My Christmas was spent with family members in the Silicon Valley Area of California (San Jose, Los Gatos, Palo Alto, and San Francisco) and of course some (maybe most) of the activities included eating at home or in the many local restaurants. I have close ties to Silicon Valley. My two grandsons live there (along with my son and daughter-in-law); my brother and sister-in-law live in the Santa Cruz Mountains; many friends live here from 14 years of being a resident during the 80’s and 90’s; our four children were born here, and I have constantly traveled here for business over the last 18 years. During all those years, I’ve developed favorites among the many, many local restaurants. Some of my favorites have come and gone. Below are some of the restaurants that have survived:
Original Joe’s $$$
301 S. First Street, San Jose, CA 95113
Easy access from Light Rail, San Antonio Station.
I would describe the Original Joe’s menu as “Old School” Italian Food or possibly “Cal-Italian”. Steaks are great, veal parmesan is great, and the sausage and pepper sandwich is fantastic (my favorite). There is one main drawback: No Reservations and it can be a long wait on weekends or San Jose Sharks game nights. The prices are a little high. The atmosphere is loud and vibrant. Singles and couples can sit at the counter if they are in a hurry or don’t want to wait for a table. The counter offers an entertaining view of the kitchen.
Teske’s Germania $$$
255 N. First Street & Devine, San Jose, CA 95113
Very easy access from Light Rail’s Julian Street stop.
Teske’s has very good traditional German food along with a good selection of German Beer. The prices are good, considering entrees include a salad and dessert. The beer garden is very relaxing when the weather is good, almost always in Silicon Valley. Inside is a very low key, relaxing dining room. One of my favorites is the Schweinemedaillons. I also love anything on the appetizer menu. The Beer Garden is particularly nice during Oktoberfest when a German band is performing. One probably needs a reservation during Oktoberfest or with a larger party.
The restaurant is Closed Mondays and during the Christmas Holidays.
680 River Oaks Parkway, San Jose, CA 95134 – walking distance of Light Rail, Orchard Station or Bonaventura Station, about 1 mile
800 W. Ahwanee Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086 – 101 and South Mathilda – Walking distance of Light Rail, Lockheed Martin or Moffett Park Station, about 1 mile
Breakfast and Lunch Only
I’ve had mostly breakfasts at several Hobee’s locations and all have been very good. The Coffee Cake is excellent. The omelets are offered with many unusual combinations, but they are all good. This restaurant is particularly child friendly and is a favorite of my grandsons.
Bill’s Café $
2089 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126
Breakfast and Lunch Only
I’d describe this as “old school Diner food” and all of it is good. This is my brother’s favorite place. It must be a favorite of many others because every time I’ve gone, the wait has been long. The corned beef hash was great, also the linguica.
Fourth Street Bowl Coffee Shop $
You may be detecting a trend. This is also an “old school diner”. The menu changes each day so not all items are available every day. The Reuben was great.
There are literally hundreds of Chinese restaurants in the SF Bay Area and that is in addition to other Asian cuisines like Vietnamese and Thai. My family tends to like Chinese cuisine the best, so my favorite Asian restaurants tend to be Chinese. My two favorites also are relatively well known in the area and could easily be classified at “institutions” in the community. My father first visited one of my favorites, Ming’s, in the 1960’s.
A dish that is common to both of my favorite Chinese restaurants is Chinese Chicken Salad. This is Cal-Chinese food that contains shredded chicken, shredded iceberg lettuce, a wisp of hot mustard, cilantro, and sesame seeds among other things. Haven’t seen the exact duplicate of this dish outside of the SF Bay area. Both of my favorites have an excellent version of this dish.
Chef Chu’s $$+
1067 N San Antonio Rd, Los Altos, CA 94022 (at the corner with El Camino Real)
Limited parking, at a corner of El Camino Real. Mass Transit via the VTA #22 bus
All the food is excellent but there can sometimes be a wait. If you don’t have children the wait in the bar isn’t too much of a burden and it is fun to scan the crowd for celebrities and check out the celebrity pictures on the wall.
The pork buns are excellent. My favorite main dish is the tangerine beef, a variation of orange beef.
La Fiesta Restaurant $$
240 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA, 2 or 3 blocks from Castro Street
About 5 minute walk from the Mt. View light rail station (end of line)
The Chicken Mole enchiladas are fantastic. I’ve also had Grandma’s Special enchiladas and they are special. They have a very good selection of Mexican beers to complement the meal and the chips. The margaritas are “famous” but I’ve never indulged. There is some outside seating, but the restaurant is small. This is a great place for lunch or dinner.
Castro Street, Mt. View $$$
Starts at the Mt. View Light Rail Station (end of line)
This is the entertainment district for Mountain View. There must be about 50 restaurants over a mile of Castro Street and the selection is quite diverse: Chinese, Moroccan, Thai, US steak house, kosher, Mediterranean, Italian, Burgers, … Many offer sidewalk dining and some offer entertainment. I’ve never had a bad meal on this street. Some have been a little over priced, but always good to excellent quality food.
Scoma’s Restaurant $$$$ ($$$ by SF standards)
Near Pier 39. A cable car, bus, or taxi from the Caltrain station.
This is a San Francisco institution and is situated at the end of pier 47 at the West end of Fisherman’s wharf, towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Bring your camera for a great picture of the Golden Gate Bridge; assuming the fog cooperates.
My elderly great-aunt recommended this restaurant many decades ago, and our family has been going back ever since. BTW, at the time she was an older Italian lady, I think she liked the attention from the middle aged Italian waiters, but the food kept us all coming back. I’ve been here many times with family and for business. As with many popular restaurants in the SF Bay area there are no reservations and the wait can be long, but they have a large bar area where you can usually get a seat.
My favorite is the cioppino, a bowl of fish and shellfish topped with a hearty tomato based broth that one can sop up with great sour dough toast. What a way to add weight!!! I’ve had the scallops. They were fresh and not overcooked. The sour dough bread served at the table is GREAT, be careful to leave room for dinner. I’ve been with people who have ordered the lamb and the beef and to my amazement it looked great and apparently tasted great.
Fish Market $$$
3775 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051
Several locations throughout California
This is an old standby when I’m traveling throughout California. If there is a Fish Market in the area, I can get my Cioppino fix. The Fish Market version is served with Dungeness crab. All of their fresh fish is well prepared. In the past their house Chardonnay has been an excellent value. Be warned, it tastes more like a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay and this suites my taste for wine.
These are my favorites but there are hundreds if not thousands of restaurants in the Silicon Valley Area. As you can see from my selections I tend towards the “old school” restaurants and towards the medium price range. Your criteria may be different but I think you will find that these are a good intro to San Francisco Bay area dining options.