.Food & Drink | Editors’ Picks

55 SOUTH: Best Brunch Skewer Photograph by Josh Koehn

Best Brunch Skewer

55 South

55 S. First St., San Jose. The nicest new bar and lounge in downtown San Jose might not be known for just its cocktails if it keeps up the weekend soirees. What started as a Sunday-morning drink fest for industry folk has morphed into a brunch that features bottomless mimosas and a revolving menu that at times boasts French toast kabobs. A-mazing. (JK)

Best Food Challenge

Pho Challenge at Pho Garden

246 Castro St., Mountain View. Sure, the 5-pound Burritozilla at Iguanas has been featured on the Food Network—and even launched the career of competitive eater extraordinaire Joey Chestnut—but what could be a more truly authentic South Bay food challenge than eating a great big bowl of pho? The rules at Pho Garden in Mountain View are simple. Contestants have 60 minutes to eat 2 pounds of noodles and 2 pounds of beef. Drinking the broth is optional. Winners take home the giant bowl and forgo paying the bill. Losers have to shell out $22. So far, in three years, approximately 400 people have succeeded, and that is including people at the San Francisco and the Daly City locations. Many have tried and failed. It is a lot of pho to get down. (AC)

Best Place to Enjoy a Good Gluten-Free Lunch

City Lights Espresso

1171 Homestead Road, Santa Clara. City Lights Espresso is a mom-and-pop cafe tucked away in Santa Clara. It offers fresh-roasted coffee, homemade gluten-free goodies, soups, salads, piping hot paninis, and more. The warm, nutty scent of house-baked bread fills the air, awakening hunger pangs. Daylight streams through large, plentiful windows. Landscape paintings by local artists adorn the walls. Old professors mull over thick textbooks. People chatter softly. The rolling sound of coffee grinding soothes the mind.

All the baked goods behind the glass are gluten-free. Selections vary daily; everything is baked from scratch every morning. Customers struggle to decide between quiches, cookies, a 4-inch thick slice of raspberry mango cake and a whole world of tarts, including chocolate pecan, mixed berry and key lime. True, eating out with dietary restrictions presents challenges, but with places like City Lights Espresso, who needs gluten? (SB)

Best Biscotti

La Biscotteria

2747 El Camino Real. Redwood City’s Five Points neighborhood, near where 92 crosses El Camino Real, is an area that realtors would describe as “in transition”: gas stations, shuttered massage parlors and peeling signage. It’s startling to see here a spruce, renovated building, bright with new paint: La Biscotteria. With its paintings and wooden shelves of bright majolica, it’s as pretty as anything Rick Steves ever aimed a camera at. I’d consider myself a fair-weather friend of biscotti, usually served toast-dry and molar-crackingly tough, but the $12 bags of these fresh pastries in orange, hazelnut, anise and other flavors were, plainly, delicacies you wouldn’t have to dunk in coffee to refresh. Chocolate covered amaretto cookies ($5) are also recommended. On weekends, they take orders for fresh focaccia for dinner. It’s possible they get regular trade from the business across the street: homesick Italians stationed at the Ferrari/Maserati dealership. (RvB)

Best Way to Visit Paris Without Leaving Home

La Lune Sucree

116 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Anyone who has ever visited Paris understands the daydream of sitting in a quaint corner bistro, sipping a strong espresso, nibbling on a toasted croissant and watching the world slowly pass by. While visiting Paris just for a cafe au lait fix is unfortunately rather expensive, La Lune Sucree along Paseo de San Antonio stands in as a quick escape away to Europe. Husband-and-wife team Mark and Bettina Pope take great pride in Bettina’s skillful European baking techniques. For the full cafe effect, grab a spot on the patio and slowly sip an espresso and enjoy one of chef Bettina’s freshly made crepes, tarts or pastries while indulging in another Parisian reverie. (JC)

Best Late-Night Pick-Me-Up

Pho Viet

1751 N. First St., San Jose. Everyone has a go-to spot for pho, so I understand I will not convince you otherwise if you’ve sworn your noodle allegiance elsewhere. Yet, if you’re finishing a late night at Casino M8trix or you find yourself craving Vietnamese in the bewitching hours, Pho Viet on North First Street may be your new indispensable insomnia respite. Quick service and a menu of classic Vietnamese dishes one would expect are pluses, but the real kicker is that Pho Viet stays open Monday through Saturday until 4am and on Sundays until 2am. (JC)

Best Place to Get a Hot Dog That Is So Much More Than a Hot Dog

Original Gravity Public House

66 S. First St., San Jose. The next time a hankering for craft brew rears its thirsty head, make sure to pair a Sea Monster or Idiot IPA with a gourmet sausage. There are nearly 20 types to choose from at Original Gravity Public House, including cheesy Andouille and Texas bratwurst—not to mention duck fat fries with truffle salt. The sauces also offer a bit of flair, with Sriracha ketchup and wasabi mayo. (JK)

Best Place to Eat a Celebrity

Ike’s Place

2235 The Alameda, Santa Clara; 2100 Steven’s Creek Blvd., Cupertino; 475 Via Ortega, Stanford. Tom Brady is so delicious. So is Jessica Rabbit. But what about sports-radio host Damon Bruce? Ike’s Place dubs its sandwiches with a wealth of random names, including a few that are keyed to the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Whatever they are called, the sandwiches are the size of a forearm and taste divine. If you’re in the holiday spirit, make sure to try the “Going Home for Thanksgiving,” made with cranberry sauce, Havarti cheese, turkey and … Sriracha. (JK)

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