In 1956, Louis, Babe, Otto and Nino brought a taste of San Francisco Italian to San Jose—literally, they imported French bread on Greyhound busses for the first two years. Eventually, they found a more convenient baker, but they’ve changed little else, sticking with their Godfather set interior and beyond-ample portions of throwback dinner specials like braised short ribs, osso bucco and duck breast in a cherry port reduction. Legend has it that one late night, a customer stumbled in and ordered a spinach omelette but wanted something more substantial. So the chef tossed in a handful of leftover hamburger and accidentally invented their fabled, hangover-curing Joe’s Special.
The Zafiris family recognized a dearth in quality brunch joints in San Jose, so they founded this local chain 30 years ago in Willow Glen. They quintessential Sunday morning spot took favorites from their biological family, like Greek Lemon Soup, and their staff family, like Chilaquiles, and combined them for a lip-smacking spin on traditional breakfast. Bill’s serves Eggs Benedict with pork carnitas, smoked salmon or crab cakes and before-noon booze like Mexican coffee spiked with tequila, Kahlua and whipped cream.
A couple decades ago, three brothers—Louie, Nick and Gus—moved from Greece to Los Gatos with the idea of serving American/Greek/Italian grub in a family environment with the flare of Las Vegas. Multiple locations have popped up throughout the area, run by their cousins and uncles, while the downtown San Jose spot next to City Hall—now under outside ownership—has been home to many political deals brokered. Flames’ Sunday Fundays can also be credited with sparking the bottomless mimosa trend.
Before we perfected refrigeration, this Palo Alto landmark made daily dairy deliveries to the city’s schools, homes and business. Now that the milkman has gone the way of the Dodo, they’ve shifted to serving breakfast scrambles, old-fashioned metal-tin milkshakes and greasy sandwiches like the Philly Cheese, the Patty Melt and the Clogger, stuffed with pastrami, bacon and American cheese. They’re legally obligated to be retro as their lease stipulates they must maintain a 50’s style soda fountain.
In 1966, Anton and Zahie Nijmeh established this iconic Mediterranean fast food joint to dish out guilt-free, high quality indulgences. They introduced the area to falafel—delectable fried garbanzo and parsley balls—stuffed them in a pita and crafted their magnum opus by pairing it with a fresh banana shake in the Best Value combo. But they didn’t stop there, trusting their culinary skills to introduce other traditional dishes like Koubby, Tabbouleh or Baba Ganouj that contain singular flavors that reward the adventurous.
Bertucelli’s La Villa
In 1947, Anne and Frank Giacomelli founded La Villa. Years later, they sold to the Polestras, who owned it until Dave Bertucelli, after years of making his buying interest unsubtly known. He wore them down and took over with his wife, Patty, and kids, Trisha and Chris, who run it to this day. They’re famous for a lot of things, including their Sfogliatelle, a cream-filled, lobster-tail-shaped pastry with a shell of densely stacked pastry leaves and their handmade raviolis stuffed with your choice of meat, cheese, feta, chicken or lobster.
Los Gatos Coffee Company
Starbucks, Peet’s and other major brands roast their coffee dark to ensure consistency but sacrifice the subtler floral, nutty and fruity notes contained in lighter roasts. For connoisseurs, the Los Gatos Coffee Company knows how to lovingly toast their coffee to the point of perfected flavor, offering in-store and online shipments of nuanced blends from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Islands. But for a real luxury, sample the quintessentially excellent Jamaican Blue Mountain Peaberry blend ($75 for 16 oz.) that holds peak flavor as it comes from the choicest 10 percent of beans in the world.
Buck’s of Woodside
You’d never guess from the looks of it, but this unassuming, pancake house-turned-full-fledged restaurant in Woodside is a Silicon Valley legend. Buck’s proximity to Sand Hill Road has made it the unlikely hub of some of the biggest deals in tech—the birth of Tesla, PayPal and Hotmail, to name a few. Perpetually wise-cracking proprietor Jamis MacNiven has a penchant for all things weird and wild, which comes through in the decor. For example, a Russian space suit or a narwhal tusk MacNiven claims is “on loan from the people of Iceland.”
Grill on the Alley
Located in the Fairmont Hotel, this steakhouse has been home to many a power lunch, with thick cuts and sharply coiffed bartenders hand-stirring martinis. Regulars fondly remember Helmut Hassy, the restaurant’s patriarchal Austrian waite, who spent so much time there he actually passed away during a shift. There’s now a special table with a plaque labeled “Helmut’s Court” and a large headshot of him smiling at his kid’s wedding. He was known to say everything started or originated in Austria—even Jesus.
Located in a quaint red two-story, this working-man’s meat house epitomizes what can be done with meat and potatoes. Each plate comes with a baked potato topped by a dollop of seasoned butter, and they serve a 20 oz porterhouse for ravenous carnivores, teriyaki steak for cravers of a tangy twist and the full rack of baby back ribs for finger-lickers fond of long-smoked goodness. Though they’ve got the cable packages for every major sport, they sit only two blocks away from the SAP Center, making Sharks games especially lit.
Pizza My Heart
Starting as a surf shack on Capitola Beach, this family-owned pizzeria chain reigns supreme in the South Bay. The Willow Glen restaurant features the “World’s Largest Wooden Surfboard,” good to ogle before plowing through their award winning “Big Sur,” which comes with pepperoni, sausage, portobellos and 40 (!) cloves of roasted garlic.
After immigrating from China, chef Lawrence Chu opened up a humble restaurant that quickly became an in-the-know spot for famous folks ranging from a then-unknown Steve Jobs to the long-world-famous Serena Williams. The energetic culinary savant blends Taiwanese street food with more refined Szechuan and Peking influences into exceptionally balanced masterpieces. His specialties include flambeed quail, fresh Manila clams flash stir-fried in black bean sauce and Classic Peking Duck—customers must give four hours notice before ordering it.
La Victoria‘s Orange Sauce
The cultish condiment synonymous with South Bay taquerias was created in 1998, at the original La Victoria’s on East San Carlos in downtown San Jose. Marcelino Barrita experimented for months to create a sauce outside the traditional red or green box, when he hit on an orange-colored variety that tasted nothing like the fruit. The spicy concoction is a family secret that’s become so popular La Vic’s now has six locations. Marcelino’s son, Nicandro, says orders for bottles of orange sauce come in from across the country, and occasionally even overseas.
Stepping into the Mini Gourmet feels like a time warp. The traditional American diner remains largely unchanged since it began dishing up pancake breakfasts, burger-and-fries lunches and pulling 24-hour Thursday-through-Saturday stints in 1971.
For more than 35 years, Steamer’s Grillhouse has been a fixture in Los Gatos. Still operated by siblings Mark, Paul and Linda Matulich, its menu speaks to the quality of a family-owned operation whose members purchase the ingredients and watch the dishes go out of the kitchen. Much of the fish is purchased directly from boats that troll the Monterey Bay.
Every King Eggroll hashery serves up dim sum, lunch combos and other variations of Chinese takeout. But, as the name suggests, its egg rolls are the main draw. A holiday tradition in the South Bay, King Eggroll’s namesake specialty comes with thin, crispy skin and juicy pork-carrot-and-cabbage stuffing. They’re addicting, so best order by the tray-full.
Originally a husband-and-wife restaurant, Krung Thai split into two locations when the proprietors divorced. Thankfully, both spots kept to the same high standard. Each location boasts an expansive menu of Thai favorites and some lesser-known delicacies.
Pezzella’s Villa Napoli
As the region grew from ag to industrial to a self-styled technopolis called Silicon Valley, Pezzella’s Villa Napoli has stuck to the family’s classic Italian recipes of pizza, pasta and garlic-infused seafood. Since 1957, generations of Pezzellas turned the villa-inspired Sunnyvale restaurant into a beloved institution.
Though Schurra’s has changed hands over the past century, The Alameda’s confectionery has kept the name and tradition of its founders. Brothers Albert and Justin Schurra brought their candy-crafting prowess from the Central Valley to Santa Clara Valley in 1912. Today, the quaint chocolatier is run by the Mundy family, who bought the place in 1983 and passed it on to their son, Brian, and his wife, Michelle. The two create all but a few gummy candies in the shop and make a point of using locally sourced chocolates and dried fruits and other ingredients.
One of Silicon Valley’s premier gelaterias, Dolce Spazio scoops up gelato as chewy as taffy and silky as cream. When Mike Orlando opened the shop’s doors in 1982, he beat the gelato fad by more than a decade and introduced a sophisticated new palate to patrons who thought of ice cream in terms of just 31 flavors.
J. Lohr Winery
In the 1960s, South Dakota transplant Jerry Lohr became one of the first growers to tap the grape-growing potential of California’s Central Coast. The farmer-turned-viticulturist planted his first Monterey County vineyards in 1972. Two years later, he opened his San Jose winery: J. Lohr Vineyards. The winemaker’s headquarters lies within an ivy-covered building just off The Alameda, where patrons can enjoy a complimentary tasting or sign up for a range of classes.