the pile of meat.  There’s something wonderful about bread soaking up all the meat juices, not unlike the Palestinian dish musakhan.  If you like lamb, try Adana lamb kebab, which does not taste like Afghan- or Persian-style kebab.  The pilaf that accompanies this dish has almost a risotto quality.  The beef dumplings (manti) are similar to the ravioli-like dumplings at Afghan and Armenian restaurants.

The baked rice pudding is a pleasant surprise.  The top is slightly burned like creme brulee, but what makes it better than most other versions is the fact that it’s slightly thicker and has deeper (sweeter) flavor.  The baked butternut squash dessert is similar to the pumpkin dish (challow kaddo) at Kabul Afghan Cuisine in San Carlos and Sunnyvale.  One thing this kitchen likes to do is remove the skin of uncooked tomato but not the skin of grilled/charred pepper (as you do in Mexican cooking).  AK also serves hummus, falafel, and two types of moussaka (with or without meat).

Nearby options:  Naschmarkt, Zareen’s, La Bodeguita del Medio, Lotus Thai Bistro, Pastis Bistro, Cafe Pro Bono, Joanie’s Cafe, Printers Cafe, Calave

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Angkorian Express, San Jose

Mall rat...mall cop...mall food.  If you’re like most adults, you probably haven’t ordered food inside an indoor mall in a while.  Well, come on down to Eastridge Center and give Angkorian Express a try.  Though there’s nothing wrong with the likes of Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, or Jamba, AE is not a chain.  The food here is a cut above typical mall fare.  Named for the former capital of the Khmer Empire, AE serves quick and satisfying Cambodian dishes.

Because this is a counter-service operation, don’t expect to see fish mousse (amok trei) on the menu.  You can’t go wrong with any of the three entrees we sampled.  The BBQ beef turns out to be tasty pieces of what looks to be flank steak—no wonder this is their most popular item.  The marinated chicken thigh (bie moin) is actually a generous portion of perfectly roasted chicken quarter (thigh and drumstick).  Since they ran out of tilapia, milkfish (aka bangus) was a suitable substitute in the fried fish entree.  The papaya salad has an unexpected kick, and the Angkorian salad comes with your choice of protein.

Located just steps from Entrance D (kind of hidden between Round1 Bowling and Aloha Fun Center), AE is changing owners in 2023.  The original owner, who may be related to the family that operates Chez Sovan, will be running a donut shop in Morgan Hill.  The new owner, who’s also Cambodian American, will keep the same Cambodian menu but also add some Filipino options such as adobo, sinigang, and pancit (fingers crossed for silog, sisig, kare-kare, suman, taho, and bibingka).  Chez Sovan is only open for lunch on weekdays, so now you can get your Cambodian fix in the evening and on weekends.

National Geographic (Angkor Wat) []

Nearby options:  The Pizza Press, Taste of Persia, Bo Ne Phu Yen, Pho Huong, In-N-Out Burger, Dzui’s Cakes and Desserts

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Athena, Santa Clara

CPBA []

Considering how much ancient Greece influenced the Western world, we all should be a bit more familiar with Greek cuisine.

If you like lasagna, kugel, or casserole in general, try the pastitsio, which has a distinct flavor profile due to the use of warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.  Athena does use bucatini, a better choice than larger ziti.  It’s not heavy at all, and, of course, bechamel makes everything taste better.  The same sauce shows up in the vegetarian moussaka, a kind of Greek parmigiana meets pastitsio.  When it comes to lamb chop, most restaurants serve the more expensive rib chop (a rack of lamb is a series of eight rib chops).  Athena offers the meatier loin chop, which consists of the loin and tenderloin similar to a porterhouse or T-bone steak.

Since the launch of this page, this is the first restaurant where we find a salad featuring fennel.  Athena’s Mediterranean salad also includes jicama, kale, and Myzithra cheese.  They cut the fennel in small pieces so you don’t really notice the anise flavor.  Speaking of Greek cheeses...the small salad the comes with the main plates includes feta.  It tastes like real Greek feta that comes in a block.  Of the two desserts we sampled, the walnut cake (karydopita) is better than the semolina cake (ravani).

We’d love to talk about the salmon plate, but there was an issue with our order.  After we contacted Athena, our bill was rectified the following Monday as promised.  It just shows this place is serious about customer service. Click on the Detour tab above and read all about it.

Established in 2002 in a business area bordered by U.S. 101, San Tomas Expy., Central Expy., and De La Cruz Blvd., this family-run restaurant doesn’t have a whole lot of competition.  Note that there’s a 3.5-percent surcharge for payment by credit card.

ATK (pastitsio) []

Nearby options:  Puranpoli, Rumman Cafe

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bb.q Chicken, San Jose + Cupertino + Milpitas + Sunnyvale | [≡]

PapiEats []

Have you tried the other KFC?  That would be Korean fried chicken.  We’ve been to a few Korean restaurants that serve fried chicken since the 2010s, and the results are mixed.  Among mom-and-pop shops and international chains, the only one that delivered extra crispy and flavorful fried chicken was a South Korean import.  Unfortunately, its chicken is rather lackluster when we revisited recently.

So while bb.q Chicken is not the best Korean-style fried chicken we’ve ever had, it’ll have to do for now.  Established in 1995, this is another chicken joint that hails from South Korea.  The name is short for “best of the best quality.”  If you’ve never had this type of fried chicken before—or if you’re trying a new Korean place—order the plain version that isn’t covered with sauce so you can taste the meat and judge the crispy batter.  On this menu that would be the golden original.  With most of the chicken items, you can choose between two of the following:  whole (thigh/drumstick, wing, breast), boneless, and wings.

The kimchi fried rice doesn’t taste particularly Korean, but it does include more ingredients than other places.  A more interesting non-chicken choice is the tteokbokki, a rice cake dish that resembles a plate of ziti.  They offer three versions with varying level of heat.  The mildest one, rose tteokbokki, has a slightly sweet sauce that’s comparable to peanut sauce.  Some pieces of rice cake are softer and easier to eat than others.

When Korean fried chicken is really good, it does give American fried chicken a run for its money.  But inconsistency seems to be our experience.  Well, just as restaurants that offer American fried chicken are a mixed bag, Korean fried chicken is no different.  If you don’t like bb.q Chicken at the San Jose location, you can always walk over to Krispy Krunchy Chicken and show your support for Team USA.

ATK (Korean fried chicken wings) [] Joshua Weissman (KFC vs. AFC) []

Nearby options in San Jose:  Krispy Krunchy Chicken, California Fish Grill, Ono Hawaiian BBQ, Pizza California, Chop Stop, Sizzling Lunch, VN Grill, Five Guys, Noah’s Bagels, California Sourdough Eatery, RedZone, MOD Pizza, Starbird Chicken, Rubio’s Coastal Grill, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Cauldron Ice Cream

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Bevri, Palo Alto

CPBA []

Ever since we saw this Georgian restaurant on local TV, we wanted to check it out.  After 2014, Ukraine and Georgia sadly have another thing in common.  And with everything that’s happened in 2022, you can show your solidarity by visiting Ukrainian and Georgian restaurants in your area.

The boat-shaped cheese bread (Adjaruli khachapuri) is probably what Georgian cuisine is known for outside of the Caucasus.  After all, it is the one Georgian dish featured in an episode of Cook’s Country in 2020.  It’s also part of Bevri’s logo.  This bread is kind of like a cross between pizza and focaccia.  The combination of egg yolk, butter, and cheese may sound heavy, but it is actually quite light.  Imeruli khachapuri is another popular cheese bread.  It looks like a giant pita bread with shredded cheese inside.  That cheese layer is reminiscent of thin frico.

The soup dumplings (khinkali) are interesting because they are similar to the Chinese version (Shanghai dumplings aka xiaolongbao or XLB).  They are bigger and meatier than your average XLB.  Note that you don’t eat the thick, doughy top of the dumpling, and you’re supposed to use your hand and not utensils.

If you see trout on the menu, splurge a little and go for it.  Most home cooks’ repertoire does not include trout, especially since it’s not as widely available as salmon and tilapia.  Bevri doesn’t do too much to the grilled trout, allowing the fish to shine.  Anyone who likes Georgian food should also check out Tamari in San Carlos.

Nearby options:  Oren’s Hummus, Evvia Estiatorio, Taverna, Osteria, Bird Dog, Zola, Tamarine, Steam, Tai Pan, Jing Jing, Thaiphoon, Lemonade, Garden Fresh, Rami Nagi, Peninsula Fountain & Grill, Curry Pizza House, Coupa Cafe, Crepevine, Mademoiselle Colette, Tea Time

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BN Chicken, Santa Clara

By now you should’ve been to Oakland’s Imperial Soup to enjoy its various restorative soups.  Well, for another alternative to chicken soup, come on down to BN Chicken and sample its signature ginseng chicken soup (samgyetang).  In South Korea, they consume this soup as a way to beat the heat.  We prefer a bowl of hot soup when the temperature dips.  While a young chicken is used in this dish’s home country, U.S. restaurants often go with Cornish game hen.  The chicken is always stuffed with sticky rice.  BN offers four versions of this herbal soup, including black garlic, perilla seeds, and red ginseng.  Black garlic tastes like prune; you can eat it as a snack or cook with it.  (Try this recipe from Nerds With Knives.  We recommend adding more black garlic.  If you make your own hummus, add some black garlic next time.)

BN has a limited menu, which makes ordering a simple task.  For something other than chicken, try the seafood noodle soup (kalguksu), which contains crab, shrimp, mussel, clams, squid, and aehobak (Korean zucchini).  They use flat noodles about half the width of Chinese chow fun noodles.  Both samgyetang and kalguksu are large enough for two people to share.

Are you in camp tonkatsu or camp chicken katsu?  It doesn’t really matter because you should be happy with BN’s version of chicken katsu.  You get a generous portion that comes with salad and rice.  The two dipping sauces are good as well (one similar to Worcestershire sauce and one similar to ketchup).  Modern Korean cuisine has some Japanese influence since this country was under Japanese occupation for 35 years.

Though BN does not specialize in Korean fried chicken, its chicken wings do have good flavor.  You get three flats and three drumettes.  One quibble is they should leave the wings in the fryer a tad longer because the drumette’s bone is still red, which doesn’t necessarily mean the meat is not cooked to the proper temperature (165°F).

Since the soups here are so flavorful and comforting, you should stop by this mom-and-pop restaurant anytime of the year.  Their other specialty is a spicy chicken stew (dak-dori-tang/dak-bokkeum-tang).  Opened since 2011, this is the kind of place that we hope will be around for a while.

Eater (ginseng chicken soup) [] Maangchi (ginseng chicken soup) [] Korean Bapsang (ginseng chicken soup) []

Nearby options:  Sushi O Sushi, Friendship BBQ, Malabar Coast, AappaKadai, Lee’s Kitchen, Beastea, Maiwand Market, Paradise Biryani Pointe, Choc Cookies, Truya Sushi, Mapo BBQ, ShaQ, Jang Su Jang, Paris Baguette, Brundavan, Seorai Korean BBQ, TTobongee Chicken, Chungdam, Happy Sushi, Tong Soon Garden, Shu’s Korean, Dae Bak, See’s Candies, SGD Tofu House, Teaspoon, Roll House, Honeyberry, Ulavacharu Tiffins

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Braise, San Jose | [≡] [@]

CPBA []

We know avocado toast is trendy, but mushroom toast?  We wonder because we sampled two versions of mushroom toast in one month recently.  Redwood City’s Vesta may have better grilled bread, but we have to give the edge to Braise’s rendition because of the bright aioli.  It comes with sunchoke chips, another plus.  They also use sunchoke in the braised kale.  Braise’s seared pork belly is one of the better versions in the Bay Area.  The whimsical bone marrow sandwich is a bit of a miss.  Between the thick slices of bread and the nut butter, the marrow gets lost in the dish.  The irony is this sandwich is as heavy as the pork belly is light.

Suffice it to say the way Braise serves its duck confit is probably very different from the way it’s served in France.  You get citrus curry, delicata squash, and grapefruit.  (America’s Test Kitchen makes duck confit with turkey thigh.  And we saw a chef make kohlrabi confit on Simply Ming.)  Farro is usually used in some sort of salad.  Give the kitchen credit for using it in a fried “rice” dish with a Southeast Asian flavor profile.  We’re glad these ancient grains are making a comeback.  While the fried chicken is underwhelming (at least they use dark meat), the accompanying small biscuits and pickles are terrific.  It’s not clear if you can order the biscuits separately.  Since they know how to pickle, they should move on to other things besides cucumbers such as beets, cauliflower, squash, okra, mushrooms, cabbage, and watermelon rind.

Sea salt pairs well with chocolate, but a little goes a long way.  Because the mini chocolate pot de creme is indeed tiny, they should use just a few flakes or none.  We do appreciate that they prepare some pots de creme in ready-to-go jars.  Braise is a nice fit for Willow Glen.

Nearby options:  Bertucelli’s La Villa Delicatessen, Los Dubon, Aqui, Dolce Sicilia, 20twenty Cheese Bar, Bill’s Cafe, Willow Glen Creamery, Willow Glen Sweet Shoppe, Icicles, Mariette Chocolates

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Chez Sovan, San Jose | [♀] [≡]

Franco Perez [] Miss Mina []

Sovan Boun Thuy, an immigrant from Cambodia, bought a run-down burger joint in San Jose in the mid-1980s.  By 1987, she renamed it Chez Sovan and unveiled a full-Cambodian menu.  Ever the go-getter, she published a short cookbook in 1992.  She opened a second restaurant in Campbell in 1994 and sold it to a friend when she moved to Hawaii about 10 years later.  One of her soup recipes was included in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook in 1997; her amok (see below) recipe was featured in The New York Times Seafood Cookbook in 2005.  Wait, there’s more.  Thanks to the Internet, we recently discovered her daughter operated Chez Sovan Express in Honolulu from 2004 to 2010.  We had been to the Campbell location (closed in 2020) several times before, but we never visited the original Chez Sovan, which is still managed by her son, until 2022.

Chez Sovan is only open for lunch on weekdays (the area is somewhat industrial).  And because of the pandemic, they pared down the menu from about a dozen items to eight.  Like Vietnamese and Laotian food, Cambodian cuisine has a touch of French influence.  Amok trei, a kind of fish mousse wrapped in banana leaf, is as wonderful as we remembered it.  It may actually be better now because you can see and taste small chunks of fish, and the makrut lime leaves impart a stronger fragrance.  French chefs would probably prefer a smoother pate texture.  If you’re into fish and chips, you’ll agree Chez Sovan’s ginger fish is superior.  The deep-fried fish doesn’t need any help from the ground chicken and ginger sauce, so save it for salad, bread, rice, or pasta.  They use basa, a type of catfish, for both dishes.  Some people don’t like catfish; they won’t have an issue with basa.

Try Cambodian curry with chicken, which tastes like tender pork stew.  You’ll like the lime dressing for the Thai basil-forward cabbage salad.  The fried rice noodles with tamarind sauce is the type of dish that should please any diner.  It’s sort of like Cambodian char kway teow.  Another winner is the stir-fried vegetable; the eggplant and green beans share a similar flavor profile.  Sure, the Campbell location was nicer and bigger, but this humble San Jose spot is where it all began, the site of San Jose’s first Cambodian restaurant.  It’s a culinary landmark, people.  Here’s a profile of Boun Thuy from a 2002 article.

Cambodia [] Cambodia []

1987 minimix...
Alone [] Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now [] (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life []
Graceland [] Luka [] Forever and Ever, Amen []
The Telephone Call [] Wonderful Life [] Love’s Taboo []

Nearby options:  Back A Yard, Mariscos Costa Alegre, Giovanni’s Pizza, El Maza, Mr. Shrimp Marisqueria y Birrieria, Chiaramonte’s Deli & Sausages, Rollo’s Donuts

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Clover Bakery, San Jose

Jennifer Julien [] Franco Perez []

The Bay Area has its share of Western-style bakeries from South Korea (Paris Baguette, Tous les Jours), Japan (Andersen Bakery, Beard Papa’s), Taiwan (85°C Bakery Cafe, Sheng Kee Bakery), Hong Kong (Kee Wah Bakery), and the Philippines (Goldilocks, Red Ribbon BakeShop).  While these are all international chains, Clover Bakery is the opposite, a local store near Mitsuwa Marketplace.  The word that comes to mind when describing Clover is kawaii (Japanese for cute).  In 2000, the new owner transformed what was a Japanese-style cake shop into more of a general-purpose bakery.  It’s no longer open in the evening since the pandemic, so come here a few hours before closing time.

The Web site will give you a sense of what they offer.  In addition to pastries, sandwiches, and custom cakes, they also make onigiri and musubi.  The prices are much lower than, say, Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours.  What’s with all the Torani bottles lined up against the wall?  Do they still make drinks now that there’s no more dine-in service?

Nearby options:  Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Fugetsu, Tomi Sushi, Kahoo Ramen, Curry Life, Takoyaki Yama-chan, Mochill Mochi Donut, Stone Stew

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Desi Express, San Jose

Sometimes the food from a counter-service place is better than a formal restaurant.  That’s our impression of Desi Express, a family-owned spot inside SoFA Market.  They serve sandwiches (not to be confused with kati rolls), chaat, and other modest items.  The two sandwiches we sampled, paneer tikka and potato (aloo) chutney, are both good.  They come with a small bag of potato chips.  There are restaurants dedicated to pav bhaji, which (along with vada pav) we like to think of as Indian sliders.  DE’s version gets the job done.  By now most Bay Area foodies must be quite familiar with chaat.  If you’re new to these tasty Indian snacks, start with dahi sev puri.  They’ll mix the sauces for you if you eat here.  If you opt to take it home, they’ll pack the sauces on the side so you can fill the wafers yourself.

DE is mostly vegetarian except for a few chicken dishes.  Note that all the SoFA Market vendors use the same electronic ordering system.  Desi is a term used to refer to India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Franco Perez (SoFA Market) []

Nearby options:  Habana Cuba, Vietnoms, Umi Hand Roll Bar, The Salad Planet, Petiscos by Adega, Original Joe’s San Jose, Nirvana Soul

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Dolce Sicilia, San Jose

Palm Trees & Pellegrino []

Attention, Inspector Montalbano fans (are they called Salvos?).  If you want some cannoli to snack on while watching your favorite Sicilian detective, you’ll find a very good version at Dolce Sicilia in Willow Glen.  This cafe probably doesn’t use a wooden mold, but il commissario would still approve (Dr. Pasquano may be a different story).  What’s even better is the pistachio and ricotta cake.  Among the savory items, gorgonzola and fig coppa panino is the best of the six panini on the menu.  The one uncommon pasta dish is garganelli, which is shaped like penne.  While you’re here, pick up a jar of pistachio butter.  Chris Kimball (Milk Street, America’s Test Kitchen) swears by this alternative to peanut butter.  Located inside the former Garden Theatre that now houses a post office and the defunct Top Nosh Cafe, Dolce Sicilia’s layout is a little cramped.  More than other neighborhoods in San Jose, Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue feels like a small town within a big city.  Note that Dolce Sicilia closes early in the afternoon.

Dr. Pasquano's Cannoli [] Nuddu e di Nuddu (E Nuddu m’Avi) [] La Dolce Vita []

Nearby options:  Braise, Bertucelli’s La Villa Delicatessen, Los Dubon, Aqui, 20twenty Cheese Bar, Bill’s Cafe, Willow Glen Creamery, Willow Glen Sweet Shoppe, Icicles, Mariette Chocolates

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Doppio Zero, Mountain View + Campbell + Concord + San Carlos + San Francisco

CPBA []

Oh, they grow up so fast.  When we first visited this southern Italian restaurant, there was the original in Mountain View (2014) and a second location in Cupertino (closed in 2020).  Since then they’ve opened branches in San Francisco (2018), Concord (2020), San Carlos (2023), and Campbell (2024).

Downtown Mountain View has gone through some changes as well.  It was one of the first downtowns in the Bay Area to receive a makeover decades ago—a successful one we might add.  In 2016, the Mountain View City Council voted to close Castro Street to traffic at Central Expy.  By 2018, despite opposition from business owners, this plan gained momentum because of funding from Measure B and the fact that Caltrain tracks were due to be electrified in four years.

Nothing got things moving like a little pandemic.  Starting in June 2020, the first three blocks of Castro (from Evelyn Avenue to California Street) were closed to traffic—now with overwhelming support from businesses.  Well, the Castro Street Pedestrian Mall is here to stay.  When we visited one Saturday night (two weeks before Christmas 2023), downtown Mountain View was teeming with people like the glory days of indoor malls—and it wasn’t even 5:30 yet.  Downtown merchants must be pleased.  This new arrangement does present a roadblock for drivers (more on that later).

Doppio Zero’s menu is about the same as before (they used to have a pasta dish with bottarga).  We purposely avoided items we’d sampled years ago.  Of the nine dishes we ordered this time, our favorite is the seafood pasta (Marechiaro).  Named after a village in Naples, anything Marechiaro-style refers to a tomato-based pasta sauce for seafood.  DZ’s version is mildly spicy.  It must be the combination of roasted garlic and tomato that makes the house-made squid ink tagliolini so delicious.  The clams are perfectly cooked.

The three small plates we ordered (generous portions) are worth ordering again.  We’re a little biased when it comes to beets, but DZ’s light and refreshing beets should convert people who don’t like them.  The toasted hazelnuts and truffle stracciatella are the cherry on top.  Deep-fried calamari is a dish available everywhere in the U.S.  Before its takeover, restaurants probably served a lot of deep-fried shrimp.  Give DZ credit for serving the two together.  The grilled octopus (polpo alla griglia) is gradually taking over like calamari before it.  The octopus leg is served with what amounts to a small arugula salad.  They need to take the bite out of the raw onion.

The name of this restaurant refers to the flour they use to make pizza in Italy.  00 flour is finely ground and has a lower protein content than our all-purpose flour.  The resulting dough is tender and toothsome at the same time.  The sausage (salsiccia) pizza and mushroom (fungo) pizza are fine.  Unlike Redwood City’s Vesta, whose pizza crust is equally limp when you pick up a slice with your hand, DZ’s crust is not bland at least.  Since we didn’t grow up on Neapolitan pizzas, we don’t know if we’ll ever get used to the limp crust.

Like Holder’s Country Inn in Cupertino, DZ updates its site with daily specials.  If you see branzino on the menu, try it.  You get two pan-seared sea bass fillets with sauteed broccolini and fregula, a Sardinian pasta similar to couscous.  The ubiquitous tiramisu and cannolo are both quite good.  We would like a stronger coffee flavor for the tiramisu.

Kudos to DZ for using extra deep 32-oz. rectangular black boxes made by Food Packers (?).  And we’ve seen plenty of boxes since 2020.  For an extremely busy location, the food comes out fast and perfectly packaged.  This is clearly a well-run operation with friendly service to boot.

Compared with other pandemic-driven street closures in Redwood City and Palo Alto, downtown Mountain View feels more disruptive for drivers.  If you take the Moffett Blvd. exit off U.S. 101, beware that you can no longer go straight into downtown as Moffett turns into Castro.  Instead you’ll have to take a detour by turning right onto Central Expy. and taking Shoreline Blvd. South.  Since Castro’s side streets are not closed to traffic, you can take Evelyn and turn onto Castro/Moffett when you leave.  We never realized how narrow the side streets are until now.  Keep that in mind if you drive a big SUV.  There’s a large parking structure (Lot 1) behind DZ on Bryant Street.

Nearby options in Mountain View:  Oren’s Hummus, Hummus Mediterranean Kitchen, Cafe Baklava, Mediterranean Grill House, Photochau 999, Yugen Ramen, Udon Mugizo, Mifen101, Sushi Tomi, Masa Sushi, KakaRoto, La Fontaine, Cascal, Vida Tapas y Cocteles, Vaso Azzurro, Don Giovanni, Ludwigs Biergarten, Steins Beer Garden, QBB - Quality Bourbons & Barbecue, St. Stephen’s Green, Amarin Thai Cuisine, Fu Lam Mum, Asian Box, Poke Bar, Casa Lupe, Fiesta del Mar Too, Taqueria la Espuela, Sakoon, Bay Biryanis, Sweetgreen, Blue Line Pizza, Happy Lamb Hot Pot, Superhot Hot Pot & Korean BBQ, Crepevine, Dana Street Roasting Co., 1 Oz Coffee, Olympus Caffe & Bakery, Red Rock Coffee, Ava’s Downtown Market & Deli, Alexander’s Patisserie, Maison Alyzee, Hong Kong Bakery, Paris Baguette, Gelato Classico Italian Ice Cream, Icicles

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Los Dubon, Campbell + San Jose | [♀] [≡]

Los Dubon is a small town in El Salvador, one of seven small countries in Central America.  Salvadorans make up the fourth-largest Latino group in the U.S., which may explain why we have Salvadoran restaurants in the Bay Area but not other Central American places.  Of course, Mexican Americans account for over 60 percent of total Latino population in this country.  All other Latino groups are under 10 percent each.

The modern sandwich must be one of the best food creations in history.  The pulled chicken sandwich (pan con gallina) is loaded with roasted chicken in a light mayo salsa—a must-try for sandwich lovers.  Sandwiches are called panes rellenos in El Salvador or tortas in Mexico.  The chicken stew with potatoes (pollo guisado con papas) is as satisfying as any good stew should be.  If you’ve never had pupusa, El Salvador’s national dish, by all means give this stuffed flatbread a try.  You’ll discover soon enough Salvadoran cuisine is more than just pupusas.  (It took long enough, but America’s Test Kitchen finally presented its recipe for pupusas in 2022.)

We won’t get into a debate of who makes the best tamales in Latin America.  Let’s just say if you love Mexican-style tamales, you should have room in your heart to love Salvadoran tamales as well.  The first clue that they are different is the wrapping:  banana leaf instead of corn husk.  The texture of the dough and fillings are also different.  The chicken tamal is stuffed with chicken, potato, and string bean.

Empanadas de leche (aka empanadas de platano) are mashed plantain filled with a slightly sweet vanilla custard.  The still-tangy plantain makes this croquette unusual among desserts.  If you see them by the cash register, make sure to order some quesadillas salvadorena, El Salvador’s idea of a cheesecake.  Made with salty cheese instead of cream cheese and baked in pleated paper liners (like cupcakes and muffins), these small quesadillas are more savory than sweet.

Rockstar Eater []

Nearby options in Campbell:  La Burrita, Falafel ShaQ

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Esther’s Kitchen & Beer Garden, Los Altos

StanfordJournalism (Esther Nio) [] Selling Silicon Valley TV (Adam Valainis) []

Esther and Robert Nio started Esther’s German Bakery in 2004 after they hired a master baker from Germany (Esther herself is from Munich).  Their focus was wholesale business until four years later when they opened a cafe, which they sold in the mid-2010s.  The current owner (Alex O.) is finally changing the storefront sign as of 2022 (meet the first two owners in the videos above).  We suspect the Web site will change as well.  Here’s a snapshot of the site from January 2021.

The pork jagerschnitzel is one of the better versions in the Bay Area.  Alex’s spring salad gets high marks for content and looks.  You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the greens and dressing in its salads.  Esther’s take includes chard in its mix and strong supporting players such as mandoline-sliced apple, candied walnuts, and Gouda.  The meat in beef roll (rinderroulade) and beef goulash has nice beefy flavor but is slightly dry.  The good news is both dishes come with plenty of gravy/sauce.  The menu also includes sausages, pork chop, latkes, and sandwiches.  All the pastries we sampled are not overly sweet:  tiramisu, Black Forest cake, and surprisingly tart apple torte.

If we’re not mistaken, the wholesale bakery (different owner from the cafe) no longer makes bread.  That’s why the only loaf we saw is from a bakery in San Leandro.  The beer garden is located in the rear where there’s more parking.  Note that Esther’s is open for breakfast and lunch; dinner is only available on Saturdays.

Nearby options:  Estrelita Mexican Bistro, Armadillo Willy’s Barbecue, Chef Chu’s, A Good Morning, The Pasta Market, Noodle Talk, Su-Dam Korean Cuisine

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Ettan, Palo Alto

CPBA []

Palo Alto is an ideal location for a high-end Indian restaurant in the South Bay—or any upscale eatery for that matter.  Opened right before the Bay Area went into lockdown in 2020, Ettan (“breath”) gets high marks for its interior design.  The main dining room is an atrium; the artwork on the back wall looks like a series of round wafers for chaat (we foodies see food in everything).  Chef/co-owner Srijith Gopinathan left Michelin-starred Campton Place in 2022 to focus on Ettan and other ventures.

Speaking of chaat...the sesame leaf is Ettan’s twist on sev puri with the same sweet/tangy/spicy flavor we all love.  Instead of potato dumpling, the kitchen’s vada pav uses green (unripe) jackfruit for this vegetarian slider.  Unripe jackfruit has a texture similar to pulled pork or crab.  The ghee-roasted Colorado lamb chop is first-rate, especially when paired with the quinoa pilaf.  The Colorado sheep are pasture-raised and produce superior meat.  The sheep wars help explain why this country consumes so much more beef than lamb.

Though Ettan’s address says Bryant Street (previous tenant was Three Seasons), you can’t actually see the restaurant on Bryant.  That’s because it’s located in a kind of alley next to Blue Bin Vintage.  Our pro tip is to park in the lot on Emerson between University and Hamilton.  Then take a shortcut from the parking lot to Ramona (still closed to traffic as of December 2022) and walk straight into the alley.  Click on the Detour tab above for our take on the evolution of Indian restaurants in the Bay Area.

CPBA (Campton Place [pillow for your purse!]) []

Nearby options:  Bevri, Oren’s Hummus, Evvia Estiatorio, Taverna, Osteria, Bird Dog, Zola, Tamarine, Steam, Tai Pan, Jing Jing, Thaiphoon, Lemonade, Garden Fresh, Rami Nagi, Peninsula Fountain & Grill, Curry Pizza House, Coupa Cafe, Crepevine, Mademoiselle Colette, Tea Time

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Falafel STOP, Sunnyvale

CPBA []

When a restaurant name contains the word falafel, you must have a taste of the chickpea fritters (think of them as Middle Eastern hush puppies).  You get 10 falafel balls if you order the falafel plate, which comes with Israeli salad, hummus, baba ghanoush, pickles, and sauerkraut.  It also includes a few potent chili peppers that you can easily remove.  We don’t have an issue with different items on the plate all mixed together, but falafel tastes better if it’s not dipped in hummus—so the kitchen should keep that in mind.  The crispy exterior does have good flavor.

Sabich is a fried eggplant sandwich.  We opted to try the sabich hummus plate, which is the classic hummus plate topped with fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, and salad.  This dish is for people who don’t like eggplant because it does not taste like eggplant.  When you put aside the falafel and eggplant, what’s left on these two plates is a refreshing salad for a hot day.  It’s like a Middle Eastern version of guacamole with hummus playing the role of avocado.  Local food often reflects a region’s climate.  That’s why you don’t see cold-weather dishes such as roasted sweet potatoes and hearty stews on Middle Eastern menus.

Majaddara is a tasty combination of lentils, rice, and sauteed onions.  Try it with pargiyot (boneless chicken thigh).  You should definitely order the Bavarian cream dessert.  It’s a mildly flavored custard with a slightly grainy texture and pairs well with the nuts and chocolate sauce on top.

Though this is an Israeli-style eatery, the food is not kosher.  They serve a whole lot of chicken and some beef but no lamb.  Many people have talked about the confusing delivery system.  After you place your order, you go to one side for all the meat dishes (wait for them to call your number) and a different window for vegetarian items (anytime?).  Located in a kind of residential area of Sunnyvale near a high school (the space used to be a florist shop), Falafel STOP offers friendly counter service.  The owner has been in the food industry for years before opening this restaurant in 2012.  The dough for the pita bread is imported from Israel.  Since the owner is also the landlord, how about some lights for the parking lot?  By the way, there was a short-lived spinoff next-door; the vacant cafe still looks as it did when it closed in 2018.

Nearby options:  Chatpata India, Mom’s Biriyani, Asian Momo House, Pupusa Time, K’s Crepes & Cafe, The Gurkha Kitchen, Country Gourmet, Cup N Cone, Calibear Cyber Cafe, Zanotto’s Market, Al Forat Market

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Fugetsu, San Jose + Sunnyvale

@Sweet_Finds [] LifeOfBD [] Rion Ishida (Fugetsu in Japan) []

As far as we know, Fugetsu started in Osaka more than 60 years ago (watch video above for how they make their signature dish in Japan).  They opened the first Fugetsu stateside in Santa Clara in 2016 and decided to relocate to Sunnyvale five years later (sharing space with sister restaurant Rokko).  The newer location in San Jose is takeout only.  Note that some of the items here are made by Shalala Deli and Rokko.

There are a few places in the Bay Area that focus on okonomiyaki, a savory pancake that you can think of as Japanese omelet.  The most intriguing thing is the sauce because it’s made with Worcestershire sauce.  We love the flavor of Lea & Perrins’ iconic sauce and are glad it’s a key ingredient in this dish.  The deluxe okonomiyaki comes with pork, squid, shrimp, scallops, and fried egg.  The okonomiyaki sampler comprises three versions featuring melted cheese, shrimp, and stewed beef (gyusuki).

If you search the Internet for Paris onigiri, you’ll note there are quite a few shops in Paris that serve the French twist on these humble rice balls.  They put everything from pork, beef, and chicken to salmon, lamb, and ratatouille inside (watch video below).  In Japan, onigiri comes in different shapes (triangles being the most common).  They don’t go crazy with the fillings over there, and onigiri is usually pretty plain or filled with pickled apricot (umeboshi).  There’s an East Bay restaurant that likes to fill onigiri with Korean ingredients such as kalbi and kimchi.  Fugetsu puts the filling on the outside unlike how they do it in Paris.  For some reason, two of the onigiri we sampled are really salty:  grilled chashu pork and scallops.  The other four are better:  salmon, shrimp and mayo, shrimp tempura, and grilled mackerel with shiso.

Since the San Jose Fugetsu is takeout only, what’s more perfect than bento?  The daily special bento we tried includes SPAM katsu, pork, octopus balls (takoyaki), and edamame.  The SPAM katsu is an interesting alternative to the traditional tonkatsu—well, it’s still pork.  They also offer chirashi, sushi in a larger format.  The yellowtail collar (hamachi kama) could use more grill action, but you really can’t beat its price—even lower than Umi Hand Roll Bar.  The stone grill (ishiyaki) rice with salmon is supposed to provide crusty rice at the bottom like kamameshi or Chinese clay pot rice or Spanish paella.  We found nothing crusty.

The highlights here are the desserts.  Earl Grey cream pudding looks like Fugetsu’s take on creme brulee.  The surprise is they opt to use Earl Grey and not matcha.  The almond milk pudding has a silky texture that’s reminiscent of soft tofu.  The tart mango topping makes the whole thing a refreshing end to a meal.  They also make the fish-shaped waffle (taiyaki) filled with azuki bean paste.  They also sell desserts made by a Japanese company called Orange such as chestnut cake (Mont Blanc) and mille-crepe (mille-feuille).  We like the way they streamline the whole shopping experience and how every item is labeled with a full description.  And the best part is everything has a barcode, so you don’t have to worry about an employee ringing up the wrong item, which has happened at places like Paris Baguette.

Trails to Oishii Tokyo (Japanese rice/onigiri in Paris) [] Bento Expo (onigiri) []
Aden Films (okonomiyaki in Osaka) [] The Professionals (okonomiyaki chef) [] Document 72 Hours (okonomiyaki in Kobe) []

Nearby options in San Jose:  Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Clover Bakery, Tomi Sushi, Kahoo Ramen, Curry Life, Takoyaki Yama-chan, Mochill Mochi Donut, Stone Stew

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Gulzaar Halaal, San Jose | [♀]

Air Port []

As Taylor Swift would say, this one’s from the vault.  After visiting Gulzaar Halaal in December 2008, we had planned to share our thoughts on-line.  But then we made a U-turn and stopped posting (click on the FAQ tab above and see why).  The good news is they didn’t need our help because Gulzaar is still going strong 15 years later.  Initially, Gulzaar’s menu was an interesting mix of Middle Eastern and Indian with a twist.  Before Gulzaar took over in 2007, the spot was a Lebanese bakery serving manakish and shawarma, so we presumed the Middle Eastern stuff was a holdover.  And the Indian part came by way of South Africa where the owner emigrated from (his family tree goes back to India and Turkey).

At the time we wished he would add one or two South African dishes to the menu (milk tart [melktert], bunny chow, mealy pap [mielie meal], braai—anything).  Well, that will never happen because he sold his restaurant to a friend in 2012.  The second owner kept the name and added a few Afghan dishes from his own background.  If we’re not mistaken, his wife is in charge of the kitchen.  In any event, everybody ends up in the Golden State eventually.

When we returned to Gulzaar recently, we finally sampled manakish for the first time.  It’s like Middle Eastern pizza or quesadilla.  The zaatar version is classic manakish.  Unless you love this popular Middle Eastern spice blend with a lemony flavor, you’ll probably prefer the jebneh version, which is topped with a lovely soft cheese with a milky flavor (Akkawi or kashkaval?).

Like Jubba, the only Somali restaurant in the South Bay, Gulzaar’s take on samosa is different (in a good way) from the typical version at Indian establishments.  The accompanying dipping sauce tastes like spicy ketchup, and you’ll want to put it on everything.  Both the chicken and veggie samosas (one per order) are good, but we like the meat pocket just a little more.  It’s not surprising the Indian dishes here have a different flavor profile from South Asian eateries.  That’s because these recipes came from the original owner.  If you like biryani, you should be happy with either the ground beef kebab or chicken tikka (boneless breast).  Of course, we always say chicken thigh would work better than breast.

Afghanistan shares a border with Iran and Pakistan; Afghan cuisine is similar to those neighbors.  We’ve had Afghanistan’s national dish before, and Gulzaar’s lamb shank pilaf (Kabuli pulao) is one of the better versions.  The lamb is full of flavor, and the brown basmati rice is better than the biryani rice.  The raisins and mildly sweet and soft carrots add just the right amount of sweetness.  The fried eggplant dish (borani banjan) is for eggplant lovers; it pairs well with the accompanying Afghan bread or rice.

The Middle Eastern desserts are more satisfying than what we had back in 2008.  The rice pudding has just a hint of rose water.  If you’ve never had kanafeh before, Gulzaar’s version is a great introduction.

Located in a part of San Jose known as Antiques Row, Gulzaar’s neighbors across the street may have to relocate to make way for redevelopment.  Note that there’s a 3.5-percent charge for credit card use.  Click on the Detour tab above and read what we wrote about South Africa and Gandhi in 2009.  There’s more from the vault that we may unveil in the future (Swift is not the only one mining the past).  What prompted us to check out Gulzaar in the first place?  It was this Metro article from November 2008.  And here’s a review of that defunct Lebanese bakery.

Nearby options:  Ethio-LunchBox, Edna Ray Chinese, Walla Ethiopian, Taqueria Eduardo, Green Lotus, Kategna Ethiopian, Yakini Q SJ, El Papucho, Got2go Pizza, Sliders Burger, Falafel’s Drive-In, Dia De Pesca, Korean Palace, Santana Row, Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara

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Habana Cuba, San Jose | [♀] [@]

NBC Bay Area []

If you’ve never had Cuban food before, a great way to start is the Cubano sampler appetizer:  potato croquettes (papas rellenas), cassava French fries (yuca frita), fried green plantains (tostones), and fried pork (masitas de puerco).  If you don’t want the sampler, you must get the masitas as an entree—that’s how good this pork is.  The Cuban tamal (available as an appetizer or entree) has no filling and is subtly sweet.  That’s why it comes with a meat or vegetarian topping.  They should add a fruit topping to make it a complete dessert.  The oxtail, garlic shrimp (camarones al ajillo), and shredded beef (ropa vieja) are all fine, but the sauce could be a little thicker.  Both desserts are not too sweet:  rice pudding and flan.  This Cuban flan has a slight bitterness which we appreciate (coffee or burnt caramel?).  You can make ropa vieja, fried sweet plantains, and fried yuca using recipes from America’s Test Kitchen.

Located inside SoFA Market, Habana Cuba actually started out as Cuban International in San Jose Japantown in 1982 (the historical Sixth Street building is now the site of Jtown Pizza as of 2022).  The owner sold it in 1991 and opened Habana Cuba on Race Street in 1994.  The current owner took over in 2001 and then relocated to SoFA Market in 2018—a smart move considering what happened in 2020.  We did visit Cuban International before it closed in 2008.  Here’s an article on the original owner.  Click on the Detour tab above for other food halls.

Best Ever Food Review Show (Cuba) []

Nearby options:  Desi Express, Vietnoms, Umi Hand Roll Bar, The Salad Planet, Petiscos by Adega, Original Joe’s San Jose, Nirvana Soul

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Happiness Cafe, San Jose

There are two types of vegetarian restaurants:  the kind that likes to mimic meat and seafood and the kind that doesn’t try to “fake you out.”  Among the latter is the famed Greens in San Francisco.  For non-vegetarians, the novelty of sampling mock meat dishes wears off pretty fast.  Happiness Cafe, a hole-in-the-wall place near San Jose’s main post office and a Costco, has a few surprises up its sleeve.  While most fast casual restaurants use iceberg lettuce in their salads, this cafe gives you frisee.  The desserts are uniformly good (we doubt they’re made in-house).  Try opera cake, cheesecake, guava cake, or all three.  Ocean melt tastes like real tuna; crispy patty with brown rice tastes like tonkatsu.  The phish balls are the star of the rice noodle soup.

Happiness [] Room for Happiness [] Pursuit of Happiness [] Happiness [] Happy Heart []

Nearby options:  Vons Chicken (int’l chain), Ma’s, Ono Hawaiian BBQ

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Hardy’s Bavaria, Sunnyvale

Click on the RIP tab above.  Don’t miss the humorous YouTube video.

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H.L. Peninsula, Milpitas + Burlingame (two locations) + South San Francisco | [≡]

Franco Perez []

With three locations on the Peninsula, you might be tempted to think this restaurant is named for San Mateo County.  We doubt it.  Just as Teleferic Barcelona is an import from Spain, H.L. Peninsula originated in South China.  They also have branches in Beijing and Vancouver.  One way to remember the name of this place is to think of H.L. Mencken.  If you’ve never heard of him, then never mind.  HLP is positioned as a high-end Cantonese restaurant; the kitchen does not execute like a fine-dining establishment, however.  Like music and film, food is a subjective experience.  What we can tell you objectively is that there are enough distinctive dishes and ingredients to make it worth your while to visit at least once.  HLP also serves dim sum during the day, which we haven’t tried yet.

Before we talk about the food, we should point out the menu is strangely scattered.  There’s a laminated dinner menu that matches what’s on the Web site.  There’s another laminated menu that includes all the chef’s specials (no pictures).  Then there’s a big, multi-page menu that contains items not listed elsewhere (rice and noodle dishes, for example).  We ordered mainly from the first menu.  Be sure to ask to see all the menus.

Of the dozen of so dishes we ordered, the two most flavorful ones come with an asterisk.  The sauteed abalone with chive and taro is marred by mostly hard and fibrous garlic chives in every bite.  We’ve never cooked garlic chives before, but we imagine the line cook who chopped them should have noticed an issue and made a substitute (regular chives or green onions would do).  Of course, the food buyer should’ve rejected these garlic chives in the first place (not always possible if they buy in bulk).  The taro is cut into thin matchsticks.  Garlic chives are often used as filling for certain dumplings for dim sum, so we give HLP credit for highlighting them in a different dish.

The steamed lingcod with house special yellow pepper sauce will separate true foodies from the rest and test one’s commitment to nose-to-tail eating.  The last time we had lingcod, it was boneless fillet at Berkeley’s Gaumenkitzel.  So when our waiter warned us that this dish has bones and some heat, we thought we’d see the whole fish (yay) and we all know Cantonese spicy is usually mild.  The whole thing turns out to have a real kick, making it more interesting than the typical Cantonese curry/XO sauce dishes.  The lingcod consists of bite-sized pieces of the fish head and collar. Fish head has more fat and therefore more flavor—we’ll let Thrillist explain.  If you are someone who’s never encountered a fish bone in your life, this dish is obviously not for you.  And skip it if you’re on a first date.  We applaud any kitchen for not dumbing down a dish to fit what sells in proverbial Peoria.  (You can watch below a boneless and mild version that’s also finished with sizzling oil from America’s Test Kitchen.)

Bamboo pith is actually a mushroom that’s sometimes used sparingly in soup.  Here it gets a starring role in the crab meat and bamboo pith over egg tofu.  It’s white and resembles honeycomb tripe and is slightly crunchy like wood ear mushrooms.  The two assertively seasoned dishes are seared lotus root patties with pork in XO sauce and pan-seared oyster and egg with preserved daikon (the latter could use more oyster).  We only ordered the lobster with e-fu noodles because we read about it on-line (not seen on any of the English menus for some reason).  While this may not be the best lobster noodles we’ve ever had, the small lobster is oh-so meaty, proving once again the quality of an ingredient can make or break a dish (see garlic chives above).

The rest of the dishes we sampled are mildly seasoned or slightly underseasoned.  Non-Japanese restaurants using Japanese ingredients is a trend we like (you should try unagi fried rice or any fusion dish with ikura/tobiko).  So we had high hopes for the sea urchin and dried scallop wild grain fried rice.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t really taste the uni because it’s cut in such tiny pieces.  In Japan, uni bento comes with good-sized pieces of uni.

On our first visit we noticed a row of takeout orders with a large, round tray of food inside.  It turns out to be the one-pot meal (poon choy) that we saw in an episode of Confucius Was a Foodie.  We suspect they only make this for Lunar New Year.  There’s a similar layered one-pot dish called milk-can supper from Cook’s Country.  And on our second visit we saw a bottle of wine bearing Yao Ming’s name.  According to Globe Trekker’s “Planet Food” specials, the chefs in South China are doing some exciting things (watch video below).  Well, we can’t wait to see who comes after HLP.  This is a full-circle moment because food historians will tell you it was immigrants from a small area of South China who helped define Chinese food in North America 150 years ago.  They were responsible for the development of Chinese food in Southeast Asia and Latin America as well.

The Milpitas location was scheduled to open in 2020, and you can guess what went wrong with that plan.  So we were pleasantly surprised when it opened two years later.  When a Michaels store occupied this space at the sprawling McCarthy Ranch, we don’t recall such high ceiling.  So they literally raised the roof for HLP.  It seats over 700 people and has all the ambience of a hotel ballroom or convention hall—the opposite of intimate and cozy.

ATK (oven-steamed fish with scallions and ginger) [] Globe Trekker/Planet Food (Southern China) []
Food history (U.S.):  Andrew Coe, Haiming Liu, Yong Chen, Jennifer 8. Lee
Food history (Canada):  Lily Cho, Ann Hui

Nearby options in Milpitas:  Dish N Dash, KoKoLo Donburi, Dindigul Thalappakatti, Cajun Crack’n, Banana Leaf, Noodle Boss, Ramen 101, Idly Express, The Sandwich Spot, In-N-Out Burger, Milpitas Square, Ulferts Center

Nearby options in Burlingame:  New England Lobster Market & Eatery, Grand Harbor, BullsHead Express, Mr. Teriyaki Sushi, It’s-It Ice Cream

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Holder’s Country Inn, Cupertino + Los Altos

KPIX | CBS News Bay Area []

Part 1

It’s not everyday you find a diner/coffee shop in a kind of upscale setting.  You see, Holder’s Country Inn’s location in Cupertino was fire-damaged in 2022, and three months later, they managed to pivot and move into the space that was once Steins Beer Garden.  Thanks to that restaurant’s vision, they inherited a green wall inside, a long bar, copper accents, and a chic and airy design overall—definitely not the typical setting for an American coffee shop.  Located at the corner of an apartment complex not far from Apple Park, Holder’s serves eggs Benedict, omelets, pancakes, burgers, and sandwiches.

We had never been to any Holder’s before even though it’s been around for decades.  Started by Jack and Anne Holder in 1957 as Uncle John’s Pancake House, Holder’s was a fixture at Town & Country Village in San Jose for over 30 years.  If you’re looking for good food in the South Bay that doesn’t require a small loan, remember AVH or Aldo’s Cafe, Mio Vicino, and Holder’s.  Like Mio Vicino, this Holder’s is owned by one of the former employees.

For a business that’s nimble enough to move operation to another location so quickly, we’re not surprised they do something so few restaurants bother:  update the list of daily specials (five entrees and two soups) on their site.  A lot of restaurants hire a third party to create their site, and they can’t maintain it in-house or don’t want to pay to make changes.

The two daily specials we tried on a Saturday are both fine.  The boneless pork chops may be mildly seasoned, but you get the perfect bite when you eat the meat with the cranberry stuffing.  The chicken carciofi comes with artichoke hearts as the name suggests.  The chicken and shrimp and not overcooked, and the lemon butter sauce is not heavy.  We’ve seen other daily specials such as chicken cordon bleu, chicken pasta pomodoro, cabbage rolls, and prime rib.

From the regular menu, we sampled two entrees that illustrate what comfort food should be.  They nailed the country gravy that smothers the chicken-fried steak dinner—it’s neither too thick nor too thin.  This breaded beef dish is like the American version of schnitzel.  Holder’s rendition of the classic liver and onions will grow on liver lovers.  You get bacon to go with two large pieces of liver.  By underseasoning this organ meat a bit, the kitchen actually allows the natural sweetness of the liver to come through.

All the entrees come with the same vegetables that are steamed, which turns out to be the perfect way to prepare Brussels sprouts.  You don’t notice much that flavor/smell that makes some people turn away from cruciferous vegetables.  Most entrees come with mashed potatoes (yes!); some with rice.  You also get a choice of soup or salad.  The mixed green salad that accompanies each entree is almost as large as stand-alone salads at some other restaurants.  The soft and earthy beans provide a nice contrast to the crisp greens and acidic dressing.  The four dressings we selected taste house-made:  honey mustard, blue cheese, ranch, and Italian.  It’s so refreshing when you can taste real mustard in anything honey mustard.

Part 2

We wanted to come back to try their eggs Benedict, one sandwich, and some soups.  Kudos to Holder’s for making sure the house salad and soups are not a boring afterthought.  The two soups of the day we sampled are both quality dishes:  beef barley and chicken tortilla.  The beef tastes like it was ground by the kitchen.  Speaking of getting the small details right...we’re not surprised the cocktail sauce for the fried calamari and the tartar sauce (for the French fries?) taste house-made just like the salad dressings.  If it turns out these condiments and dressings are made by a third party, then Holder’s has procured a worthy supplier.  The fried calamari may not be the best we’ve ever had, but it is the tenderest.

The hollandaise sauce for the eggs Benedict is lemony and the poached egg properly runny.  Let’s face it, Canadian bacon is not the most exciting meat, so it’s time for restaurants to use deli ham, smoked salmon, crab cake, pulled pork, sausage, or short ribs instead.  Until we saw them make patty melt in an episode of Cook’s Country in 2023, we never gave it much thought.  If a burger and a grilled cheese sandwich had a baby, it would be something like a patty melt.  Even though this is our first taste of this sandwich, we imagine there are better versions out there.  The onions need to be more caramelized; the make-or-break sauce (ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce) should be all over the onions.  We could barely taste the Monterey Jack and cheddar (Cook’s Country used Swiss and American cheese).  And the Angus patty lacks beefy flavor.

The one thing we noticed from our previous visit is that the protein on a plate is sometimes underseasoned.  That turns out to be the case with the rib eye steak this time.  We also had more success with the daily specials last time.  The trout Florentine with spinach, mushrooms, and lemon butter sauce is heavier than expected.  Perhaps the pan-seared fillet should not be breaded (a light dredge of flour should suffice).

We made sure to sample their desserts on this visit.  The multi-layered carrot cake is one of the better versions in the Bay Area.  The icing is not too sweet; the cake is moist and the spices not overwhelming.  Fans of Twin Peaks must order a slice of cherry pie.  The crust is good and the filling doesn’t taste like it’s from a can.  Cherry filling usually consists of frozen cherries, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch.  People who enjoy their cocktails should note that Holder’s has happy hour seven days a week and it lasts for more than a few hours each day.  So come check out the beautiful bar in Cupertino.

Nearby options in Cupertino:  La Pizzeria, Cap’t Loui, KoJa Kitchen, Dough Zone Dumpling House, Myungrang Hot Dog, Nirvana Soul, Philz Coffee, SomiSomi

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House of Kabobs, Sunnyvale | [♀]

We suspect most Americans’ answer to “What do you want for your last meal?” is burger and fries or the more upscale steak frites.  As far as ground beef goes, we’d rather have meatballs and meatloaf.  No, our answer may well be fesenjan (pronounced fez’sen-joon), a Persian stew we didn’t know we needed until we sampled an exceptional version at Saffron in San Jose.  The owner also operated a grocery store next-door, ensuring the best ingredients for this braised poultry dish.  Sadly, Saffron closed in 2008 (we’d like to know what happened to the chef).  Since then, we cross our fingers and hope to get lucky again every time we visit a Persian restaurant.

Well, we can report House of Kabobs serves one of the better versions of fesenjan.  The walnut and pomegranate sauce is thinner than and not as pleasantly grainy as Saffron’s rendition, but HOK definitely nailed the balance between sweet and tangy.  You should go to this downtown Sunnyvale restaurant if that’s all it has to offer.  But as they say in those TV infomercials, there’s more.  One of the chicken kebab dishes comes with rice that has barberries added, an interesting twist that’s reminiscent of a steamed chicken dish with similar accompaniment.  Gheimeh bademjan, a tomato-based beef stew, has a flavor profile we don’t taste often at Persian establishments.  Grilled salmon is also first-rate.

With all due respect to chefs around the world, we’ll just say it:  Persian restaurants make the best pilaf.  But sometimes it can be a little dry if the kitchen doesn’t get it just right—or reheat it properly.  No such problem here.  HOK’s version is textbook pilaf.  We’re so glad we decided to check out HOK; we just had to eat for ourselves after Rob E. from Palo Alto raved about its fesenjan in 2015.

Baking is hard.  That’s why we’ll never attempt to make croissant or any laminated dough with embedded butter.  We still struggle with making pie crust.  Cooking is easier by comparison.  We never thought a restaurant could mess up a braised dish like fesenjan until we came across a version with an unpleasant, off flavor (iodine?) from a counter-service place in Mountain View.  Where did they go wrong?  Burned walnuts?  It just makes us appreciate great fesenjan even more.

Recipe by Ariana Bundy [] Recipe by Munchies [] Recipe by Cooking With Yousef [] Recipe by Middle Eats []

Nearby options:  Dishdash, Meyhouse, King Wah, Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Sajj Mediterranean, Sweet Sicily, Rokko, Tao Tao, PhoEver, Vino Vino, Daily Donuts, Chocolatier Desiree, Gelateria Bella Roma, ATM Tea Bar, Philz Coffee

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Isfahan Kabob, San Jose | [≡]

Established in 2004, Isfahan Kabob was never on the radar until the credit union near our office closed in 2020 and we had to check out another branch, which just happens to be right across the street from it.  Note that the parking lot is a little cramped; you may have to back out on to Union Avenue when you leave.  We’ve been to a few counter-service Persian places, and Isfahan (named after the former capital of Persia) is one of the best around and may even be better than some more formal restaurants.

While the menu offers only one stew (available as a special on certain days), the kitchen does a great job with the basics.  The bone-in chicken kebab comes with thigh pieces and frenched drumsticks.  The salmon kebab is good as well.  They take the time to grill the accompanying vegetables properly (onion, bell pepper, zucchini, and tomato)—unlike other counter-service spots.  The lamb shank special features fall-off-the-bone meat; the fava beans taste better than average.  And the pilaf is not dry.  The eggplant appetizer (kashk bademjan) includes some chunky pieces and is more substantial than baba ghanoush.  Beryan is ground meat patty on flatbread, a kind of Isfahan hamburger or piadina/gyro/shawarma.  When you eat it fresh, it’s a little bit on the oily side and has a lavender-like fragrance.  Try it because you won’t see it on too many Persian menus in the Bay Area.  A beryani (not to be confused with Indian biryani) is a restaurant in Iran that specializes in beryan.

Mark Wiens (Isfahan) [] SiaKooli (beryan) []

Nearby options:  Curry Pizza House, Khaosan Thai, Alams Taqueria, Stevie’s Bar & Grill, Zarzour Kabob, Pizza My Heart, Shima Sushi, Dream Dinners, Crumbl Cookies

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Jackie’s Place, San Jose | [♀]

Peninsula View (original location) [] Country Geisha [] Emmanuel Baptist Church []

Part 1

If every country has its own food traditions, what is American cuisine?  As a relatively young nation that began as a colony and experienced waves of immigration, what Americans eat today usually has roots somewhere else.  As popular as burger and fries are—most foreign countries think of them as the definition of American food (thanks to McDonald’s)—two individual dishes don’t make up a cuisine in our opinion.  We submit soul food is the closest thing we have to America’s national cuisine.  Known throughout the South (former slave states), soul food was introduced to the rest of the U.S. after the Great Migration of the last century.

Anytime we find a restaurant that offers tasty food, generous portion size, and friendly service is a good day.  The fact that family-owned Jackie’s Place serves soul food is simply icing on the cake.  If you like dark meat and gravy, the smothered chicken (leg quarter) is a must-try.  It’s nice to know the pieces of braised oxtails are toward the meaty end of the tail.  An order of the southern fried fish plate comes with three good-sized pieces of catfish (?).  The cornmeal batter is properly seasoned.  It also has the right thickness for the size of the fillet, which is perfectly moist.  The seafood gumbo is fine; we only wish there was some okra in it.  You won’t have to wait long for the food because most of the items (beef brisket, pulled pork, oxtails, and the like) are cooked in advance.

Of the four sides we sampled, rice and gravy is our favorite.  The gravy reminds us of the country gravy that smothers dishes such as chicken-fried steak (it could be the same gravy as the smothered chicken).  The black-eyed peas are also good.  The candied yams are not too sweet, so that’s a win.  The collard greens are saltier than other versions we found in the Bay Area.  As a result, we did not drink the pot liquor.  The cornbread, which seems to come with everything on the menu, is a winning recipe.  Baked in muffin pan, it straddles the line between sweet and savory.

Native Texan Jackie Jackson has been in the food business since 1998.  She operated a cupcake bakery inside Eastridge Center about 10 years ago, so we imagine all the desserts here are house-made.  You’ll find the current selection in the display case by the ordering/payment terminal.  We love that Laverne’s sweet potato pie is a five-inch mini-pie and not a slice of a whole pie.  (Watch the interview above and see how Jackson located her mother’s recipe.)  It has a bright flavor and just the right sweet level.  We made two servings out of it, which means it’s probably bigger than a typical slice from other restaurants.  The banana pudding is sweeter than we like.  We may be a little biased because we’d just made an old-fashioned lemon pudding (lemon bisque) a few weeks earlier.

Of all the times we visited the South (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas), we don’t recall ever ordering sweet tea.  According to one Nashville transplant (see video above), JP’s version is authentic—we’ll take her word for it.  It’s definitely sweet but tastes better than expected.  Keep in mind some sweet tea contains more sugar than canned soda.  We’re thankful this is not a supersized drink; the 16-oz. cup is large enough to share.  The JuJu is their own blend of two flavors of Kool-Aid:  cherry and grape.  The flavor profile recalls the Hawaiian Punch (the red version) we had years ago.  They also serve lemonade (fresh lemons?).

JP opened in Japantown San Jose in 2018 and closed in 2020 after a fire—just what a new business needed in the midst of lockdown.  Well, trust in God and keep your powder dry.  The restaurant reopened the following year in a bigger space (formerly Bold Knight and before that a power-lunch spot called 840 North First) less than a mile from its original location.  If the main parking lot is full, there’s a second one on Second Street.  If you drive a big car, beware the main lot is rather cramped.  Like Oakland’s Rio California, JP also does catering.

Words and phrases sometimes take on new meanings over time.  The term “soul food” was coined in the 1960s around the same time R&B was labeled soul music.  Then there was Soul Train on TV in the 1970s.  While it referred to a specific type of food, we believe the term has since acquired a second definition, a more general reference to any dish that’s from the soul—humble, unpretentious, home-style cooking.  That’s why someone called feijoada Brazilian soul food.  And we like to think of Irish stew and colcannon as Irish soul food.  Note that the porridge episode of Somewhere South includes a lively discussion of soul food.

Part 2

JP proved to be such a wonderful experience that we had to come back for seconds.  We wanted to try their chicken and more sides.  Unfortunately, the BBQ chicken was not available (permanently?).  The fried chicken wings plate comes with three pieces of complete chicken wing in all its glory.  That’s right, you get the drumette, flat, and tip all connected in one piece—from the same chicken.  While the tip is not our favorite part of the wing ensemble, it’s nice to know it’s not discarded.  The meat has flavor (must be brined) and the coating is well-seasoned.  This may not be the best fried chicken we’ve ever had, but the presentation of the entire wing deserves extra credit.

We sampled four more sides this time.  Green beans are often bland and boring; their version has a nice kick and good flavor.  Some places like to tout the fact that they use multiple cheeses for their mac and cheese but under-deliver.  JP’s version is not heavy or greasy and you can taste the cheddar, which is all that matters.  The beef chili beans and coleslaw are fine.

The butter pound cake is now our second favorite dessert here.  They use canned peaches for their peach cobbler, and the inside is too soupy.  Since peaches are out of season, they didn’t make their peach lemonade.  The substitute watermelon lemonade could use stronger lemon flavor.

Somewhere South (porridge episode trailer) []
Soul Man [] TSOP []

Nearby options:  LeYou Ethiopian, Karimi, Danbi Korean, Golden Catch Fish & Chips, Smoking Pig BBQ, Sourdough Eatery, TOGO’S, Japantown San Jose

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Jubba, San Jose

CPBA []

Named after a river in Somalia, Jubba is the only Somali restaurant in the South Bay—if not the entire Bay Area.  Somali cuisine includes some recognizable items.  Canjeero is lighter and less sour than neighboring Ethiopia’s injera.  You’ll also find spaghetti on Jubba’s menu (Italy briefly occupied both East African countries).  Sambusa and sabaayad are similar to Indian samosa and chapati, respectively.  Order beef or chicken suqaar as your main and finish with mandazi or fried bread.  This modest restaurant with a cafeteria atmosphere is located near Westfield Oakridge, sandwiched between a light rail station and a sprawling apartment complex.  The secluded area has a laid-back vibe that belies its location; the clock tower adds to its old-timey feel.  As much as we love paper maps, you’re better off following driving directions on the Internet.

Nearby options:  Westfield Oakridge, Mandarin Gourmet, Chaat Cafe

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Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Sunnyvale

We’re tempted to say “See San Carlos restaurant with the same name.”  That’s because the owners of both restaurants are brothers, their menus are identical, and the food tastes about the same.  But they maintain separate Web sites.  Established in 1988 on El Camino Real before moving to what was once Sunnyvale’s Town & Country Village, this KAC looks a little different from the one in San Carlos.

There’s nothing “exotic” about Afghan food.  In addition to kebabs, lamb stew with peas, and pumpkin (kabocha?) topped with yogurt, you must try kabuli palaw, Afghanistan’s national dish.  KAC’s version uses boneless lamb and the carrots taste like they’re cooked in simple syrup.  Just like its San Carlos cousin, the service here is friendly.

Healthy Lifestyle []

Nearby options:  House of Kabobs, Dishdash, Meyhouse, King Wah, Sajj Mediterranean, Sweet Sicily, Rokko, Tao Tao, PhoEver, Vino Vino, Daily Donuts, Chocolatier Desiree, Gelateria Bella Roma, ATM Tea Bar, Philz Coffee

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Krispy Krunchy Chicken, San Jose (2 locations) + Campbell + Mountain View (2)
+ San Francisco (6)
+ East Bay:  Oakland (11) + Alameda (2) + Antioch (3) + Berkeley (2) + Byron + El Sobrante + Fremont (2) + Hayward (4) + Oakley + Pinole + Pittsburg (2) + Pleasanton + Richmond (3) + Rodeo + San Leandro + San Pablo + San Ramon
+ Peninsula:  San Mateo + Daly City (2) + South San Francisco (2)
+ Wine Country:  Santa Rosa + Petaluma (2) + Rohnert Park
+ Delta-Suisun Bay:  Fairfield (2) + Suisun City + Vallejo (4)

Krispy Krunchy Chicken []

Chicken is the lowest common denominator.  Lots of people around the world don’t eat beef or pork, but as far as we know, no religion has anything against the humble bird.  Goat and lamb are popular alternatives—not so much in North America.  It behooves any U.S. restaurant to include chicken on the menu.  With cultivated or lab-grown chicken meat coming down the pipe, this ubiquitous protein is not going anywhere.  There’s a good reason why “Tastes like chicken” is such a common declaration or punchline.

Let’s talk fried chicken, the quintessential American dish.  While we haven’t visited many fast food joints that specialize in deep-fried chicken, we submit the best national chain may be the privately held Krispy Krunchy Chicken.  This fried chicken is also better than what supermarkets have to offer—though we’re not ready to say no to Safeway’s salt and vinegar wings and Lucky’s zesty wings.  It is even better than what we sampled at some slow food restaurants.  Like some of you, we’d never heard of KKC until a couple of years ago.  What makes this takeout-only location in San Jose so different is the fact that it is not inside a convenience store/mini-mart near a gas station like so many others (hence some fans refer to it as gas station chicken).  No, this one is located at North Park Plaza, a strip mall anchored by H Mart, the Korean supermarket.

As the Louisiana-based company’s official site says, “They may come for the gas, but they’ll come back for the chicken.”  KKC’s fried chicken is indeed very good.  How good?  Well, if it was just a little less salty and less greasy, it would be the ideal fried chicken.  The reason this fried chicken is so moist and flavorful is because the marinade is injected into the meat.  Brining the meat is usually the way to go.  If you like your fried chicken extra spicy (see hot chicken trend below), move along because the Cajun-spiced marinade is really mild.

The default for bone-in pieces is dark meat (thigh and drumstick); you pay extra if you want a mix of dark/white or white only.  The Krispy wings taste exactly like the dark meat; they come with a choice of two sauces (not needed).  The jambalaya is surprisingly good for a fast food place.  The tiny honey biscuit is okay—we’ve had better.  The mashed potatoes taste like they’re made from potato flakes and not whole potatoes.  The red velvet cake is light and better than the cheesecake.

Another thing that makes this San Jose location so unique is that they also serve Middle Eastern fare such as falafel, shawarma, and baba ganoush.  The only item we tried from the non-KKC part of the menu is the lamb over rice.  The hot sauce (optional?) gives the whole dish a stronger than expected kick.  This portion of the menu is probably Lebanese, Jordanian, or Palestinian.

Before you come to North Park Plaza, make sure you check out both KKC site and this operator’s own site so you know which items are KKC domain.  There are some wings, for instance, that look like they’re not from KKC’s menu.  This unusual location is a twofer:  you get KKC and more.  And let’s hope it stays that way.

According to USA Today, KKC is ranked No. 7 in a recent survey of best fast food restaurants for fried chicken (out of a field of 20 national contenders).  If you remove all the boneless meat-only places—not classic fried chicken in our book—and all the ones that don’t operate in California, then KKC is No. 2 behind Popeyes.

Don’t mess with the bird.  We recently tried one version of hot chicken that came from Southern California.  The chef who created it supposedly worked for celebrity chef Thomas Keller.  Well, whatever he learned is not reflected in the chicken.  Or perhaps hot chicken just isn’t an improvement on regular fried chicken—unless you’re a chilihead.  Another trend, locally speaking, is marinading the chicken in koji.  Of the three places we visited, only San Jose’s Paper Plane did right by its chicken.  The other two East Bay locations are disappointing (one features fried boneless chicken and the other roasted whole chicken).  So the key is what else you do with the chicken besides using koji.  And we frown on big-breasted chicken like the kind mass-produced for retail and fast food restaurants.  Don’t believe the hype and beware of trends and marketing gimmicks.

ATK (batter-fried chicken) []
Trails to Oishii Tokyo (fermented foods [koji]) []

Nearby options in North San Jose:  California Fish Grill, Ono Hawaiian BBQ, Pizza California, Chop Stop, bb.q Chicken, Sizzling Lunch, VN Grill, Five Guys, Noah’s Bagels, California Sourdough Eatery, RedZone, MOD Pizza, Starbird Chicken, Rubio’s Coastal Grill, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Cauldron Ice Cream

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Local Kitchens, Campbell + Cupertino + Mountain View + Palo Alto + Los Gatos + Lafayette + Novato + Mill Valley | [@]

ABC Localish []

Featuring...
: Oren’s Hummus | Angela Sy [] 100 Mile Meals [] 20MinuteLeaders []
: Senor Sisig | CPBA [] Munchies [] KPIX []

[Note:  Local Kitchens closed the San Jose location we visited in 2022 but has since opened four more branches in the Bay Area.]

Technically speaking, we are not talking about Senor Sisig and Oren’s Hummus.  We are talking about these restaurants’ food as prepared by Local Kitchens.  But when you walk into a McDonald’s, does it matter which location?  Unlike other similar operations, Local Kitchens makes it clear—at least when you inquire in person—that it is a ghost kitchen.  We like to think of LK as an all-in-one franchisee of its partner restaurants.  What’s in it for Senor Sisig and others?  Well, they get to reach a bigger customer base and increase revenue without major investment—the same benefits of franchising.  LK also keeps much longer hours.

Taking advantage of the fact that LK offers food from a handful of restaurants, we ordered two items from Senor Sisig and one from Oren’s Hummus.  We’ve never been to either restaurant before, so we can’t say for certain if LK is the perfect “franchisee.”  To the extent that certain things can be made ahead—sauces and bread, for example—we suspect LK doesn’t have to make everything from scratch.  Take the pita bread that comes with Oren’s hummus eggplant.  LK probably gets the same bread from Oren’s directly.  We imagine for some dishes, LK's kitchen works like an assembly line.  Of course, when it comes to Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, there’s nothing for LK to make.

When hummus is in the name of a restaurant, it’s a clue the place knows hummus.  Oren’s Israeli version is one of the best in the Bay Area.  The eggplant in hummus eggplant is not exactly baba ghanoush because it has a different flavor profile.  This dish is so addictive we could dip pita in it for days.  We can’t wait to try other items from Oren’s.  It’s good to know we can always go to a nearby LK instead.

Certain dishes lend themselves to fusion.  Ever since a Canadian created Hawaiian pizza in the 1960s, people in North America have been trying different toppings that they would frown on in Italy.  Burritos and tacos are like pizzas in that respect.  So why not mix Mexican and Pinoy together?  After all, Spain colonized both Mexico and the Philippines.  We would order tosilog burrito and sisig tacos again from Senor Sisig/LK.  You can’t go wrong with tocino and fried egg.

Note that LK charges a little more than its partners because both parties have to make a profit.  Beware the lineup of restaurants changes over time.  And keep in mind LK usually offers a subset of each partner’s menu, which makes sense as LK’s kitchen is not a huge operation.  When we visited the San Jose location (this one is takeout only), there was someone who was dead set on a particular item from one of the partners that’s not available via LK.  If she had listened to our suggestions and ordered from Senor Sisig or Oren’s, she would’ve been quite happy.  Always keep an open mind when it comes to food...and life.  Even though this is a ghost kitchen, LK’s service is great.

Dancing With Your Ghost [] Ghost [] Ghost [] Ghost Town [] Ghosttown [] Ghosts [] Ghosts N Stuff []

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Magic-Wok, Sunnyvale | [≡]

Like Syma’s in Albany, Magic-Wok serves food from two different countries.  Unlike Syma’s, Magic-Wok had a split personality from the beginning.  It seems the best Filipino restaurants are in or around Daly City, so any Pinoy place anywhere else is worth a look.  If you’re into silog, the filling rice-and-egg breakfast with tons of different options from bacon to SPAM, and sisig, another Filipino staple with variations, you should be able to find something you like among Magic-Wok’s 18 types of silog and six sisig options.  The sausage silog (longsilog) and sweetened bacon silog (tosilog) are quite satisfying; the chicken sisig has a nice tang from calamansi and a mild kick from chili peppers.

The beef shank soup (bulalo) is like the Filipino version of caldo de res.  They also serve porridge and other soups such as sinigang, lomi, and mami.  There are probably as many adobo recipes as there are islands in the Philippines.  That said, you can skip Magic-Wok’s adobo chicken because they use boneless chicken and no coconut milk.  Instead of the ubiquitous halo-halo, give gulaman, taho (if it’s available), and suman a try.  If you’re curious about the equally long Chinese menu, try beef chow fun, which is not greasy and has a slightly different flavor profile from the Cantonese version.  The use of cabbage (not Napa) is a nice surprise.

Established in 1989 in a strip mall not far from downtown Sunnyvale, this hole-in-the-wall was positioned to weather the pandemic since it did mostly takeout business from the start, having only three small tables inside.

Lucky Chow (Filipino cuisine) [] Food Insider (sisig) [] Food & Wine (silog) []

Nearby options:  Asia Village, Madurai Idli Kadai, Madurai Modern Cafe, Cam Hung Sandwich & Coffee

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Manresa Bread, Campbell + Los Altos + Los Gatos + Palo Alto | [♀]

Kamla Show [] The Mill at MB [] The CIA []

Manresa Bread is the bakery spin-off from Manresa, David Kinch’s celebrated restaurant.  Since Kinch has a reputation to uphold, the prepared food items are a cut above typical cafe/deli fare.  We’ve tried all three sandwiches, and the best is clearly the Cuban sandwich.  MB’s twist is the addition of a thin frico draped on top.  The Cuban and the turkey club are each substantial enough to serve two people.  The foundation of all the sandwiches and toasts is MB’s collection of excellent bread.  The pastry menu includes the trendy kouign-amann.  The cranberry ginger scone has an unexpected hint of bitterness you don’t find in versions that use crystallized ginger.  Note that MB closes early in the afternoon.  And you should get here by 11 am as some pastry items will sell out.

More on kouign-amann (pronounced kwen ah-mahn).  Unlike croissant, another flaky pastry made from laminated dough, kouign-amann looks a little different from bakery to bakery.  Sometimes it is spiral-shaped like American sticky bun; sometimes it’s not.  MB’s rendition (as of January 2022) falls in the latter category and is not too sweet.  We like it but don’t love it (yet).  We’ll have to sample other versions.

Nearby options in Campbell:  One Fish Raw Bar, Naschmarkt, Trattoria 360, Aqui, Opa!, Desi, A Bellagio, La Pizzeria, Water Tower Kitchen, Orchard Valley Coffee, Psycho Donuts, Snake & Butterfly, Campbell Creamery, AFKxp Tech & Game Center

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Maya’s Cafe, San Jose | [♀] [≡]

The Nikki Medoro Show []

Our Latin American culinary tour continues. Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Argentina (bakery), Brazil, Cuba, and finally we can check Honduras off the list.  Most of the Central American eateries in the Bay Area are Salvadoran, so a Honduran place is a rare find.  Located in the Cambrian area of San Jose, Maya’s Cafe has actually been around since 2008.  After we talked about La Penita recently, we wanted to recommend another restaurant for cocido (since La Penita is not open for dinner), and that’s how we came across Maya’s.  This little restaurant offers cocido and so much more.

Honduran cuisine has some Caribbean touches, so expect to see plenty of fried plantains and some yuca in your food.  The Honduran kitchen also likes to cook with coconut milk.  You must try the seafood soup with coconut milk (sopa de mariscos con leche de coco).  It’s loaded with clams/mussels, shrimp, fish, crab leg, and two unexpected ingredients:  yuca and fried sweet plantain.  You get more pieces of seafood than the seafood noodle soup at Santa Clara’s BN Chicken.  The cocido (sopa de res on this menu) is just as tasty as La Penita’s.  What’s different is they use meaty short ribs and yuca here.  Both of these soups come with a side of rice, uncustomary at Mexican restaurants.  As expected, they are large enough for two to share.

Another star of our meal is the bacon-wrapped shrimp (camarones Azteca).  The key is the shrimp is not overcooked.  We also love that it has a bit of heat from jalapeno.  This is how you do bacon-wrapped shrimp—memo to The Park Street Tavern in Alameda.  The rice that comes with this dish is better than the rice for the soups.

We also sampled two other Honduran specialties:  the fried chicken leg (pollo frito pierna) and San Pedro Sula-style boneless pork chops (chuleta Sampedrana).  They have a flavor profile unlike what we’re familiar with.  These dishes come with a lot of fried green plantain chips (tajadas).  We made Cuban-style fried sweet plantains before using super ripe plantains.  Tajadas are savory as unripe plantains are sliced thin and then fried (not twice-fried like tostones).  Surprisingly, they are light and don’t fill you up the same way French fries would if you ate the same amount by volume or weight.  They’re served with a tomato sauce that’s different from the red salsa for tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant.  You could toss your pasta with this sauce if you wanted to.

Baleada is sort of like Honduran quesadilla.  The super version with beans, cheese, eggs and avocado is quite good.  Maya’s pupusa is about the same as the Salvadoran version.  They were out of flan, so we tried the only other dessert.  Their rice pudding (arroz con leche) is one of the better versions in the Bay Area.  Their flour tortillas have more flavor than what you find at a typical Mexican place.  These tortillas seem to aspire to be like naan or roti.

Maya’s also offers Honduran-style enchiladas, tamales, and tacos.  The menu includes the usual Mexican fare such as chilaquiles, burritos, quesadillas, mole, chile relleno, flautas, fajitas, and tostadas.

Nearby options:  Nagoya Sushi, Pizza My Dear, Harbor Fish & Chips, Jane Ellen Bakery, Alams Taqueria, Ristorante da Maria, Khaosan Thai, Stevie’s Bar & Grill, ABVE the Basics, Honey Bakery & Cafe, International Food Bazaar

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Mexitamalli, Santa Clara | [♀]

This food truck is usually parked on McCormick Drive near Walgreens in Santa Clara Town Centre (other tenants include Target and Sprouts).  Besides more traditional tamale fillings, Mexitamalli also offers a few unusual choices.  Our favorite is the Veracruz-style ranchero tamale.  The mole version is chicken mole in a tamale format.  The chocolate tamale gets an assist from Nutella.  The tamales here are larger than average.  Note that Mexitamalli closes early in the afternoon on weekdays.  We’d like to see more food trucks on McCormick Drive next to Walgreens.  Since the Santa Clara city council has for years refused to recognize a stretch of El Camino Real for what it is—don’t tell the BTS ARMY—we doubt they will do right by food trucks.

If you like tamales, you must try Salvadoran-style versions elsewhere in the Bay Area.  They have a different texture and different fillings.  Supermarket tamales are fine, but nothing beats the freshly made kind.

Mexico [] Stereo Mexico []

Nearby options:  China Stix, MOD Pizza, Modo Hawaii, Burma Bistro, Copenhagen Crown Bakery

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Mio Vicino, Santa Clara | [≡]

Santa Clara Parade of Champions []

When Mio Vicino opened in Old Downtown Santa Clara in 1992, it immediately felt like the perfect neighborhood restaurant (the name does mean “my neighbor”).  At one point MV added locations in Campbell, San Jose, and Saratoga (all closed).  Now owned by one of the original employees, MV’s menu doesn’t appear to have changed much over the years.

Of the four pasta dishes we sampled, the star turns out to be the same one that impressed in the past.  The portabella fusilli may not be as delicate as raviolo with egg yolk inside or as intricate as porchetta or use unusual ingredients such as bottarga, but it is still one of the most delicious pasta dishes.  The roasted garlic Marsala sauce has just a hint of sweetness; the fusilli are faintly charred.  You have the option of adding some protein—totally unnecessary.

The penne Marsala also has a light and flavorful cream sauce.  However, the boneless chicken breast is overcooked, a problem that can be fixed by switching to boneless thigh.  We concede a lot of Americans grew up on chicken nuggets from fast-food places, but slow-food restaurants should not cater to their preferences.  Dark meat has more flavor than white and is virtually impossible to overcook.  We suspect not too many Bay Area restaurants make gnocchi as light as Albany’s Juanita & Maude; MV’s version is acceptable.  The sauce for Gorgonzola gnocchi could use more blue cheese flavor.  We do enjoy the accompanying radicchio and walnuts, which add crunch and a slight bitter note to the dish.

MV also serves pizzas and sandwiches.  There’s a separate banquet room that seats up to 35 people.  The South Bay is lucky to have MV and the younger Aldo’s Cafe around.  Now if only the city of Santa Clara will finally revitalize Old Downtown.  We wouldn’t want MV to end up like the defunct Wilson’s Jewel Bakery, a former neighbor in the same quaint mall.

90s Kids []

Nearby options:  Seniore’s Pizza, Home Kitchen, Jasmine, Rantei, Jiaren Cafe, Taplands, Sara’s Kitchen

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Modo Hawaii, Santa Clara

feed meimei []

Mochi is a dough made from cooked sticky rice.  Some of you might have tried mochi ice cream before or non-refrigerated mochi with a mildly sweet filling.  The latest mochi creation is a series of small donuts stuck together in a ring like two pairs of brass knuckles.  The mochi donuts themselves are not really sweet; all the flavor comes from the glaze in which they are dipped.  Modo Hawaii’s site gives you a pretty good idea what each one tastes like.  Our favorites are black sesame and matcha.  Pandan is a little muted; lilikoi (passion fruit) is the sweetest of all the flavors we sampled.  They also serve hojicha and matcha soy latte.

Because they are not as sweet as regular donuts, they make a nice treat for yourself or a wonderful gift for others.  After visiting someone in the ICU of a San Jose hospital, we brought the staff a dozen mochi donuts from Modo Hawaii.  ICU and other healthcare workers have been to hell and back the last two years.  Let them know you care.  #MochiDonutsForICU

Trails to Oishii Tokyo (mochi) [] Granny Mochi []

Nearby options:  China Stix, MOD Pizza, Mexitamalli, Burma Bistro, Copenhagen Crown Bakery

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Naschmarkt, Campbell + Palo Alto

CPBA []

Most large cities and metropolitan areas have at least one or two German restaurants—not surprising since there are at least 60 million German Americans (compare with more than 40 million Irish Americans).  Named after Vienna’s most popular market, Naschmarkt is something less common, an Austrian restaurant.  Austrian cuisine is similar to the food traditions in neighboring Bavaria.  The food at Naschmarkt is hearty but not heavy.  The flavor of the pork in jager schnitzel comes through loud the clear even though it’s topped with mushroom sauce.  If you like stuffed vegetables, try kraut rouladen or stuffed cabbage.  Seasonal crepe is light and not too sweet.  Downtown Campbell is one of the best restaurant spots in the South Bay.  Downtown Mountain View, Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue, downtown Los Gatos, and downtown Sunnyvale are also good choices.

Watch below as Leslie Sbrocco visits Vienna, Linz, and Durnstein.  Coffee culture, Sacher torte, Linzer torte, schnapps, and kasekrainer are all fine.  But the one item that really piqued our interest is bauern leberkase (farmer meatloaf), which tastes like “high-quality SPAM.”  Since it’s not out of a can, it should be better than SPAM.  No wonder Kommissar Rex loves leberkasesemmel/wurstsemmel so much.  Mahlzeit.

100 Days, Drinks, Dishes, and Destinations (Vienna) [] 100 Days, Drinks, Dishes, and Destinations (Danube) [] Vienna [] Vienna Calling []

Nearby options in Campbell:  One Fish Raw Bar, Trattoria 360, Aqui, Opa!, Desi, A Bellagio, La Pizzeria, Water Tower Kitchen, Manresa Bread, Orchard Valley Coffee, Psycho Donuts, Snake & Butterfly, Campbell Creamery, AFKxp Tech & Game Center

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One Fish Raw Bar, Campbell

CPBA []

Like San Francisco’s 20 Spot, One Fish Raw Bar didn’t have a full-scale kitchen when it opened in 2021 at the address that previously belonged to Spread, a deli/pub whose signature sandwiches are still available at San Jose’s Jtown Pizza.  When you work with limited equipment, it forces you to be more creative.  So chef/owner Trent Lidgey devised a menu that doesn’t require heavy-duty cooking:  small plates.

Despite the name of this restaurant, only half of the menu consists of raw seafood.  You can think of these dishes as sashimi.  This part of the menu changes depending on season and availability, so check the restaurant site for updates.  If you see it, try the refreshing halibut with habanero and pickled gooseberries.  The other half of the menu comprises hot plates and things like Belgian endive salad with candied pecans.  Some of these cooked items seem to have become staples and customer favorites.  The house chowder should please the different camps of chowder lovers.  The fried rice with Chinese sausage has an interesting presentation; the drizzle of aioli instantly recalls the look of American-made maki rolls.  The last time we came across agnolotti was at Oakland’s Belotti Bottega.  Try One Fish’s version if you’ve never had this pasta before.

The cornbread, baked in a mini loaf pan, is much sweeter than expected because it needs to pair with the savory topping of cultured cream and smoked trout roe.  As creative as this dessert-like cornbread dish is, we like the chocolate pudding with sesame crumble even better.  From the artistic logo to the light and seasonal menu and friendly staff, One Fish is a great addition to downtown Campbell.

CPBA (20 Spot) []

Nearby options:  Naschmarkt, Trattoria 360, Aqui, Opa!, Desi, A Bellagio, La Pizzeria, Water Tower Kitchen, Manresa Bread, Orchard Valley Coffee, Psycho Donuts, Snake & Butterfly, Campbell Creamery, AFKxp Tech & Game Center

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Paper Plane, San Jose

CPBA []

Paper Plane is a whiskey cocktail created for a Chicago bar in the late 2000s; the name is a reference to the Grammy-nominated song co-produced by Diplo.  The owners of this downtown San Jose bar decided to name it after that drink.  Bar food used to be an oxymoron of sorts.  This being the Bay Area, serving a few salty items just to get patrons to order more drinks just won’t cut it.  We’re all familiar with gastropub.  Well, you can think of Paper Plane as a gastrobar.  If they’ve given this much thought to the food menu, the drinks here must be phenomenal.  Some people might say the food is all over the map—there’s a little bit of Mexican, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.  We prefer to say the menu reflects the Bay Area’s culinary scene.

One bite of the crispy koji fried chicken wings and you’ll understand why they call it their signature dish.  They mean it when they say they are “aggressively seasoned.”  The coating is bursting with flavor, more than enough to compensate for the somewhat bland meat (perhaps it needs to be marinated/brined longer?).  They are as crunchy as the fried chicken at Vons Chicken.  Like kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, octopus leg is getting a lot of love from U.S. restaurants these days.  Paper Plane’s version may not be as good as Teleferic Barcelona, but it’ll do for now.

The biggest surprise are the roasted baby carrots.  Instead of baby-cut carrots you find at any supermarket, they serve real baby carrots with the tops still attached.  This is bar food gone upscale, people.  We must also give them credit for serving only vegetarian tacos.  They could’ve easily added a meat-based option.  It just goes to show this establishment likes to do things its way.  And that’s a very good thing.  The chef may be guilty of trying too hard (click on the FAQ tab above and look for “kitchen-sink”), but that’s better than having a kitchen that doesn’t give a damn.

We liked the fried chicken here so much we immediately went to a place in Oakland that marinades its chicken in koji.  This chicken karaage turned out to be pretty average.  So if you want fried chicken that’s way better than chicken karaage, go downtown as Petula Clark would say.  This is a bar, so you must show ID even if you only want to sample the food (dinner only).

Paper Planes [] Downtown []

Nearby options:  La Penita, 5 Spot Chivas Grill, Petiscos by Adega, Mezcal, Com Ga Nam An, Good Karma, La Victoria, Original Joe’s, Whispers Cafe, Pastelaria Adega, La Lune Sucree, Holy Cannoli

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Pastelaria Adega, San Jose

Just as Michelin-starred Manresa begets Manresa Bread, Michelin-starred Adega also has its own bakery.  Located not far from Petiscos, Adega’s second restaurant, this bakery focuses on Portuguese pastries.  In addition to the classic custard tart or pastel de nata (“cream pastry”), they offer other flavors such as lemon and passionfruit.  For something more substantial, you can’t go wrong with bolas de Berlim (“Berlin balls”), the Portuguese take on German donuts.  The plain (unfilled), egg cream, lemon, and hazelnut/chocolate are all good.  The rice muffin (bolo de arroz) is different from American muffins.  Savory items include shrimp turnover (rissol de camarao), linguica pocket (folhado), and steak sandwich (prego).  Note that Pastelaria Adega closes early in the afternoon.

CPBA (Adega) [] DW Food (Pasteis de Belem) [] Rockstar Eater []

Nearby options:  Paper Plane, La Penita, 5 Spot Chivas Grill, Petiscos by Adega, Mezcal, Com Ga Nam An, Good Karma, La Victoria, Original Joe’s, Whispers Cafe, La Lune Sucree, Holy Cannoli

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La Penita, San Jose | [♀]

Dreadful Talk Dom []

Named after La Penita de Jaltemba in Nayarit, Mexico, this restaurant has been around for 30-plus years.  What keeps customers coming back to this family-owned business is its signature beef and vegetable soup (large enough for two to share).  Cocido de res traces its roots to Europe where Spain, Portugal, and France offer something similar:  cocido, cozido, and pot-au-feu, respectively.  The beef may be the star of this dish here, but the cabbage is a great supporting player.  Note that some restaurants call this dish caldo de res or sopa de res.  If they run out of cocido, give pozole a try.  We made a green pozole at home before; La Penita prepared a red version (pozole rojo) on our recent visit.

Their other specialty is mole.  When we first sampled it years ago, we dismissed it because it didn’t have any chocolate flavor.  Well, maybe our mole palate has evolved.  We now appreciate that having strong chocolate flavor may be an act of pandering.  La Penita’s mole sauce has the right viscosity and deep flavor, and the boneless chicken breast is moist (though we always prefer dark meat).

Think of chilaquiles as nachos for breakfast.  La Penita’s rendition is slightly sweet and spicy.  We would like more cheese and eggs.  The shrimp with garlic (camarones al mojo de ajo) smells great but is otherwise overcooked.  You can skip the breaded cutlet (milanesa); the meat (beef?) has a jerky texture and lacks flavor.  We’ve had better milanesa elsewhere.

There is a parking lot behind this corner restaurant near a freeway overpass.  The owner of the lot should clean it up a little and repaint the lines.  This part of downtown has changed a lot since 2007; across Reed Street from La Penita is a swanky apartment complex, and something else is going up across First Street.  This place used to open for dinner; now it’s just breakfast and lunch.  They still own 5 Spot Chivas Grill just three blocks away (sorry, no cocido here).

Simply Mama Cooks (caldo de res) [] ArnieTex (caldo de res) [] Views on the Road (caldo de res) []

Nearby options:  5 Spot Chivas Grill, Petiscos by Adega, Mezcal, Com Ga Nam An, Good Karma, La Victoria, Original Joe’s, Whispers Cafe, Pastelaria Adega, La Lune Sucree, Holy Cannoli

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Petiscos by Adega, San Jose | [≡]

The good news is we’ve found a second reason to go downtown (the first being Paper Plane).  This is Michelin-starred Adega’s sister restaurant specializing in small bites.  Petiscos are essentially the Portuguese version of Spanish tapas or Basque pintxos.  We’ve always had at least one Portuguese restaurant in San Jose’s Little Portugal.  But outside of that neighborhood, Portuguese food is harder to find.

Drying and sometimes salting seafood is a traditional method of preservation around the world.  Today salt cod (bacalhau in Portuguese) is prized for culinary use more than out of necessity.  If you’ve never had bacalhau before, you should try it here in a potato casserole (bacalhau a bras) or as croquettes (the former is more strongly flavored than the latter).  And if you’ve only had sardines out of a can, grilled sardines will give you a whole new perspective.

Our favorite is the seafood rice (arroz de marisco), a risotto-like dish featuring various kinds of shellfish.  The blood sausage is also great—though probably not house-made.  Note that some dishes are more substantial than others.  The pork loin sandwich (bifana) with fries is one such example.  For dessert you can’t go wrong with Portuguese custard tart or pastel de nata (“cream pastry”).  Just make sure you order more than one.

CPBA (Adega) [] Rick Steves (Lisbon) []

Nearby options:  Paper Plane, La Penita, 5 Spot Chivas Grill, Mezcal, Com Ga Nam An, Good Karma, La Victoria, Original Joe’s, Whispers Cafe, Pastelaria Adega, La Lune Sucree, Holy Cannoli

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Sizzling Lunch, San Jose (2 locations) + Cupertino + Mountain View + Berkeley + Fremont

Sizzling Lunch (concept creation) [] JNgoc Adventures []

Pepper Lunch (there’s one in Milpitas) and the fast-growing Sizzling Lunch both cook their signature dishes on an iron plate that’s heated to 500 degrees.  They are examples of teppanyaki or cooking on an iron griddle.  Benihana introduced America to teppanyaki when it opened in 1964.

Try the garlic beef pepper rice and see how you like your food on a hot plate.  If you get your food to-go, you’ll miss out on the sizzling experience.  The liberal use of fried garlic as a garnish is like a Southeast Asian twist.  The garlic butter does make the whole dish a tad on the greasy side.  The pork katsu curry sauce and octopus balls (takoyaki) are comparable to what you’ll find at more traditional Japanese restaurants.  The highlights turn out to be the salt and pepper chicken wings and the cheese fries.  The chicken meat has flavor, and the coating is perfectly crispy.  Cheese fries and nachos are often drowning in a gloppy sauce.  Sizzling Lunch’s rendition is pleasantly restrained; the cheese and chili mayo is a nice blend of sweet, tangy, and spicy.  If you prefer something healthier, try the sweet potato fries.

When we visited the Sizzling Lunch in North San Jose on Memorial Day 2023, it was easily the busiest restaurant in that strip mall.  Busier than Dave’s Hot Chicken and Five Guys—that’s saying something.

Nearby options in North San Jose:  VN Grill, Five Guys, Noah’s Bagels, Krispy Krunchy Chicken, California Fish Grill, Ono Hawaiian BBQ, Pizza California, Chop Stop, California Sourdough Eatery, RedZone, MOD Pizza, Starbird Chicken, Rubio’s Coastal Grill, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Cauldron Ice Cream

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Stone Stew, San Jose (two locations)

MPlus (original location) [] Jinan Ali Explora (original location) []

Thanks to the Internet, we came across Stone Stew a year ago while looking at places of interest near Mitsuwa Marketplace.  As that classic ad would say, let your fingers do the walking.  We found the name intriguing...but more on the namesake Persian dish later.  This restaurant knows how to cook lamb right.  The lamb shank is tender and meaty, and they use just enough dill so it doesn’t overwhelm the pilaf with fava beans.  The lamb chops are nicely marinated and grilled.  There’s only one dish with barberries (think of them as Persian cranberries), and it’s a winner, especially if you like bone-in chicken thighs.

The wonderful thing about Bay Area dining is the constant surprises.  Abgoosht is a stew you don’t see on many Persian menus.  Just as paella takes its name from the pan used to cook the dish, abgoosht also goes by the name dizi, the stone crock the dish is traditionally served in.  In terms of flavor and ingredients, this stew is the most conventional of all the Persian stews we’ve ever tried.  They will not mash the solids unless you ask them to.  And, of course, if you get it to-go, you’ll need a mortar and pestle to do it yourself.  Having tasted the meat intact (Stone Stew uses beef), we must say it’d be a shame to mash it all up.  Note that there’s a similar dish in places such as Turkey and Armenia.

The original Stone Stew started on Saratoga Avenue in the mid-2010s.  When that strip mall was due to be redeveloped, the owner opened a second location in downtown San Jose in 2019.  Then another one opened later that year (not far from the original) and is now the new flagship Stone Stew.  Located between I-280 and Mitsuwa Marketplace, this address was previously Flavors of India and before that a Lyon’s (the last one in the Bay Area) and before that a Tony Roma’s (possibly the last one in the Bay Area).  Perhaps the nearby Aloft Hotel guests are adventurous enough to give Stone Stew a try.  If not, well, their loss.

Observe Foods (abgoosht) []

Nearby options in West Valley:  Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Fugetsu, Tomi Sushi, Kahoo Ramen, Curry Life, Takoyaki Yama-chan, Clover Bakery, Mochill Mochi Donut

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The Tamale Factory, San Jose | [♀]

KPIX [] LifeOfBD []

Formerly Lucy’s Tamale Factory, The Tamale Factory in Alum Rock is still family-run.  The current owner took over the business after her sister started it in 1995.  This hole-in-the-wall place makes chicken, pork, and cheese tamales as well as a couple of sweet varieties.  The cheese version includes half a jalapeno (with seeds) that gives it just enough heat and an herbaceous note.  The pineapple tamale has a subtle, clean sweet flavor; using a few discernible chunks of pineapple is a good call.  In Mexico, tamales are a big part of Dia de los Muertos and Christmas.

Of the four Mexican restaurant staples in the U.S.—burrito, enchilada, taco, and tamale—the one that’s remained close to its roots is the tamale.  Even if the burrito has some tenuous Mexican connection, it’s been Americanized and supersized.  It’s also been used in fusion creations such as kimchi burrito, for example.  And the first Thursday of April is National Burrito Day.  The taco is part of the American food lexicon (think of Taco Bell and Taco Tuesdays).  The hard-shell and puffy variations are American inventions.  A popular food truck is known for its sisig tacos and sisig burrito.  There’s a North Bay restaurant that makes enchiladas with an Indian twist.  The tamale has stayed true to its Mesoamerican origin.

Or maybe we just like anything cooked in a wrapper—be it corn husk, banana leaf, bamboo leaf, lotus leaf, grape leaf, parchment paper, or even salt.  These packages are steamed—or effectively steamed—which means whatever’s inside should be moist and tender.  And the leaves impart a hint of fragrance.

Feliz Navidad [] Are You With Me []

Nearby options:  Rica Panaderia, Carnitas El Rincon, Meli’s, Las Delicias, Tortas Ahogadas Jalisco, TeaZer Boba, Peters Bakery, Mary’s Paleteria

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Tamarine, Palo Alto | [♀] [≡] [@]

CPBA []

As Joseph Campbell would say, follow your bliss.  It’s a good thing former pharmacist Tammy Huynh changed career.  The name of her restaurant is a celebration of her name and Vietnam’s long coastline.  Art collectors will be pleased to know there’s art for sale inside the restaurant.

Meat lovers and people who are particular about the meat they consume will enjoy the shaking beef and hoisin lamb chops.  The bok choy that accompanies the beef dish could use more flavor.  This is the Bay Area, and we expect our vegetables to shine like everything else on the plate.  The glass noodles seem to have received an upgrade.  Regardless of what they’re served with—tofu before and crab now—the star remains the noodles.  We don’t know how a ginger and soy-garlic sauce could be so tasty.  The uncooked celery for the noodles is probably meant as garnish, but it’s still an odd choice (cooked celery root or okra might work better).

The green papaya salad with dried sesame beef is always a crowd-pleaser, especially if you like beef jerky.  A fried egg on rice seems like a winning combo (think loco moco, silog, and bibimbap), but the empress rice is missing something.  The sticky rice is too bland, and the sweet soy sauce is too one-dimensional.  Roti is not a typical Vietnamese dish, so it’s interesting Tamarine and San Leandro’s Top Hatters both serve it.  Tamarine’s version is a little too doughy, and the prosaic Penang curry sauce doesn’t help.

The Basque cheesecake is light and one of the best versions we’ve sampled.  We don’t order ice cream to-go for obvious reasons, but it sometimes comes with a dessert.  They packed the coconut gelato for the banana beignets in a bag filled with ice.  Now that’s going above and beyond the call of duty.  Like Albany’s Juanita & Maude, Tamarine is an extremely popular neighborhood spot—judging by the steady stream of customers on a Saturday night in the middle of winter.  Note that there’s a four-percent surcharge to “offset employer-mandated expenses” (for dine-in only?).

ATK (shaking beef) []

Nearby options:  Bevri, Ettan, Oren’s Hummus, Evvia Estiatorio, Taverna, Osteria, Bird Dog, Zola, Steam, Tai Pan, Jing Jing, Thaiphoon, Lemonade, Garden Fresh, Rami Nagi, Peninsula Fountain & Grill, Curry Pizza House, Coupa Cafe, Crepevine, Mademoiselle Colette, Tea Time

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Teleferic Barcelona, Palo Alto + Los Gatos + Walnut Creek

CPBA []

Teleferic Barcelona started as Rondes in 1992 in Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain.  During the 2010s, this Catalan restaurant went on an expansion spree:  Barcelona (2011), Walnut Creek (2015), and Palo Alto (2019).  There are now more Teleferic (“cable car”) locations in the United States than Spain after the opening of the Los Gatos branch in 2022.  Catalonia has its own language and cuisine.  It is to Spain what Quebec is to Canada.  Though we’ve never been to Spain, Teleferic’s menu seems more Spanish than Catalan.

Teleferic is one of these places where the paella comes in different sizes.  Choose any paella that strikes your fancy but there are two ingredients that really stand out.  The shrimp’s body tastes like it’s coated with unctuous shrimp roe, and the pork is less like Mexican pork carnitas and more like Cantonese- or Filipino-style roast pork.  While not a traditional tapas plate, the tuna tartar tacos (taquitos de atun) should win over people who avoid raw fish.  The use of fried wonton wrapper instead of tortilla gives these tacos a fun twist.  Speaking of authentic tapas...we’re still waiting to see pig’s ear (oreja de cerdo) on the menu.  Like Belmont’s Iberia, you get the whole potato frittata (Spanish tortilla) instead of just a slice.  Unlike Iberia, Teleferic does offer trendy veggies such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

The first time we visited Teleferic right before the Bay Area went into lockdown, the grilled octopus leg was the star of the meal because of the pimenton (Spanish paprika) potato puree.  This time the kitchen might have given us something else (romesco sauce?).  We suppose a small cup of romesco could be mistaken for a cup of potato puree.  You can skip the churros because the dough is way too thick.  The restaurant has recently added a small pintxo menu, but it’s for dine-in only for some reason.  When you visit Teleferic in Palo Alto, check out the last Town & Country Village in the Bay Area.

Rick Steves (Barcelona and Catalunya) [] Never Been to Spain []

Nearby options in Palo Alto:  Oren’s Hummus Express, LuLu’s, Wildseed, Kirk’s Steakburgers, Manresa Bread, Douce France, Kara’s Cupcakes, Cudos, Tin Pot Creamery

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Umi Hand Roll Bar, San Jose

Franco Perez []

The name of this counter-service place implies it specializes in temaki sushi, the cone-shaped sushi wrapped in nori.  That’s interesting because most sushi restaurants in the Bay Area don’t bother with this style of sushi.  If you love nori, you’ll love temaki sushi.  For the rest of us, it could be a bit of nori overload.  That said, two of the fillings are unusual:  Boston purple sea urchin (uni) and blue crab.  As the uni sold in the U.S. comes from the West Coast, Boston uni is uncommon.  If you take a bite of the blanched bay scallops and tobiko together, the spicy scallop hand roll is quite appealing.  When you order scallops elsewhere, they usually serve you the larger sea scallops, so here’s your chance to sample the smaller—and some say sweeter—bay scallops.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find grilled yellowtail collar (hamachi kama) at a humble place like this.  What you get may not be the biggest piece of fish collar out there, but it’s meaty enough for the price.  We wish there’s more truffle ponzu.  It’s not clear if this item is supposed to come with miso soup or not since there’s no official site.  Another dish that could use more sauce is the truffle garlic edamame.  The flavorful sauce is made with roasted garlic and truffle zest.

The other nice surprise is the dessert menu.  The green tea (matcha) cheesecake is light (but not too airy) and has just the right amount of matcha flavor.  The Japanese chestnut cake (Mont Blanc) is also tasty and light as most Japanese desserts are.  We’re fairly certain neither one is made in-house (the Mont Blanc comes in the Japanese brand’s original packaging).  And that’s okay because a restaurant doesn’t have to make everything from scratch.

In Japan, a sushi chef must train for at least 10 years.  Anything goes outside of Japan, which is either good or bad depending on your perspective.  The dragon roll, one of the maki sushi we ordered, looks a little messy, but if you come here with the right expectations, you’ll leave satisfied.

Tokyo Sushi Academy (hand roll sushi) [] MASA's Cooking ABC (temaki) [] Joshua Weissman (temaki) [] HidaMari Cooking (Mont Blanc) [] Emojoie (Mont Blanc) []

Nearby options:  Habana Cuba, Desi Express, Vietnoms, The Salad Planet, Petiscos by Adega, Original Joe’s San Jose, Nirvana Soul

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World Wrapps, Santa Clara + Campbell + Palo Alto + San Ramon + San Francisco + Corte Madera | [≡]

World Wrapps (paella) [] World Wrapps (saffron sauce) []

We don’t usually visit fast food chains—though there is one item on McDonald’s menu that we wouldn’t mind having once in a while (you’ll never guess which one).  And we rarely visit fast casual chains.  But if they were all like World Wrapps, then we would certainly visit more often.

Years ago the restaurant industry went through the food wrap trend inspired by burrito and gyro.  Now we’re seeing more food bowls a la donburi, bibimbap, and clay pot rice.  It makes sense that WW offers food in both wrap and bowl formats, especially since the owners claim to have popularized the wrap concept back in the day.

Wrap or bowl?  As much as we like burrito, we’ve never had it open-faced (with the tortilla underneath or without).  Somehow we don’t think we will like it as much.  So we prefer the traditional burrito presentation, but for everything else, we’d rather have it in a bowl.  When it comes to food bowls, size matters.  The bowl for adults here is about eight inches in diameter across the top and a little more than two inches tall as of March 2023 (they also have kid-sized bowls).

The secret menu is not so secret since it’s on the Web site for all to see.  These surf and turf options really give customers the best of both worlds.  The bulgogi beef with shrimp is essentially the bulgogi beef dish with sauteed shrimp added.  The chimichurri steak with salmon is basically the Argentina chimichurri dish with roasted salmon added.  The bulgogi beef has a nice kick thanks to gochujang.  They also do an admirable job with the accompanying tamago and sushi rice.  The chimichurri steak is served with brown rice and quinoa.  Our only quibble is that the beef in both cases could be more distinct.

You should also try the Barcelona paella, which is listed as a special item but deserves to be part of the permanent menu.  You can’t find paella at this price anywhere.  So is it the best paella we’ve ever had?  No, but the saffron sauce manages to give it a modicum of authenticity.  The sauteed shrimp, grilled chicken, and chicken sausage all play their parts respectably (especially the sausage).  We submit the secret to WW’s flavorful food is the way they season and cook each component separately and that the seafood is not overcooked.  Located in Mercado Santa Clara next to AMC Theatres near Mission College, WW adds a three-percent living wage surcharge.

Nearby options in Santa Clara:  Tomatina, The Roasted Crab, SmokeEaters Hot Wings, In-N-Out Burger, Paris Baguette, Krispy Kreme

 

Pen

 

Past Featured Restaurants

 


Peninsula (26)

Alhambra Irish House | Basque Cultural Center | Chef Reina | Corner Table | Diamond Head General Store | Diner Japonica | Emelina’s Peruvian | Fat Wong’s Kitchen | La Fonda de los Carnalitos | Iberia | Kabul Afghan Cuisine | Ling Nam | Lolita Artisanal Bakery | Lotus Falafel & Shawerma | Mazra | Palette Tea | Porridge & Things | Rosi’s Alfajores | Royal Feast | 7 Mile House | Social Eatery | Starbread Bakery | Tamari | Tselogs | Vesta | Wonderful

 

Alhambra Irish House, Redwood City | [@]

Come for the building, stay for the food.  It’s not often you find a restaurant inside a building that dates back to the 19th century.  Legend has it there was a connection between the old Alhambra Theater and Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) in 1896.  Yes, you’ll find his tombstone (pun intended) in Colma.  The former theatre survived a fire in 2001.  When they renovated downtown Redwood City in the 2000s, we’re glad they didn’t demolish this building.  We thought then any Bay Area municipality that wants to revitalize its downtown area could learn a thing or two from Redwood City.  It’s not too late for places such as Santa Clara, Milpitas...Oakland...San Francisco.

Wisconsin produces a ton of cheese curds, but they're hard to find in the Bay Area.  We’ve seen them occasionally at one Sprouts store.  Here you’ll find deep-fried cheese curds on the menu.  They’re like fried cheese sticks—but better.  These crispy and chewy bites don’t really need any sauce; Alhambra Irish House should consider serving house-made pickles instead.  What else can they do with cheese curds?  One word:  poutine.  Scotch eggs are a staple at English pubs in this country.  We wish more pubs and restaurants would make them.  For one thing, they look good on a plate.  AIH’s version is quite light, and the encased egg is indeed soft-boiled.  You get two per order, which seems like the right portion (maybe they give you more in the U.K.).

Sausage connoisseurs should try the sausage and colcannon.  The Irish pork and rusk (?) sausage doesn’t taste Italian, German, or Polish (and definitely nothing like Mexican or Spanish chorizo).  The casing is not too thick and has a pleasant snap.  The inside has a rather smooth texture like hot dog, which tastes better than it sounds.  The only way you can get blood sausage is by ordering the full Irish breakfast.

Colcannon is easy to make; it’s just mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage—it doesn’t get more Irish than that.  AIH tries to take it uptown by ditching the cabbage and using leeks and kale instead.  The idea sounds good on paper, but the kitchen cuts the leeks and kale so small that they just look like unattractive specks.  We also miss the crunch of the cabbage.  We’ve made Chris Koetke’s version before (see below).  Sometimes it’s hard to improve on something that’s close to perfect.  They could try adding a little bit of shredded horseradish to spice things up.

There’s a reason the fish and chips is one of the higher-priced items on the menu.  You get a giant piece of haddock and lots of fries.  The roasted beet salad is a looker.  The beet and parsnip are lightly roasted.  While you lose some concentrated flavor, they are nice and juicy.  We’d love to talk about the chicken curry, but there was a glitch with our order.  Click on the Detour tab above and read all about it.

Check AIH site for live music schedule (every Saturday from 3 to 5:30 as of February 2023).  Note that there’s a three-percent surcharge (for all customers or just takeout?).  Sister restaurant Stephens Green in Mountain View has a similar menu.

News 5 Cleveland (Chris Koetke’s colcannon) []

St. Patrick's Day playlist...
GIBTI [] Alone Again (Naturally) [] Wavelength [] Pump It Up []
Theme From Harry’s Game [] Dirty Old Town [] Bring Him Home []
A Good Heart [] There Is a Light That Never Goes Out [] Hope Road [] Boadicea []
One [] Dreams [] Precious Little [] Saltwater []
Troy (The Phoenix From the Flame) [] Chasing Cars [] Take Me to Church [] Too Much to Ask []
Make Me Feel Good [] Dream About U [] Twister []

Nearby options:  Zareen’s, Broadway Masala, Orenchi Ramen, Angelicas, Vesta, Venga Empanadas, Vino Santo, Sushirrito, Marufuku Ramen, Hella Mediterranean, Vons Chicken, The Sandwich Spot, Five Guys, Mademoiselle Colette, Tong Sui Desserts & Drinks, Philz Coffee

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Basque Cultural Center, South San Francisco | [≡] [@]

CPBA [] MichaelYTsau [] Hella Basque [] SFShibz []

A big ongi etorri to a slice of Basque culture in San Mateo County.  Since the Basque region straddles Spain and France, Basque cuisine could be more Spanish-leaning or more French-like.  The food at this Basque Cultural Center falls in the latter category.

You can’t go wrong with either of the two duck dishes on the menu.  The sauce for the classic duck a l’orange is not too sweet, and the duck is perfectly cooked.  Slow-cooked for hours, the duck confit is tender as expected.  The kitchen chose not to brown the skin before serving.  The mushroom sauce for the veal forestiere is not unlike the sauce for jagerschnitzel.  The best thing about the Basque-style pork chops is the tomato sauce.  For the more adventurous diner, go for the veal sweetbreads.  Keep in mind there are two types of sweetbreads:  thymus and pancreas.  You might prefer one to the other.  All the entrees come with soup of the day, salad, potatoes or rice, and vegetables.  The soup—squash and asparagus on two occasions—is more exciting than the salad.  The selection of vegetables varies as well; we got parsnip and Brussels sprouts on our second visit.

We were able to order the salmon from the dinner banquet menu as a regular entree (for a reduced price), which turns out to be as wonderful as the duck options.  If you’re into pate, consider BCC’s version of pork-based (?) country pate (pate de campagne).  (Interestingly, an excellent chicken liver truffle mousse is made by an East Bay company.  We saw it at Grocery Outlet...once.)  The gateau Basque has an almond (?) flavor and is quite light.  The Basque cheesecake tastes just like this recipe from Taste we tried before.  Note that some items are for dine-in only (cassoulet, escargot, and creme brulee, for example).  Established in 1982, BCC has its own spacious parking lot.  Yes, there’s a pelota court inside.  The banquet rooms seem busy with wedding and birthday celebrations.  We’ve no doubt BCC will be around for at least another 40 years.  Bay Area foodies know See’s Candies is headquartered in South City.

Rick Steves (Basque) [] Burt Wolf (Spanish Basque) []
Inaki Fernandez Guridi (Spanish Basque) [] vagabrothers (Spanish Basque) [] GoTraveler (San Sebastian with Anthony Bourdain) []
California’s Gold (Basque restaurant in Bakersfield) [] Road Trip (Basque restaurant in Bakersfield) [] California’s Gold (See’s Candies) []

Nearby options:  Hung To Seafood, The Night Market, See’s Candies

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Chef Reina, Brisbane | [♀] [≡]

CPBA (Nick’s on Grand) [] FREE99 Podcast []

And just like that we visited our second Brisbane restaurant in a month.  Reina Montenegro was the chef and co-owner of three Nick’s locations in Daly City, South San Francisco, and San Francisco.  After they closed in 2020, she went solo and opened her own takeout-only place in downtown Brisbane.  Chef Reina serves the same vegan Filipino food as Nick’s plus vegan dishes from other cuisines that she prepared when she worked in catering.  Examples include Japanese (chicken katsu, chicken katsu curry), Mexican (tacos, burrito), Peruvian (lomo saltado), Chinese (honey walnut shrimp), and Thai (red curry beef with basil).  The kitchen also serves loco moco, musubi, Philly cheesesteak, BLT, chicken sandwich, and Caesar salad.

The two standout Filipino dishes are the deep-fried pork belly (lechon kawali) and sweetened bacon silog (tosilog).  While the faux pork belly’s fat does not melt in the mouth like real pork belly—someone should apply for a patent if it did—the whole thing is an imaginative copy of crispy and chewy pork.  Among all the items we sampled, we really appreciate its subtle flavor.  This lechon kawali is also very grammable.  The tosilog comes with a lot of flavorful pieces of tocino.  This is our first taste of vegan egg—and it’s not bad.  Oddly enough, the only bland part of the dish is the garlic rice (sinangag).

The sisig is made with tofu and mushrooms.  You won’t miss the pork, but it is a tad on the salty side.  The saltiness is less pronounced if you eat it with plain rice.  We were a little surprised there’s no fake beef in the oxtail stew (kare-kare).  And we expected more purple yam flavor in the ube pancakes.  Of course, once you add the maple syrup, which the kitchen forgot to give us, it doesn’t matter much.  The bacon that comes with the pancakes is quite good.  You can get the same bacon if you order bacsilog or BLT.

The menu makes it clear the SPAM is made by OmniFoods, and the hamburger patty comes from Beyond Meat.  We suspect the shrimp in the honey walnut shrimp (great flavor) is an off-the-shelf product made from konjac.  The savory bacon is probably another ready-made product.  A quick Internet search reveals pork belly products such as Everbest’s Veg. Layer Meat and Verisoy’s Vegetarian Pork Belly Chunk.  If Montenegro created the pork belly herself—choosing the substitutes for the meat and fat (Lypid’s PhytoFat?) and fusing them together seamlessly—she should sell a frozen version in every supermarket.

Meat alternatives are fun to explore (for a while), but this restaurant should highlight more vegetables and legumes.  Note that there’s a four-percent charge for credit card use.  Brisbane may be a small town (population under 5,000), but an exit off U.S. 101 takes you right into downtown in just a few minutes.  So Brisbane is much easier to get to than, say, Daly City or Pacifica.

Charity Ball [] Fanny:  The Right to Rock [] Here Lies Love []

Nearby options:  Na Na’s Kitchen, Mama Mia Pizza, Julie’s Brisbane Liquor & Deli, Midtown Market, Ichika Sushi House, L & D Catering and Bistro, 7 Mile House, Le Gourmet, Brisbane Lunch Truck

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Corner Table, Redwood City | [≡]

After Old Port Lobster Shack shuttered in 2023, the owner of next-door Sushi Plus decided to open her second restaurant.  Corner Table is a cafe with a Korean twist, offering coffee/tea, boba drinks, wine/beer, pastries (from Woodside Bakery), salads, small bites, burgers/sandwiches, flatbreads, pasta, and Korean dishes.  The food is marketed as California fusion, so the kitchen will change things up here and there.

The four Korean dishes we sampled are as good as—if not better than—what some Korean restaurants have to offer.  The kimchi fried rice is the most interesting because the rice is topped with a layer of mozzarella and then pickled daikon radish (danmuji).  The rice itself is mixed with some instant noodle (Shin Ramyun) and served inside an omelet/crepe cup, visually attractive and different from typical preparations in another way:  rather mild kimchi flavor.  We found some bits of scorched rice, a pleasant surprise.  The same kimchi fried rice replaces the plain rice in CT’s version of beef (bulgogi) rice bowl (bibimbap).  We also appreciate the generous amount of pickled vegetables.  The ziti-shaped rice cakes (tteokbokki) have a stronger kick than kimchi fried rice and include fish cake (eomuk) and sausage.  The slightly spicy Korean fried chicken (three drumettes and two flats) is better than some Korean fried chicken places we visited and comes with a decidedly Western coleslaw (the optional sauce for the chicken costs extra).

The beef in the loco moco is still pink in the center and sits on top of vegetable fried rice with a demi-glace (compare with Diamond Head General Store in San Bruno).  Try the beet quinoa salad.  You know it’s a well-composed salad when it tastes good even without any dressing.  The said dressing has a clean lemon flavor—better than a lot of Italian dressings out there.  The fried calamari is on the greasy side, but you also get a few pieces of fried artichoke and fried jalapeno.  Remember the cronut fad?  Well, there’s also a croissant/waffle hybrid called croffle.  The strawberry croffle is lighter than expected (the whipped cream is probably from a can or tub).

This menu will likely evolve in the next few years, but for now we give the owner kudos for the eclectic offerings.

ATK (dolsot bibimbap) [] ATK (kimchi fried rice) [] ATK (Korean fried chicken wings) []

Nearby options:  Sushi Plus, Redwood Grill, Breakers Cafe, Woodside Roadhouse, Corner Yogurt, Colombo’s Delicatessen, Diner Japonica, Redwood City Barbeque, Karakade Thai Cuisine, Vivi’s Cafe, Karlita’s Taco Place, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Chuck’s Donuts

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Diamond Head General Store by Morning Wood, San Bruno

CPBA [] Nichi Bei Foundation []

Ono kine grinds (delicious food) ahead.  Some foodies follow the hottest restaurants; some follow celebrity chefs.  We follow the news, so here’s to Lahaina.  We’ve been to our share of Bay Area restaurants featuring the cuisine of Hawaii over the years, and Diamond Head General Store is the best in terms of quality and, well, quantity.  Of all the island chains and mom-and-pop places we visited, we’ve never come across such portion size.  You can make three to four servings out of most of the dishes here.  Maybe that’s how they roll in the Aloha State.  Since Hawaii is our most culturally diverse state—sorry, California—it’s the only one with a culinary melting pot that reflects all the different immigrant groups.

We would happily reorder the four plate lunches we sampled.  If you like garlic, you must try the fried mochiko chicken plate and the garlic shrimp.  Mochiko is sticky rice flour used in Japan and Hawaii.  DHGS’s mochiko chicken (boneless thigh) is like a cross between chicken karaage and chicken-fried steak.  It’s served on a bed of cabbage, which we would like more of.  There’s a Bay Area restaurant that makes its loco moco using meaty short ribs.  DHGS doesn’t go that far, but the beef is more meatloaf than hamburger patty and the gravy is a demi-glace.  The kalua pork and cabbage is one of the better renditions of kalua we’ve ever had.  Most of the plate lunches come with two scoops of rice and macaroni salad as expected.

DHGS also serves poke bowls, different types of fries, and a daily bento.  There are premade items such as onigiri, musubi, and inari.  The kimchi and SPAM onigiri is quite good; it tastes like kimchi fried rice with diced SPAM.  The crab inari makes for a quick two-bite snack.  The butter mochi cake is nice, but they didn’t make the guava chiffon cake when we visited.  And there’s shave ice with a ton of flavor options.

The couple who owns DHGS has connections to Hawaii.  This was the site of Morning Wood, a popular breakfast/brunch spot Monica and Chad Kaneshiro operated until it relocated to a bigger space in San Mateo.  So in 2021 (remember COVID?), they turned the San Bruno location into a place that resembles the type of independent store in Hawaii.  The counter-service restaurant/mini-market setup reminds us of Antipastos by DeRose (San Jose), Middle East Market (Berkeley), and Syma’s (Albany).  Monica grew up in the restaurant business.  Indeed, her mother operated Todam Tofu House, a Korean eatery specializing in tofu soup, for years at the same address until she retired in 2017.  And that’s when Todam Tofu House became Morning Wood.  Sadly, Morning Wood closed in 2023 after a year in San Mateo (that menu did include prime rib loco moco).

Did you know the people who live in Hawaii are called Hawaii residents?  That’s because the term Hawaiians is reserved for people who have indigenous roots.  When people talk about Hawaiian food, keep in mind they could be referring to native Hawaiian food or the cuisine of Hawaii.

Nearby options:  Gintei, Fat Wong’s Kitchen, Hing Lung, Pita Hub, Mid East Market, downtown San Bruno

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Diner Japonica, Redwood City

When we launched this page over Labor Day weekend in 2021, we were hoping to support restaurants like Diner Japonica.  The Satos are the couple running this mom-and-pop place in a small strip mall (enter the parking lot from Central Avenue).  He cooks and she works the front of the house.  They’ve been in business for about 10 years, taking over what was once a Peruvian restaurant.  After the pandemic, this little diner started accepting credit cards but remains takeout only (as of March 2022).  They advertise that they serve American and Japanese comfort food.  We don’t get the American part, but Japanese comfort food here refers to things like bento, omurice, chahan, curry rice, and donburi.

Omurice is an omelet with fried rice inside.  The chicken option is served with demi-glace on top.  Note that Malaysia has a similar dish called nasi goreng pattaya.  Chahan is Japanese-style fried rice.  The protein that comes with curry rice is either deep-fried (tonkatsu) or not (seafood).  House-made curry is much better than the packaged Japanese curry you see in stores.  Unagi lovers must try unadon because you get two large fillets of grilled eel with your donburi.  The seaweed salad is not overly salty.  Note that omurice may no longer be available.  Click on the Detour tab above for more on Japanese fusion food.

Before Nobu Matsuhisa became a household name in America—if you live with foodies, that is—there was Masataka Kobayashi, who was the chef of New York’s Le Plaisir until he opened Masa’s in San Francisco in 1983.  Though Masa’s was a French restaurant, Kobayashi was the most famous Japanese chef in America at the time.  Sushi restaurants really started to take off by the 1980s.  Since then, most Americans have grown up eating raw fish—assuming they live in metropolitan areas.

Japanology (yoshoku) []

Nearby options:  Karakade, Redwood City Barbeque

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Emelina’s Peruvian, San Carlos

When you look at a map of South America, the one country that has its share of restaurants in the Bay Area is Peru.  There may be more Peruvian restaurants here than Brazilian, Argentine, and Colombian combined.  Peruvian cuisine is an interesting mix of European, Asian, African, and Inca.  Potato is king in Peru, so you can expect to see some spud on your plate.  Seafood is popular, especially ceviche.

The two weekend specials are worth trying:  northern-style lamb shank with rice and duck with rice.  The best part of the latter is the rice flavored with a cilantro sauce that recalls cumin.  Make sure to specify whether you want the leg/thigh quarter or the breast/wing quarter.  Skip the breast option if you’re on a first date because it can get a little messy.  On the other hand, you and your date could pull on the big duck wishbone together.

Emelina’s chicken stew (aji de gallina) packs a nice mild heat from yellow chili or aji amarillo, which also lends the dish its distinctive yellow color.  Peruvian-style paella (arroz con mariscos) may lack the Spanish original’s depth of flavor but is a bit lighter (and lower priced).  Chaufa is the Peruvian take on Chinese fried rice.  It comes with fish, chicken, or just vegetables.  The fish option turns out to be lots of pieces of lightly breaded and fried fish.  Emelina’s green salsa is quite potent; it’s a good thing they serve it on the side.

We agree with Kevin Kelly:  People should always try to order something they’ve never ordered before.  On this menu, make that anticucho de corazon—the beef heart looks and tastes like a cross between skirt steak and liver.  Chicha morada is like the Peruvian version of hibiscus agua fresca.  The alfajores are made by Rosi’s of Daly City.  They have both small and large sizes.  Note that Emelina’s no longer has its own site.  The restaurant is located in a small strip mall with a one-way parking lot (enter from Holly Street).

50 Best Restaurants TV (Pia Leon) []

Nearby options:  Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Pazzo, CreoLa, Cuisinett Bistro & Market, Saffron Indian Bistro, Delizie, Mayan, King Chuan, Tamari, Jood, Pylos, Number5Kitchen, Pranzi, New Canton, The Crepe Shop, My Breakfast House, Gelataio

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Fat Wong’s Kitchen, San Bruno | [≡]

Now that America’s Test Kitchen has presented its recipe for rice porridge in 2023, we figure it’s time we talked about this humble and comforting dish.  Porridge is simply some kind of grain cooked in a liquid.  The main ingredient is usually corn, oats, barley, millet, wheat, sorghum, or rice.  So grits, polenta, oatmeal, and halim gandom are all examples of porridge.  In regions where rice is a staple, they make their porridge out of boiling rice.  People have been eating porridge for a long time; porridge is what Oliver Twist wanted more of ([]).

We’ve stated before one item in our last meal would be fesenjan, a Persian stew.  If we could expand the idea of the final meal on earth to include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, then we would definitely want rice porridge for breakfast—or midnight snack.  If you are a fan of dim sum, you’ve no doubt noticed a porridge section on a typical dim sum menu.  We’re not certain how porridge became a part of tea culture, which is how dim sum got started.  Porridge is good anytime, and as the opposite of rich/hearty food, it’s ideal when someone’s a bit under the weather or recovering from an upset stomach or hangover.  Yes, it’s chicken soup and menudo rolled into one.

Who makes the best porridge in the Bay Area?  The undisputed king of porridge was the original Hing Lung (1987-2012) on Broadway in San Francisco Chinatown.  It was featured in Rick Sebak’s 2010 documentary Breakfast Special and appeared in an episode of Check, Please! Bay Area in 2006.  There’s a discussion thread on-line regarding the saga of this Hing Lung.  The name means prosperity; you can see why it’s a popular business name (and impossible to trademark).  This is how former San Francisco Chronicle critic Patricia Unterman described the action at Hing Lung.

“Very Cantonese and unique to San Francisco, Hing Lung turns out thousands of bowls of white rice porridge....  It is kept hot in a gigantic sunken vat....  You can watch the porridge being ladled out into saucepans and brought to a rolling boil, at which time it is poured over finely shredded ingredients waiting in deep serving bowls, cooking them instantaneously....  [Porridge] is a restorative.  Hot, soothing to the stomach, easy to eat....”

A relative (son-in-law?) of the family that operated Hing Lung opened his Hing Lung in San Jose and then relocated to Fremont (as MW Chinese Gourmet)—it closed in 2022.  Meanwhile, the original Hing Lung was reborn as Hing Lung Cafe in South San Francisco in 2020 (note that there’s an unrelated Hing Lung in San Bruno).  Spoiler alert:  The porridge at Hing Lung Cafe (as of June 2021) is not as good as the original.  That’s why we recommend you come to Fat Wong’s Kitchen for Cantonese-style porridge for lunch or dinner.  We first visited FWK in January 2021 and returned recently to make sure the quality of its porridge hasn’t changed.  (A word about nomenclature:  We prefer the umbrella term porridge to congee, which we deem confusing because it sounds like kanji.)

The best porridge should have flavor and the right consistency.  It should be on the thick side like chowder and shouldn’t be so thin that you can drink it with a straw.  We find porridge from Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and northern China to be too thin for our liking (though it may be just as tasty).  Some like to dunk pieces of oblong Chinese cruller (youtiao) in their porridge as you would crackers/croutons in your chowder.  The classic Cantonese porridge comes with pulled pork and preserved egg.  The pork should be as flavorful as the best carnitas.  The alkaline preserved egg is a perfect complement to porridge.  You can judge a restaurant by its execution of this porridge the same way people judge a pizzeria by its Margherita pizza.

FWK’s menu has gone on a diet—down to about 120 items from 200 in 2021.  You still have about 10 porridge options to choose from.  Our favorites are the pork/preserved egg, pork liver, and marinated chicken.  The rice noodle rolls are much better than what you’ll find elsewhere.  The shrimp version comes with really big shrimp (at least size 16/20).  Their sweet soy sauce for these crepe-like rolls is pretty good as well.  You should also try the version with Chinese cruller inside; it comes with three different sauces (a little unexpected):  the standard sweet soy sauce, a peanut sauce, and one with hoisin sauce added (?).

The Hong Kong-style pan-fried noodles may not be the best we’ve ever had, but the crispy, wok-fried noodles are completely grease-free.  Bitter melon seems to be the only bitter greens on Chinese menus.  Most kitchens will try to tame the bitterness; some go too far and you end up with very little bitter flavor.  FWK hit the sweet spot (or should we say the bitter spot?).  Try the beef with bitter melon and black bean sauce.  Clay pot rice is no longer available, which is no big deal since this was not their strong suit anyway.

Established in 2003, this family-owned business finally accepts credit cards after 20 years.  The English name of this place may not be everyone’s cup of tea (it could refer to a person’s name and not his size).  Interestingly, its Chinese name will not offend anyone.  Using the phone’s camera, we figured it translates to something like “life of porridge.”  Check out the vintage photos of Guangdong/Canton and old ads hanging on the wall inside.  For the best Chiuchow-style porridge in the Bay Area, you’ll have to go to neighboring Millbrae.  And, yes, risotto is porridge.

ATK/Cook’s Country (Chinese rice porridge) [] Breakfast Special [] CPBA (Hing Lung) []

Nearby options:  Gintei, Z-One Kitchen, Mariscos El Pariente, Patio Filipino, Diamond Head General Store, Hing Lung, Pita Hub, Camino Corner, Mid East Market

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La Fonda de los Carnalitos, Redwood City | [@]

A fonda or fondita in Mexico is a small, mom-and-pop restaurant.  La Fonda is a nice complement to its sister restaurant in Hayward.  While Los Carnalitos is all about Chilanga eats, La Fonda is a little more “mainstream” for Nortenos, by which we mean people who live north of Mexico.  Both restaurants serve tacos, gorditas, choriqueso, and panuchos—but there the similarity ends.  You won’t find huitlacoche on the menu here.

La Fonda seems to specialize in mole dishes:  mole poblano, mole verde, mole encacahuatado, and enmoladas (enchiladas with mole).  The first three feature bone-in dark meat chicken as expected.  The poblano option has more than a hint of chocolate, which is how we like it.  If mole is not your thing—we don’t want to know you—they also offer empanadas, flautas, meatballs (albondigas), skirt steak (arrachera), and pozole.  La Fonda has a full bar as well.

Chocoflan is another item not found at Los Carnalitos.  We’ve made this hybrid dessert before using Cook’s Country’s recipe.  The chocolate cake batter is on top when the whole thing goes into the oven. But when it comes out, the flan portion ends up on top like magic.  La Fonda’s chocolate flan is a little different in that the chocolate part tastes like chocolate-flavored flan.  Flan on flan is still as good as flan on cake.

Since food is always the most important thing in our opinion, let’s talk about something we rarely address.  For a small restaurant in a strip mall, La Fonda’s decor is tastefully done.  Taking advantage of the unusually high ceiling, they installed a dramatic light fixture in the middle of the main dining room, the kind of thing you’d see at the defunct Farallon in San Francisco.  There’s also a surprising mezzanine with a few more tables.  Pat Kuleto would approve of the design of this place.

Rick Bayless (mole) []

Nearby options:  Homeskillet, Supreme Crab

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Iberia, Belmont

Established originally in Portola Valley in 1984—a second location in Menlo Park closed in 2015—this family-owned restaurant is still going strong after so many years.  As the name suggests, this place specializes in Spanish cuisineTapas and paellas are quite popular in the Bay Area (at last), but Iberia was very much ahead of the curve.

The sweet and savory bacon-wrapped dates are addictive, so be sure to order two per diner in your party.  The garlic-forward sauteed mushrooms come with a slice of garlic bread.  Your Italian grandmother would approve of the stuffed pasta with a light bechamel sauce.  Instead of a slice of potato frittata (tortilla de patatas) that they usually serve in Spain, Iberia gives you the whole thing.  The pistachio sponge cake with chocolate mousse is not too sweet.  And if you’ve never had English trifle before, give it a try.  Note that there’s an automatic 20-percent service charge for dine-in and 12-percent charge for takeout.

How is Iberia different from newer Spanish spots in the Bay Area?  Think of it as the OG.  You won’t find any trendy ingredients like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or kale.  This is not the kind of kitchen where they use tweezers to plate the food or serve anything deconstructed.

Rick Steves (Madrid) [] Rick Steves (Barcelona) [] Christine Cushing (paella) []

Nearby options:  Shalizaar, China Village, Whispers Cafe, Hongry Kong

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Kabul Afghan Cuisine, San Carlos | [≡]

CPBA []

The kid is alright.  That would be 14-year-old Itai from Season 14 (2019) of Check, Please! Bay Area.  On a whim, we decided to order exactly what Itai recommended.  Has this show ever been wrong before?  Oh, yes.  Two duds that come to mind are located in Oakland, coincidentally (one from Season 11 and one from Season 14).  Then there’s one in Hayward from Season 15 that was a disappointment considering the chef/baker’s background.

But we digress.  As we stated earlier, Afghan cuisine is similar to Persian food.  You can’t go wrong with kebabs here.  The lamb stew with peas in a tomato-based sauce (mater challow) is easy to love.  The pumpkin (kabocha?) dish (challow kaddo) is almost sweet enough to move to the desserts section.  If you like eggplant, challow badenjan has your name on it.  For real dessert, try fernea, a custard that tastes like rice pudding.

Opened since 1989, KAC operated a second location in Burlingame from 2009 to 2016.  Sadly, the owner of KAC, who was present when KQED visited around 2019, passed not long after that.  Fans of this restaurant should read what we have to say about its doppelganger in Sunnyvale (same name and everything).

Nearby options:  Pazzo, CreoLa, Cuisinett Bistro & Market, Tamari, Emelina's Peruvian, Pranzi, New Canton, The Crepe Shop, My Breakfast House

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Ling Nam, Daly City

Eric B’s Daily Vlogs (original location) [] Dino Rivera (original location) []

The Bay Area has no shortage of Filipino restaurants.  So what does Ling Nam have that the others don’t?  A supporting cast of eats.  Go next door to Starbread Bakery (see below) and get yourself a box of its signature bread.  As a Starbread franchisee since 2009, the family that runs LN has done such a good job promoting it that most people—including some journalists—mistakenly think they own the bakery chain.  And since 2023, you’ll find Krispy Krunchy Chicken at one end of LN’s dining room.  Click on the SV tab above for our thoughts on KKC.

Kudos to LN for leveraging Starbread and KKC to bolster its business and visibility.  Now let’s talk about its Filipino restaurant.  The menu has a little bit of everything like the Filipino menu at Sunnyvale’s Magic-Wok.  All we care about is that it offers S and S:  sisig and silog.  Not much of a looker, LN’s sisig may not include any pork cheeks or chicken liver but there’s a nice char on every piece of grilled pork—it’s sort of like eating jumbo pieces of bacon bits.  The garlic rice (sinangag) that comes with silog tastes properly garlicky.

Try the kare-kare even though it contains tendon and tripe in addition to oxtail; you can handle a few small pieces of tripe (it’s not the honeycomb variety).  The chicken porridge (arroz caldo) is another good dish.  You don’t see taho on the menu often, so try this soft tofu dessert with sago in a simple brown sugar syrup.  The sago’t gulaman is like Filipino bubble tea; we imagine its flavor is similar to taho (minus the tofu).

Established in 1990 as Ling Nam Noodle House about a mile away in South San Francisco, LN had to relocate when that strip mall was redeveloped (now a car service center).  LN closed in August 2020, and because of a little pandemic, the bakery didn’t reopen in Daly City until April 2021 and the restaurant about a year later.  Most of the Chinese dishes are gone except for a few buns and dumplings.  Beware that this part of Daly City can get cool and foggy while the rest of the Bay Area is nice and sunny.  Note that there’s a Ling Nam Express in Tracy (San Joaquin County).

ATK/Cook’s Country (Filipino food in Bay Area) []

Nearby options:  Krispy Krunchy Chicken, Tai Yuan Seafood, Pho Cafe, Starbread Bakery, New Horizons Bakery, Mr. Fong BBQ & Noodles, Classic Bowling Center, Chibog, Kamameshi House, Taste of Burma, Shine Thai Cuisine, Simple One Dessert, House of Silvanas

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Lolita Artisanal Bakery, San Mateo | [♀]

Mountain View’s Taqueria La Bamba (now Paper Platez as of 2022) was where we had our first taste of Latin American-style alfajores.  Oakland’s Wooden Table Baking Co. makes a good version that’s sold at Whole Foods Market and a few other places, including its own cafe.  The most extraordinary thing about Lolita’s version is how soft and tender (but not crumbly) they are.  Some flavors are sweeter than others.  Sweet potato and chocolate are not too sweet.  For something savory, you have about a dozen empanadas to choose from.  Ham & cheese and spinach are less salty than others.  Like Arsicault Bakery in San Francisco, the family of Lolita’s owner had been in the food business outside of the U.S. for decades.  Located near Macy’s at Hillsdale Shopping Center, Lolita now offers Argentine treats to the Bay Area.

Martha Stewart (alfajores) []

Nearby options:  Palette Tea Garden, The Refuge, Shake Shack, Philz Coffee, See’s Candies

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Lotus Falafel & Shawerma, San Bruno + Burlingame + Oakland | [≡]

A Ukrainian Living in Hawaii []

The reason we stated earlier Mazra is not the only game in town is because there’s Lotus Falafel & Shawerma (just half a mile away) and at least one other Middle Eastern eatery in San Bruno.  Lotus and Mazra may offer similar Levantine dishes, but they have different flavor profiles.

We first visited Lotus in April 2021, and the biggest change on the menu is the addition of lamb chops.  What took them so long?  We say that because lamb seems to be their specialty.  Indeed, you can order a whole or half roasted lamb—great for a party (they do catering in general).  Those rib chops are incredibly tender, and their juices make the rice pilaf underneath taste even better.  Americans should eat more lamb, so go for the lamb shank and mansaf, a popular Arab dish where the lamb is cooked in a sauce of dried yogurt.  If this is too much lamb for you, start with the lamb and beef shawarma.

The bone-in chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender; there’s also boneless thigh on the menu.  The arayes is flatbread stuffed with ground lamb and beef, a kind of hamburger similar to Persian beryan (available at San Jose’s Isfahan Kabob).  The falafel veggie is a sampler of falafel, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, mutabbal/baba ghanoush, and tabbouleh.  The rice pudding and knafeh were unavailable during our two visits, but we tried all the other desserts, and the one standout is the aish as-Saraya.

It’s unusual when an immigrant family brings their restaurant from the Old Country to America.  Lotus started in Garza in 1985.  After the Shawa family settled in California, they opened Lotus in Los Angeles in 2009, and after they moved to the Bay Area, they opened Lotus in Oakland (2014), San Bruno (2020), and Burlingame (2023).  The Oakland location has a more limited menu.  Note that there’s a three-percent charge for credit card use.  There’s a parking lot around the corner on Angus Avenue in downtown San Bruno.  They should display poster-sized photos of the original Lotus.  We’re surprised we couldn’t find any on-line photos of Chelsea Clinton when she visited Lotus in 1998 (she was only 18 then and before social media).  The next time she comes back to the Bay Area—she is a Stanford grad—she should stop by this restaurant.

This is a great time to talk about Lotus because we read that Mazra will close for a few months for remodeling after they open their second location in Redwood City in January 2024.

Nearby options in San Bruno:  Boiling Beijing, A One Kitchen, La Paloma, Aji-Ichi, K-Grill & Tofu House, Hana Hawaiian Barbeque, Big Joe’s 8, Grand Leader Market & Deli, Rico Pan Latin Pastries, Mazra, Rolling Pin Donuts

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Mazra, San Bruno | [≡]

CPBA [] Wilson Leung [] Jason Jose []

As soon as we read that Mazra was ranked No. 2 according to some national top 100 list that came out in February 2021, we had to go check it out.  Only two Bay Area restaurants made the cut, so the implication is clear.  Is it the best restaurant in the Bay Area?  Of course not.  Some people might even wonder if it’s the best Middle Eastern restaurant in lil’ San Bruno.  The owner of Mazra (“the farm”) used to operate a neighborhood grocery store at the same location, which might explain a bit of a Trader Joe’s vibe inside.  So what is Mazra then?  Well, this Jordanian/Palestinian place serves good food and the employees are friendly and helpful.

For people who don’t own a grill at home, you’ll appreciate the expert way Mazra handles salmon and lamb chops on the grill.  The garlic rotisserie chicken is better than the kind you find at supermarkets—though the butterflied and grilled chicken at Cardenas Markets is pretty darn good ($6 every Friday as of December 2021).  You do pay at least two to three times more for a whole roasted chicken here than those loss-leader specials at Smart & Final, Walmart, Safeway, and others.  Choosing a plate is probably a better deal than ordering a la carte.  A plate comes with a good amount of basmati rice, two small sides of your choice, and pita bread.  There are more parking spaces in the rear.

Junior’s Farm []

Nearby options:  downtown San Bruno, Rolling Pin Donuts

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Palette Tea, San Mateo + San Francisco | [≡]

CPBA []

The family behind Koi Palace (1996) continues its chain of Hong Kong-inspired restaurants with Dragon Beaux (2015) and Palette Tea House/Garden (2019/2020).  The seafood chow fun is notable for its preserved olive gravy.  You can taste the extra briny flavor in the squid ink and shrimp fried rice (sometimes the squid ink is just used for looks).  They also do something different with the dried shrimp in this dish.  Flowering cabbage (choy sum), pea sprouts, and green beans are all good veggie options.  Custard dumplings and osmanthus coconut gelee make for a great sweet ending.

Just as we wish breakfast places would serve breakfast all day, we want to have dim sum all day.  Well, you can at Palette.  You’ll find items here not available at other dim sum places.  Standouts include garlic herb crispy ribs (they use meaty beef short ribs), cuttlefish ikura dumplings, and crispy typhoon shrimp dumplings.

Spain is famous for its Iberian ham (jamon iberico); we’re not certain Iberian pork is as special.  Nevertheless, Palette uses the latter (not sure which part) for its barbecue pork (char siu).  It tastes like a well-done pork steak—more ribeye than typical char siu.  The taro puffs are much lighter than expected.  If you love durian, go for the durian puffs.  We’re surprised they don’t try to mask its distinctive aroma.  Yuzu walnut prawn puffs are a bust because the yuzu aioli fails to impress.

As a high-end Cantonese eatery, Palette uses top-quality ingredients.  Even the peas in a noodle dish don’t look like the frozen kind we see in stores (could they be fresh?).  Like Koi Palace, Palette’s takeout menu/brochure is a feast for the eyes.  Note that there’s an automatic 18-percent service charge for dine-in customers.

Nearby options in San Mateo:  The Refuge, Shake Shack, Lolita Artisanal Bakery, Philz Coffee, See’s Candies

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Porridge & Things, Millbrae | [≡]

Bestfood.today []

China is a big country, so it’s no surprise Cantonese is not the only cuisine from South China.  Thanks to past immigration pattern, Cantonese is the best-known culinary export from this region of China or China in general.  Now and then you might come across a Hakka, Fujian/Fukien, or Hainan restaurant.  Half of Porridge & Things’ menu focuses on Chaozhou/Chiuchow food, arguably the closest rival to Cantonese cuisine in South China.  People with Chiuchow roots make up the second-largest Chinese group in Vietnam; this explains why there are some hybrid Vietnamese-Chiuchow restaurants in the Bay Area.

Before we visited P&T in September 2020, we’d never heard of Chiuchow-style porridge.  It’s cooked in a clay pot (sawok), but the technique probably has more to do with the rather thin consistency than the equipment.  If this menu is anything to go by—we haven’t seen this type of porridge anywhere else in the Bay Area—the “tell” that we’re dealing with a different style is what’s served with it.  Unlike Cantonese porridge, seafood dominates here.  The four porridge options we sampled between 2020 and a recent visit all have good flavor.  When they say their porridge serves two, they mean it.  If you order the crab and prawn (shell-on) version, you’ll get the crab shell, which is great because you can enjoy the tomalley.  However, the flavor of the crab meat and shrimp is somewhat muted because of the porridge.  The scallops and oysters don’t lose as much flavor.  Ready for more porridge?  Go north and check out Fat Wong’s Kitchen in San Bruno.

One Chiuchow dish you should try is the pan-fried yellow croaker.  The whole fish is butterflied before frying, making it practically boneless.  If you’ve had nothing but Gorton’s frozen fish sticks all your life, you will appreciate something a bit fresher.  A Cantonese dish you don’t see too often is the steamed eggs with clams (shell-on).  The eggs are properly custardy and don’t taste eggy.  The fried Chinese sausage with cauliflower is also good.

The beef chow fun with satay sauce is a nice variation on a familiar dish.  Though a little on the greasy side, the addition of Chinese broccoli/kale (gai lan) is a welcome change.  Note that they use thinner than usual wide noodles for this dish.  We’ve only seen the golden (double egg) fried rice dish at one other restaurant in the Bay Area.  The version here includes egg whites, preserved vegetables, tobiko, and other finely diced ingredients.

The taro dessert is sort of like taro fries tossed with a lot of sugar.  It might work better with spun sugar or a modest dusting of powdered sugar.  The taro itself is perfectly fried, but we prefer the mildly sweet black sesame sticky rice dumplings.

Nearby options:  Wonderful, Sugandh, Gourmet Village, Noodles & Things, Dean’s Produce, El Camino Real (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to Broadway)

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Rosi’s Alfajores, Daly City

Among all the Peruvian places in the Bay Area, this one is probably the most informal.  It’s cash-only, so there’s that.  If you’re into alfajores, you should recognize Rosi’s brand from seeing it in some supermarkets and restaurants.  While stores only carry the smaller size alfajores (as far as we can tell), you’ll find the larger size here.  The smaller ones are a little too dry; the larger ones are much better.

Peruvian cuisine is an interesting mix of European, Asian, African, and Inca.  The best time to come to this modest counter-service cafeteria is on Saturdays, when they offer four hot dishes, including seco de carne (beef stew) and aji de gallina.  Though their version of this chicken stew lacks any spicy note, it’s still quite flavorful.  They also make Peruvian-style empanadas and tamales.  There’s anticucho for the more adventurous.

Wolters World [] El Condor Pasa []

Nearby options:  Tselogs, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, Spicy House, All Day Kitchens, The Bread Basket Bakery

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Royal Feast, Millbrae | [≡]

CPBA []

Part 1

When San Francisco Chronicle and Michelin Guide reviewed this Sichuan restaurant, they somehow overlooked the fact that it also serves Tanjia food.  Tanjia (or Tan Family) is essentially Beijing’s take on Cantonese cuisine, which for the longest time was synonymous with Chinese food in North America.  So while you can order spicy dishes like fish fillet in chili oil and sauteed chili pepper with preserved egg, you can also enjoy Cantonese-tasting dishes such as sauteed shrimp with egg and cabbage, winter melon with shrimp, and braised Napa cabbage with chestnut.

This is a joint venture between award-winning chef Zongyi Liu and a childhood friend.  It would be a shame if we lost a unique restaurant like Royal Feast.  Any Bay Area visitor staying near SFO should check out this one-of-a-kind place since Millbrae is next to the airport.  Note that the parking lot next to RF is for a different restaurant.

Part 2

After we visited this place three times earlier, we had to come back to see how it’s doing in 2023.  Well, we’re no longer in the midst of lockdown, and it appears the owners have spiffed up the inside.

The best dish this time turns out to be the fish fillet with garlic and eggplant clay pot.  It’s possibly another Tanjia item; we wish the restaurant would group all the Tanjia dishes together on the menu.  The Hunan-style braised pork belly is mild by Hunan standard, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your spice preference.  Though the classic Beijing soybean paste noodles (zhajiangmian) have good flavor, the whole thing is on the greasy side, something you wouldn’t expect from an award-winning chef.  The caramelized fried sweet potato is basically baked sweet potato with a slightly bitter caramel sauce.  This type of dessert would be more appropriate on a snowy winter night—not so much for Bay Area summer.

Part 3

We just had to come back one more time to try something from the royal/aristocratic cuisine section.  We selected the special two-way shrimp.  The price is fair because you get basically two shrimp dishes.  One is like their take on the ubiquitous honey walnut shrimp without the mayo and candied walnuts.  The sweet flavor is pleasant and not cloying.  The other tastes like deep-fried shrimp coated with salted duck egg.  They’re both served with puffy shrimp chips.  We also seized the opportunity to sample their version of the classic Sichuan dish ants climbing a tree—translated as “vermicelli with spicy minced pork” on the menu, a faux pas in our opinion (see below).  It has good flavor.

We love standards.  That VHS versus Beta thing dragged on longer than necessary.  Don’t get us started about USB and Thunderbolt.  We’re glad Apple will finally support a messaging standard by 2024 (took them long enough).

Yes, we study menus the way Swifties dissect the lyrics of their leader.  And one of our pet peeves is the inconsistent way non-English menus are translated.  Italian dishes such as ossobuco, cioppino, tiramisu, spaghetti alla puttanesca, cacio e pepe, penne all’arrabbiata, and pizza Margherita are familiar to most foodies that any restaurant would be foolish to leave the original names off the menu (Kensington’s Benchmark Pizzeria did just that).  Similarly, French dishes such as beef bourguignon, coq au vin, cassoulet, bouillabaisse, souffle, and creme brulee require no translation except maybe a brief description.

Non-Latin alphabetic languages are not that complicated.  We propose that if a dish has a name that’s well-known enough (presence of a Wikipedia page, for instance), then a literal or phonetic translation should suffice.  Think of Chinese dishes such as dandan noodles, har gow, shumai, xiaolongbao, mapo tofu, zhajiangmian, beggar’s chicken, ants climbing a tree, and Buddha jumps over the wall.  They each have a Wikipedia page.

RF’s menu includes “classic Beijing soybean paste noodles” when zhajiangmian would be really helpful (Koreans love this dish as well and call it jajangmyeon, which is itself a phonetic translation from Chinese to Korean).  And we imagine some RF diners skipped “steamed assorted meats in Chinese casserole clay pot” without knowing it is Buddha jumps over the wall.  We made that same mistake until we stumbled across a discussion on Hungry Onion.  Fix the English menu and more people might order some of these dishes on RF’s menu—at least they’ll be intrigued.  Now what’s the best translation for those Sichuan fish-flavored (yuxiang) dishes?

Articles on Tanjia cuisine:  chinadaily.com.cn, chinatours.com, chinaculture.org, chinauniquetour.com
Golden Flower in Macau

School of Wok (ants climbing a tree) [] CHINA LIVE (Buddha jumps over the wall) []

Nearby options:  Tasty Place, Yummy Szechuan, New Asian Pearl, Ben Tre, Millbrae Pancake House, Social Eatery, Broadway (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to El Camino Real)

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7 Mile House, Brisbane

CPBA [] KPIX | CBS News Bay Area [] San Francisco Public Library []

This is the first time we’ve ever visited a restaurant in Brisbane, a small town (population under 5,000) surrounded by much bigger neighbors:  San Francisco, Daly City, and South San Francisco.  The best thing about 7 Mile House is the history.  A mile house was a rest area for stagecoaches.  This sole-surviving mile house was constructed around 1858 as it was seven miles from San Francisco’s Portsmouth Square.  The current owner has done an excellent job promoting the history of 7 Mile House.  She published a book and you can see a list of previous owners on the restaurant site.  This is the kind of place the late Huell Howser should’ve visited.

The grilled basa fillet is better than the grilled salmon because the latter is not as moist.  For a sports bar and grill, the seafood linguini with shrimp, salmon, bay scallops, and white fish is good.  The Filipino dishes are a mixed bag.  The fish lumpia is something you don’t see often.  Two pieces tasted like fish; the third tasted like vegetable lumpia.  The Manila-style sisig is a little underwhelming even though they include bits of pork cheeks and chicken liver as they do in the Philippines.  We’d love to talk about the pork adobo with rice, but there was an issue with our order.  Click on the Detour tab above and read all about it.  The purple yam (ube) cheesecake with macapuno is kind of mushy; the ube tres leches cake is the dessert highlight.

Sunday brunch includes silog, loco moco, chilaquiles, and chicken and ube waffles.  This place is very dog-friendly (doggie menu and yappy hour).  If you’ve been to Daly City’s Cow Palace (The Beatles performed here twice), you’ve likely passed by this restaurant.  It’s easy to spot 7 Mile House because of its black and yellow awning.  Al fresco dining is quite nice because they’ve done a great job protecting the outside area from the elements.  Behind the restaurant is a PG&E power station, so there’s plenty of meterless street parking.

Nearby options:  Ichika Sushi House, L & D Catering and Bistro, Le Gourmet, Brisbane Lunch Truck, Chef Reina, Na Na’s Kitchen, Mama Mia Pizza, Julie’s Brisbane Liquor & Deli, Midtown Market

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Social Eatery, Millbrae | [≡]

NomWithJon []

Featuring...
: Noodleosophy | Noodleosophy Hand-Made []
: Rice Monster
: Grapeholic

Social Eatery is a mini-food hall that houses only three vendors inside.  Opened in 2022 at the site of a series of Japanese restaurants, the space seats about 90 guests.  You can still make out the Japanese gate (torii) at the front.  Unlike larger food halls, the vendors here share the same kitchen; the paper menus share the same form factor as well.  For dine-in you scan the QR code with your phone and place your order for anything from any of the three menus.  For takeout you use the electronic ordering system by the back near the rear parking lot.  Again, the software allows you to order from any of the three menus in one go (one bill).

Until the Japanese perfected the electric rice cooker, anyone anywhere cooking rice in a pot on a stove ran the risk of scorching the bottom.  Some people say this crusty rice is the best part of a dish—we wouldn’t go that far.  In Spain, they call it socarrat and it’s the part of paella we still have never seen/tasted.  Persian restaurants sometimes serve the crunchy rice separately as tahdig on the menu.  Japanese dishes such as kamameshi and ishiyaki also produce crispy rice.  The Swahili word for crusty rice is ukoko.

And that brings us to clay pot rice, a kind of Cantonese soul food that also yields burned rice on the bottom.  Watch the Bon Appetit video below and you’ll get a sense of how it’s cooked.  Like fried chicken and other “simple” recipes, it’s one of those dishes that’s hard to do well.  Unlike rice plates, you don’t just put some protein on top of cooked rice and call it a day.  The toppings and rice finish cooking together in a clay pot, which should impart a distinctive flavor you don’t get from metal pans.  The flavor of the toppings is supposed to permeate the rice, and the texture of the rice should be somewhere between steamed rice and fried rice.  It shouldn’t be tough and dry except for the crusty bottom, of course.

Outside of San Francisco, there was an excellent clay pot rice joint in Milpitas in the late 2000s.  Most people didn’t know about it because it actually marketed itself as a dessert place (go figure).  After a recent trip to the East Bay for this dish, we started searching on-line and came across this outlet on the Peninsula.  Rice Monster’s specialty is clay pot rice.  If you dine in, they will cook it in a modern clay pot (iron?); if you get it to-go, they will cook it in an aluminum foil pan instead.  The advantage of the latter is that the scorched rice will come off easily because of the non-stick foil.  The nine options pretty much cover all the usual toppings; the only things missing are minced beef, salted fish, and preserved duck.

Of the four variations we sampled, our favorite is the pork patty.  The minced pork has the best flavor, and the water chestnuts provide a contrasting crunch.  The use of taro in the chicken and pork ribs version makes it a bit different (the boneless chicken tastes better than the spareribs).  Abalone is an unusual ingredient.  This option is paired with more typical toppings such as Chinese cured pork (like bacon) and sausage.  We wish they’d do more with the unagi option, adding tobiko/ikura or something.  The foil pan measures six inches in diameter and two inches in height.  This may not seem that big, but they really pack on some of the toppings.  The menu includes a few herbal soups (ginseng and sea coconut, among others), reminiscent of Oakland’s Imperial Soup.  Note that some Vietnamese restaurants serve clay pot rice dishes called com tay cam.

Noodleosophy specializes in biangbiang noodles, the wide and hand-ripped noodles that originated in Xian, not to be confused with knife-cut noodles or hand-pulled noodles (lamian).  They also offer two alternatives:  ramen-style noodles and rice noodles.  The biangbiang noodles here have good flavor and pleasant chew (we tasted them before adding the broth).  The noodle/noodle soup menu consists of mostly beef options plus lamb, chicken, and pork.  The beef stew and tendon version is flavored with five-spice powder and full of tasty pieces of stew in a delicious broth.  We recently commented how quail eggs are underused.  Well, you’ll find them on the menu.  You can also try the dumplings with different fillings.  Note that Noodleosophy has a stand-alone location (longer menu) in San Mateo and another one inside a food hall in Cupertino.

We’re not into the whole bubble tea scene, so we can’t tell you if Grapeholic is a typical representative.  The menu comprises 35 mostly tea-based drinks with a few coffee options.  Only seven drinks come with tapioca pearls (boba); of course, it’s available as an add-on ingredient.  One thing we do love about bubble tea shops is the addition of cheese foam (think of it as savory whipped cream).  This ingredient takes the Cotton Candy grape slush to another level.  The matcha smash is one of the best matcha drinks we’ve ever had.  The green tea powder is not overpowering and the default sweet level is perfect.  This also happens to be one of only two non-caffeinated drinks.  We appreciate that for some drinks, you can specify no ice for takeout.  Beware the 21-oz. cup is tall and prone to tip over in transit.

Pro tip:  Social Eatery and its neighbors may have El Camino Real addresses, but there’s actually a little street (Irwin Place) that runs right in between them and ECR.  It’s really not that easy to turn on to Irwin from ECR, so you should just go straight to California Drive and enter the parking lot behind Social Eatery.

Bon Appetit (Hong Kong with Lucas Sin) []
ATK (biang biang mian) [] Munchies (hand-ripped noodles) []

Nearby options:  the rest of El Camino Real, Broadway (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to El Camino Real)

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Starbread Bakery, Daly City + Pacifica + Pleasant Hill + San Pablo + Union City + Fairfield + Vacaville + Vallejo

AliasMountaineer (Anaheim location) []

Two words:  senorita bread.  Suffice it to say most customers who stop by Starbread Bakery are here for this one item.  When they hand you the box of goodies, it’s probably still warm.  These rolls resemble pigs in a blanket without the hot dog.  If you’ve had Filipino pandesal before, think of senorita bread as slightly sweetened pandesal.  They cost 60 cents each as of September 2023.  You can buy them in increments of 10 between 10 and 60; the unit price is the same regardless of volume.  We’re not sure you can buy just one—but why would you?  Like the savory pandesal (dinner rolls), Starbread’s senorita bread is sort of understated because there’s a minimal amount of filling.  If you’re looking for some rich French pastry, this isn’t that.

Some locations offer more than one flavor of senorita bread.  Someone gave us a bunch that tasted less bread-like than the original flavor we bought (it could’ve been the cinnamon version).  For some reason, Starbread seems to be the only Filipino bakery in the Bay Area that makes senorita bread daily.  As far as we can tell, the Maranan family started selling senorita bread in Vallejo in 1986 or 1988.  By 2007, they changed the name of the bakery from Quinley’s to Starbread.  Today some locations are company-owned and some are franchisees like the one in Daly City we visited.

TT’s Kitchen (senorita bread) [] Jeanelleats (Spanish bread) [] Savor Easy (Spanish bread) []

Nearby options in Daly City:  Krispy Krunchy Chicken, Ling Nam, Tai Yuan Seafood, Pho Cafe, New Horizons Bakery, Mr. Fong BBQ & Noodles, Classic Bowling Center, Chibog, Kamameshi House, Taste of Burma, Shine Thai Cuisine, Simple One Dessert, House of Silvanas

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Tamari, San Carlos | [≡]

Since there’s only one Ukrainian restaurant in the Bay Area, the next best thing is to visit a Georgian place that’s perhaps a little closer to you.  It says something about the Bay Area that we have not one but two Georgian restaurants—not bad for a country about half the size of the state of Georgia.  The owner is from the Caucasus.  Yes, everyone ends up in California eventually.

What’s the biggest difference between Tamari and Palo Alto’s Bevri?  Let’s use a music analogy.  If Bevri is a song’s radio-friendly edit, then Tamari is the extended mix.  Tamari’s menu is more comprehensive.  It covers pretty much everything Bevri has to offer and then some.

The chicken with garlic cream sauce (chkmeruli) is totally approachable because the garlic flavor is not overpowering and the creamy bit comes from milk and not heavy cream.  The lamb stew (chakapuli) with tarragon and cherry plums may look like a green dish from a Persian or Indian kitchen but has a different flavor profile, a great choice for lamb-averse people because it tastes almost like pork shoulder.  Speaking of our porky friend...most kebab places around here don’t offer pork since they usually serve Middle Eastern food.  At Tamari you can have pork kebab in addition to lamb and chicken.

Instead of the more traditional trout, Tamari serves grilled branzino or European bass.  If you’re an eggplant lover, try eggplant rolls (badrijani), a cold appetizer with an unusual walnut pesto.  There’s also Georgian cheese plate and Georgian-style cornbread.  The wine-poached pear would be a wonderful way to end your meal.

Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions, so it makes sense that Tamari offers about 10 Georgian reds and whites by the glass.  You can also sample a Georgian dessert wine.  For something non-alcoholic, try a tarragon-flavored lemonade soda, which should go well with Georgian food as tarragon is used in many recipes.  You can pretend you’re drinking absinthe.

By now it should be abundantly clear the name of this restaurant has nothing to do with Japanese soy sauce.  It’s a reference to the owner’s daughter and grandmother as well as Tamar the Great, the queen who ruled Georgia in the Middle Ages.

TREAD the globe [] Davidsbeenhere []

Nearby options:  Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Pazzo, CreoLa, Cuisinett Bistro & Market, Saffron Indian Bistro, Delizie, Mayan, King Chuan, Emelina's Peruvian, Jood, Pylos, Number5Kitchen, Pranzi, New Canton, The Crepe Shop, My Breakfast House, Gelataio

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Tselogs, Daly City | [♀]

CPBA (Your Korean Dad) [] Jason Pierce [] Chad the Filipino [] adobonationTFC []

Silog and sisig are two popular dishes in the Philippines.  Tselogs offers about a dozen silog options, including sisig itself (sisilog or sisigsilog).  The way they prepare the chicken sisig practically transforms the chicken into crispy pork carnitas.  This is probably as close as it gets to the Filipino original that combines different parts of the pig with chicken liver and is grilled or broiled at the end for that browned goodness.  (Anyone who’s seen You Gotta Eat Here! knows diner kitchens often give meats and other proteins a final sear on the griddle after they come out of the oven/pot.)  This dry sisig is different from the kind that comes with sauce or gravy that you may encounter at other Filipino restaurants.  No wonder it’s one of Tselogs’ signature dishes.

Pork belly is very trendy now, but not every restaurant makes crispy pork belly because it’s hard to get the crispy skin right.  Chinese delis and Filipino places have been roasting slabs of pork belly or whole hog for a long time.  Tselogs’ lechon (lechonsilog) is quite good.  The pork fat melts in the mouth, and there’s plenty of meat.  Some pieces of skin are more chewy than crispy, but if you eat it right after it comes out of the kitchen, it might be a different story.  In any event, fans of chicharron and pork rind will love Filipino lechon.  Here’s how America’s Test Kitchen makes crispy pork belly (you can also watch the video below).

If you’ve never had Filipino-style fried noodles before, try pancit palabok.  The chicken porridge (arroz caldo) is assertively seasoned.  All the dessert pies have nice filling (not too sweet); the crust is a little bland though.  Established in 2008 in Daly City, Tselogs at one point opened two branches in San Francisco (all closed now).  The owner bought the building on Mission Street and moved one mile from the previous location in 2022, replacing what was once a series of Chinese/Japanese restaurants.

Lucky Chow (Filipino cuisine) [] Food Insider (sisig) [] Food & Wine (silog) []
ATK (crispy pork belly) []

Nearby options:  L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, Spicy House, Rosi’s Alfajores, All Day Kitchens, The Bread Basket Bakery

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Vesta, Redwood City | [≡]

CPBA []

Vesta’s slogan is “wood-fired pizza & small plates.”  Well, after seeing some of those small plates on a local TV show, we had to come check out this popular spot in downtown Redwood City.  Vesta may sound like an Italian motorcycle, but this place is actually named after a Roman goddess.  The owner knows the restaurant business since his parents opened Cafe Borrone in 1979.  Note that one block of Broadway, where Vesta is located, remains closed to traffic as of December 2022.

The pork meatballs with arugula and cheese is essentially a small salad with three good-sized meatballs.  The fact that these tasty and tender meatballs are not cooked in a sauce is quite remarkable.  The mushroom toast is for anyone who loves mushrooms and grilled bread.  And we appreciate the pulled pork and polenta for the interplay of sweet fried polenta, tangy coleslaw, and savory pork.  It also doesn’t hurt that this is one of the bigger small plates.

Before Vesta, we had never heard of pizza with honey on it.  It turns out that’s a thing in some parts of the country (Chicago, for instance).  Furthermore, drizzling spicy honey is another thing.  Yes, North Americans are very open-minded about pizza toppings.  We can report Vesta uses honey sparingly as an accent so that it doesn’t overwhelm the pie itself.  The sausage & honey pizza gets its heat not from hot honey but serrano pepper, which you can easily pick out if the heat is too much for you.  What we like about this pizza is the dollops of mascarpone.  We’re not crazy about the crust.  As much as we like thin-crust pizzas, Vesta’s version lacks structure and is rather bland—it’s as if gluten never developed (or the center was undercooked).  The bottom line is we’ve never encountered such a limp crust.

Desserts comprise of gelato and Mexican chocolate bread pudding.  The latter comes with delicious sauce and whipped cream, but the bread pudding itself has a sour flavor.  We do love the “All We Think About Is Food” stickers.

Rick Steves (Neapolitan pizza) []

Nearby options:  Zareen’s, Broadway Masala, Orenchi Ramen, Angelicas, Venga Empanadas, Vino Santo, Sushirrito, Alhambra Irish House, Marufuku Ramen, Hella Mediterranean, Vons Chicken, The Sandwich Spot, Five Guys, Mademoiselle Colette, Tong Sui Desserts & Drinks, Philz Coffee

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Wonderful, Millbrae | [≡]

eatlikeanapex [] KTVU []

There aren’t too many Hunan restaurants around here, so get it while you can.  The site presents a well-written, legible, and printer-friendly two-page menu—it’s the little things that mean so much.  Ants climbing a tree (gotta love these poetic names) is not too spicy and has good flavor.  Sweet potato noodles and cabbage (under Steamed Specials) is enough to feed a small family.  Located in what is ostensibly Millbrae’s two-lane restaurant row on Broadway, Wonderful does live up to its name.  There’s plenty of free parking everywhere.  Any Bay Area visitor staying near SFO should check out this place since Millbrae is next to the airport.

Wonderful! Wonderful! [] Wonderful Life []

Nearby options:  Sugandh, Porridge & Things, Gourmet Village, Noodles & Things, Dean’s Produce, El Camino Real (another restaurant cluster that runs parallel to Broadway)

 

RIP

 

Gone to the Big Food Court in the Sky

You don’t want to end up here....

Hardy’s Bavaria (c1991-2022), Sunnyvale | [♀]

November 2021

Like San Jose’s Jubba, Hardy’s Bavaria is also near a train station.  Established in the early 1990s, this German restaurant is now run by a couple of women:  the owner who works the front of the house and the original chef in the kitchen (they may be the only employees left).  If you fancy smoked meats and shank of any kind, try smoked ham shank.  Note that this shank still has some chew to it and the meat inside looks and tastes a little like corned beef.  Sour pot roast (sauerbraten) is Germany’s national dish.  Most of the entrees come with plain but comforting potato salad; only one comes with what Americans call German potato salad.  And you get a wonderful soup and bread with all the dinner entrees.  For vegetarians there’s a meatless goulash.

Located in Murphy Square near what was once Sunnyvale’s Town & Country Village, this is the sort of place that you want to be around for another 20 years.  Well, it survived one major redevelopment.  When we visited Hardy’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2021—the things we do for this page—we had a nice chat with a gentleman whose wife is Bavarian (thanks for the tip regarding Esther’s German Bakery).  Then 30 minutes later, we had an opportunity to tell two young ladies about Campbell’s Naschmarkt.  Food is the thing that unites all Bay Area foodies.

Gerhard “Hardy” Steiner (1944-2020) and his wife opened their Bavarian restaurant after he lost his job at Palo Alto’s Dinah’s Shack when it closed in 1989.  Dinah’s Shack was where William Shockley’s employees gathered to celebrate his winning the Nobel Prize in 1956 (more Silicon Valley history).  When they retired in 2002, they sold Hardy’s to a waitress who’d worked here.  Steiner was born in Bavaria; the new owner in Lower Saxony.  Who knew Bavaria and Texas have so much in common?  Watch the video below and you will be convinced.  By the same token, other countries have their own Texas/Bavaria.  Think of separatist regions such as Quebec and Catalonia, among others.

Kelly Does Her Thing []

Nearby options:  House of Kabobs, Dishdash, Meyhouse, King Wah, Kabul Afghan Cuisine, Sajj Mediterranean, Sweet Sicily, Rokko, Tao Tao, PhoEver, Vino Vino, Daily Donuts, Chocolatier Desiree, Gelateria Bella Roma, ATM Tea Bar, Philz Coffee

 

Detour

 

Side Trips and Sidebars

 


food halls | #MochiDonutsForICU | takeout problem | chicken Kyiv | sham 100 | Chinese palaces | Japanese fusion | India.Foodie | Oakland cemetery | paper menu | from the vault

 

More than just another food court....

 


Food Halls

After visiting Castro Valley Marketplace, a relatively new food hall that seems to have the perfect design and tenant mix, we began to think about other options in the Bay Area.  Well, you can start with Alameda since Alameda Marketplace is a sister food hall.  Emeryville's The Public Market has been around since the 1980s.  Oakland has Rockridge Market Hall and the reborn Swan's Market.  There's the larger Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco.  Check out Los Altos' own State Street Market and two in downtown San Jose:  San Pedro Square Market and SoFA Market.  While you're in Wine Country, don't forget Napa's Oxbow Public Market.  Support the women-led La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in San Francisco's Tenderloin.  Then there's the humble International Food Court in San Francisco's Financial District.

 

Let them know you care....

 


#MochiDonutsForICU

ICU and other healthcare workers have been to hell and back since 2020.  Let them know you care by giving them a dozen mochi donuts from Modo Hawaii and other places.  Food safety experts may disagree, but they seem less perishable than, say, pizzas and chicken wings—though whatever you bring them will be garbled up fast.  How about a refreshing pitcher of horchata or other aqua fresca when it’s hot outside?  A dozen cannoli...kouign-amann...whatever you prefer.

 

Timing is everything...when to charge the customer makes all the difference.  Bay Area restaurants need to get their act together.

 


Take out the Takeout Problem

[Note:  After we discussed the dim sum issue at an Alameda restaurant in 2021, we went for 14 months without incident.  Then in a span of two weeks, we experienced issues in San Leandro, Redwood City, and Santa Clara.  Three months later, the same thing happened in Brisbane.  We should mention we always place our order in person to minimize any potential problem.  See Updates below.]

When you order food to-go, the potential is always there that you may get charged for item(s) not delivered.  That’s because restaurants tend to charge the customer before the kitchen even gets the order.  This is more of an issue for things like dim sum because some items are sold out as time passes during lunch.  The best solution is to charge the customer after the food comes out of the kitchen (same as dine-in).  Otherwise, an employee needs to reconcile what was charged with what the kitchen actually made.  So here’s our pro tip for customers:  Before you leave the restaurant, take a quick scan of the kitchen’s copy of the order and look for anything specially marked or left unchecked.  If not, you could be in for a surprise later.  If you order via a food-delivery service, check your order before the delivery person leaves (not sure if this will do much good).

Updates

After we placed our order at this San Leandro restaurant, we were notified the mushroom pate was not available to-go, so we replaced it with the rolled pork belly ($35 in 2023).  We realized the pork belly was missing when we got home.  Counting boxes wouldn’t have helped in this case because they put one dish into two boxes.  They didn’t give us the kitchen’s copy of our order, so we’ll never know if they got the pork belly substitution.  We were all set to partially blame the ordering error on the fact that three different people handled our order—the bartender took our order, someone else informed us of the pate issue, and a third person handed our order to us—until we remembered the previous week when only one person was involved with our order.

Shortly after we placed our order at this Redwood City restaurant, the person who took our order returned and asked if we wanted rice or fries with the chicken curry.  She was the same person who later handed the order to us.  When we got home, we realized the chicken curry was missing.  Unlike the San Leandro place, we were not charged for the missing dish.  So perhaps something went wrong with the electronic ordering system—either software bug or user error.  Our advice is if you had to make some kind of change/update to your order—however minor—that’s the cue to pay close attention to what comes out of the kitchen.

And then we have no explanation for what could’ve gone wrong at this Santa Clara restaurant a week after our San Leandro experience.  There was no substitution or clarification with our order.  Yet for some reason, the salmon plate we ordered was missing when we got home.  With no kitchen copy of our order, we can’t tell if they got the right order.  But we do know someone—either the person who took our order or the kitchen—packed four small salads for the four plates we ordered.  Unlike the San Leandro restaurant, we were successful in resolving the billing problem at this Santa Clara place.

It’s a little unfortunate that we experienced the same problem at our first-ever Brisbane restaurant.  We had to wait a little longer than usual to get our food because this place was quite busy on a Saturday before 5 pm.  It didn’t help that after we placed our order, a large party with a reservation showed up.  We were really looking forward to try the pork adobo with rice.

We just want to talk about food and not go over this takeout problem ad nauseam.  After lockdown, you’d think every restaurant must have had plenty of experience with to-go orders.  Do we have to open and inspect every box like a customs officer?  We’re starting to appreciate see-through containers.  We’re not being facetious because a few years ago, a San Jose restaurant gave us the wrong dish.

 

A classic dish is back in the news....

 


A Timely Dish

As current events unfolded in 2022, we started to think about a dish that was popular here and in Europe through the 1980s.  Of course, we’re referring to chicken Kiev.  Whether you decide to make this dish yourself (old and new Sunset recipe), be sure to use the preferred romanization and pronunciation.  Just as Bombay became Mumbai and Ayers Rock is now Uluru, Kiev really should be Kyiv.  Journalists and others are finally coming around.  U.K. consumers called on food companies to rename their products.  Kudos to The Refuge for its Kyiv chicken liver.

Somewhere Street (Kyiv 2019/2022) [] Coming Home []

 

Everyone loves a ranked list, but when it’s kind of meaningless....

 


Dubious Top 100 List

A certain social media site has been publishing a top 100 list of “best places to eat” since 2014.  We first heard about it when USA Today covered the 2021 survey.  It turns out the 2021 list is nothing more than a popularity contest and perhaps an outlier.  You see, visitors to this site were asked to vote for their favorite restaurants.  For what it’s worth, two Bay Area places made the top 100—San Bruno’s Mazra (No. 2) and Berkeley’s Creekwood (No. 36)—neither one we’d heard of before.

Sensing this site probably had to change its methodology because of the 2020 pandemic, we looked up its 2020 survey, which was published in January 2020.  The 2020 list was based on diner reviews on the site in the previous year.  As you can imagine, this tends to favor new or relatively new restaurants.  The Bay Area places that made the 2020 list were Fairfield’s Pikul Thai Bistro (No. 10), San Francisco’s Shish Ke Baba (No. 12), Santa Clara’s Achilles (No. 37). Albany’s 310 Eatery (No. 55), Burlingame’s Tuna Kahuna (No. 67), Campbell’s Trattoria 360 (No. 70), and Oakland’s Porque No? Tacos (No. 71).

This site uses a five-star rating system, and we’ve often wondered how you rank one business over another.  For instance, should a restaurant that receives a five-star average from 100 reviews be ranked higher than one that receives a four-star average from 1,000 reviews?  We’re not surprised this site doesn’t bother to go into such pesky details.  Transparency is not its strong suit.  After all, this company has been the target of numerous lawsuits regarding its business practice.  So instead of calling it the top 100 “best places to eat,” this site should call it the top 100 “mostly new restaurants based on a methodology whose details we prefer to keep to ourselves.”  Title too long?  Well, it’d be honest for a change.

For the 2022 survey, visitors were once again asked to send in nominations.  True to its erratic form, no Bay Area restaurant made the cut this time.  We suspect this company will revert to the old methodology starting in 2023.

While this national survey is a good marketing move, we’ll stick with more meaningful lists from Michelin Guide and San Francisco Chronicle.  What this site should do is publish regional lists for major restaurant markets like New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and, of course, the Bay Area.  We find it amusing when its co-founder/CEO appeared on 60 Minutes in 2018 complaining about Google using its search engine to push its own reviews.  Talk about one shady business trolling another shady business.  Pot, meet kettle.

 

Where have all the great food palaces gone?

 


Bygone Golden Age?

When Hong Kong-inspired restaurants such as Hong Kong Flower Lounge and Koi Palace opened/expanded in the 1990s, Bay Area foodies rejoiced because these high-end Cantonese places didn’t cater to proverbial Peoria.  Sure, the Bay Area has seen some Hong Kong-style places since the 1970s, but nothing like these cavernous and opulent—some might say gaudy—restaurants.  We had a whole steamed fish once at Mayflower that showcased the simplicity and finesse of Cantonese cuisine.  And then lower-priced Daimo and Cooking Papa followed.  Daimo expanded and then had to scale back.  Cooking Papa changed ownership and quality suffered.  Koi Palace and Mayflower are still around, but most diners would agree their best days are behind them.

 

East meets West in Japan....

 


Japanese Fusion

Japan has a knack for taking something from the West and giving it an interesting spin.  The electronics and auto industries know this all too well.  On the culinary front, yoshoku is food inspired by Western cooking.  Examples include tonkatsu (schnitzel), tempura (fritter), korokke (croquette), hamburg (Hamburg steak/Salisbury steak), omurice (omelet and fried rice), sando (sandwich), potesara (potato salad), Kewpie mayonnaise, castella (sponge cake), Mont Blanc, pafe (parfait), and hanaboru (Portuguese biscoitos).  Neighboring China’s influence is reflected in ramen, gyoza (dumplings), chahan (fried rice), hatoshi (shrimp toast), chimaki/akumaki (glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves), and mochi.  And from India (via Britain) we get Japanese curry.

Japanology (yoshoku) []

 

Indian restaurants have come a long way....

 


India.Foodie

Years ago there was just one type of Indian restaurant, whose tried-and-true menu featured samosa, saag paneer, tandoori chicken, butter chicken, chicken tikka masala (a British thing), pork vindaloo, biryani, naan, and mango lassi.  How times have changed.  You know a cuisine has turned mainstream when its restaurants range from high-end places to humble counter-service spots and everything in between.  We now have restaurants that specialize in one thing (be it chaat, dosa, pav bhaji, kati roll, biryani, idli, or breakfast, for instance) or focus on regionalism (Hyderabad, Chettinad, and other parts of India).  There are places where chiliheads can really get their kicks (we’re looking at you, Biryaniz).  Fusion adds even more variety as you can find plenty of Indian-flavored pizzas and some Indo-Chinese dishes.  Oh, if you want something to drink other than mango lassi, sapota juice is even better.  There are also some Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants as well.

It finally dawned on us why Indian cuisine is so appealing to a certain palate.  For people who like sauce or gravy, Indian food is perfect because every other dish comes with plenty of liquid gold.

 

While you visit Belotti Bottega, Pomella, Fentons Creamery, and other businesses on Piedmont Avenue, take a little side trip.

 


The Quiet Side of Oakland

At the end of Piedmont Avenue is Mountain View Cemetery designed in 1863 by Frederick Law Olmsted, arguably America’s most celebrated landscape architect.  He is best known as the designer (together with Calvert Vaux) of New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park.  Cemeteries are the precursor to public parks, so it makes perfect sense that Olmsted designed Mountain View Cemetery while he lived in California.  Some of the noted graves include Stephen Bechtel, Warren Bechtel, Charles Crocker, March Fong Eu, James A. Folger, Domingo Ghirardelli, Thomas Hill, Henry J. Kaiser, Fred Korematsu, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and T.A. Soong.  Guided tours are no longer available, but the grounds are open to recreational visits Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Originally designed in 1909 and redesigned in 1928 by the aforementioned Morgan, Chapel of the Chimes is a designated Oakland landmark located in front of Mountain View Cemetery.  Notable residents include Dick Bartell, Al Davis, Bones Ely, and John Lee Hooker.  Guided tours are available by appointment.

Mountain View Cemetery [] Chapel of the Chimes []

 

What restaurants do or don’t do that we find especially annoying....

 


Pet Peeve

You may be surprised to know it’s not the takeout issue we mentioned above.  Or food poisoning (it’s happened more times than we care to remember).  Or poor quality of pork (all fat and no meat) and other ingredients (please remove the strings from celery).  Or customer service, a problem for all industries that we addressed in an earlier article.  No, our No. 1 pet peeve is one that can be remedied easily:  the demise of the takeout menu.

We prefer to have something we can hold in our hands and write notes on.  We don’t mind printing the menu from a restaurant site.  But more often than not, these sites are not printer-friendly.  We hate it when it takes up 10 pages for what should be a two-page menu.  One solution is to put the menu in PDF.  And test it first because we’ve printed PDF-style menus and ended up with text truncated.  Another thing we like about a paper menu is for posterity.  After a restaurant is gone, all we have left is the menu and maybe a business card.  Internet Archive should have a copy of the defunct restaurant’s site.

In case you didn’t know, our site includes a built-in print function.  Click on the options icon (gear symbol) below the title of each page and select Print and then click on the printer icon when the printer-friendly window comes up.

 

What we wrote regarding Gulzaar Halaal in 2009 that was not published until now....

 


From the Vault

About Durban:  Located on the east coast of South Africa, Durban is that country’s third-most populous city.  The history of Durban is like the history of the rest of South Africa:  the Boers (Dutch farmers) and the British fought each other, and they fought the Africans.  The British colonized this part of Zulu country in 1824 and formally annexed it about 20 years later.

Indian diaspora:  Between 1860 and 1911, over 150,000 indentured laborers from Madras (now Chennai) and Calcutta (now Kolkata) came to work in the sugar cane industry.  More than half stayed at the end of their five-year contracts.  Other Indians came to South Africa as merchants and business people.  Durban claims the largest Asian community in South Africa today.  Hindus outnumber Muslims about four to one.

Durban is South Africa’s most culturally diverse city and is a popular tourist destination after the more cosmopolitan Cape Town.  Any visit to Cape Town would not be complete without a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.  Similarly, any Durban visitor must check out the Gandhi (1869-1948) exhibit at KwaZulu-Natal Museum (no longer available?).  It was here in 1893 when the young attorney had an epiphany.  Repeatedly arrested, Gandhi would spend the next 20 years fighting South Africa’s anti-Indian discrimination before returning to India.

 

Deals

 

Events and Teamwork

Check this space for special promotions from restaurants regarding Mother’s Day and other occasions.  And look for career opportunities as well.  Want to learn how to make fresh pasta that would make a nonna proud?  Or create delectable desserts that would make anyone swoon?  If you are a people person, we need you in the front of the house.  They call it the hospitality industry for a reason.

 


Reality Check

Before anyone decides to open or work in a restaurant, read this article first.

Best credit card readers
Best POS systems
Best e-commerce platforms

Our two cents:  Square is the one that allows the customer to send feedback to the merchant (assuming your credit card company has your email address on file).

 

FAQ

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why no ratings for these restaurants?

If we set out to publish the usual Bay Area restaurant reviews, we would definitely include a letter grade for each (we prefer this to the star or point system) and provide more details.  But our mission is to help small businesses in these pandemic times, so anything lower than an A might dissuade some potential customers, not to mention there are—or will be—nominations that we don’t have an opportunity to visit ourselves.  Just know that we will not feature any establishment that we find disappointing.  Other than third-party suggestions, everything we select is either A or B.

Is a YouTube video a requirement?

The short answer is no.  But we love to embed a video made available by professionals such as Check, Please! Bay Area and ABC Localish in the banner window above.  YouTube has made this a three-click process.  Some homemade videos by customers are quite polished, and we don’t have a problem embedding or linking to them.  If no one has uploaded a video about your restaurant, you might consider making one yourself.  YouTube offers some basic tools to put it together.  Or just take out your smartphone and shoot.  We don’t expect an Oscar-winning short, but please think about what you want to show and what you want to say, if anything.  Your video could be as simple as a series of photos that are probably already on your own site.

What’s the idea behind nearby options?

As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.  As long as we highlight a specific restaurant, we feel we should mention others in the vicinity in order to give more places a boost.  Note that the list of nearby options is curated as well.  We try to include restaurants that have a decent reputation or an interesting menu at least.  In short, we’ve done the homework for you.

How do we assess a kitchen’s level of competence?

Cooking is all about balance.  Nothing should be too sweet, too tart, too salty, too bitter, or too spicy—some restaurants purposely ignore the last point.  Nothing should be too greasy, too dry, too heavy, or too bland.  And nothing should be overcooked or undercooked.  If we’re talking about professional kitchens, the same dish should taste the same every time.  Balance and consistency.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  If good cooking was that easy, there wouldn’t be so many bad reviews out there.

Sometimes new chefs go through what we call a kitchen-sink phase where they add so many ingredients that a dish ends up looking and tasting muddled.  The way to give flavor complexity is not by piling on more ingredients; the key is to add the right ingredients.  Eventually they will embrace the idea that less is more.

How long do we intend to keep this page active?

Two things need to happen for this country to return to business as usual:  we need to reach herd immunity and we need to vaccinate the rest of the world to keep mutations at bay.  California may be the fifth-largest economy in the world, but it is not a country.  We can’t close our borders and allow only vaccinated visitors in.  Even within the state, some counties have a much lower vaccination rate than the Bay Area.  The Bay Area’s vaccination rate may be relatively high on paper, but keep in mind the real rate on any given day is actually lower due to an influx of unvaccinated people from other parts of California, other states, and other countries.  If recent trends are a good predictor of the future, well, hang on to your masks for years to come.  The restaurant industry is notorious for its high failure rate to begin with, so we’ll keep this page going indefinitely—with tweaks along the way, of course.

What do we think of food writing?

As far as restaurant reviews are concerned, we have very mixed feelings.  On the one hand, we enjoy reading the likes of Patricia Unterman, Michael Bauer, and Ruth Reichl.  Now professional food critics are paid to do what they do—and having their employers pick up the tab when they dine out is icing on the cake.  We concede citizen reviewers do have a role to play here since the few professional critics could only cover a limited portion of eateries in the sprawling Bay Area.  After we posted a small number of reviews some years ago, we realized most of the restaurants closed months later.  It seemed like a waste of time and energy, a futile endeavor.  For this and other reasons, we stopped posting on a certain social media site.

If cooking is an art—and no doubt some celebrity chefs think of themselves as artists—then this art form is as ephemeral as one of Christo’s projects—here today, gone tomorrow.  We like to think of cooking as a mix of art and science.  You can read a book as long as it’s published or digitized.  You can listen to any song as long as the rights holders have made it available on the Internet.  You can watch any film/TV show if it’s available for streaming.  You can appreciate a painting even if you’re just studying a photo of it.  But you can’t taste a dish by looking at a photo or video.  Once a restaurant is gone, no one will ever have the opportunity to savor anything from that kitchen again.  Without the pandemic, we never would’ve started this page.  So our new focus is on the greater truth and interesting bits of information.  And as the song says, accentuate the positive.

 

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