Best Practitioner of
Baume’s Bruno Chemel
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos; 408.354.4330. We all know Los Gatos’ Manresa as 201 S. California Ave., Palo Alto; 650.328.8899. Lots of chefs dabble in the chemistry-meets-cooking school of the culinary arts, but chef/wizard Bruno Chemel has embraced the modern, inventive brand of cooking like no one else in Silicon Valley. And the results are delicious. Better living through chemistry, indeed.
Best Taco Truck
397 Keyes St. (in California Carwash parking lot), San Jose. There are lots of taco trucks around Silicon Valley, but this shiny lunch wagon gets my vote for best taco truck because of its Puebla specialties, comitias de poplin (a refined version of a torte) and multitask, a wheat tortilla quesadilla with added meats and grilled onions.
Santouka, Ramen Halu and Kahoo
675 Saratoga Ave., San Jose, 408.446.1101; 375 Saratoga Ave., San Jose, 408.246.3933; 4330 Moorpark Ave., San Jose, 408.255.8244. Silicon Valley is awash in delicious bowls of Japanese ramen but three stand above the rest. They get the nod because of the trilogy of greatness: great, porky broth, great, chewy noodles, and a great assortment of toppings. These three restaurants also happen to be within a few blocks of each other.
Best Tequila Bar
236 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto: 650.833.3151.
Once you get a taste of the good stuff, you’ll be free of all bad memories of tequila. Palo Alto’s Reposado is a temple of the agave spirit. The bar and lounge pours dozens of premium tequilas for your sipping pleasure. And sip you must. Don’t ask for a lime and salt.
Best Food Court
Grand Century Mall
1111 Story Road, San Jose; 408.295.3175. A taste of real Vietnamese food shouldn’t cost the $1,000 needed for a plane ticket to Ho Chi Minh City. The solution is right at San Jose’s Grand Century Mall. The mall’s food court offers a dozen food stalls that all specialize in dishes from Vietnam.
Best Locally Grown Food
14251 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga; 408.867.3131. Family owned since 1925, Saratoga’s Novakovich Orchards is a living reminder of what Silicon Valley looked like before computer chips became the biggest cash crop. The orchard produces Blenheim apricots, peaches, Bing cherries and other edibles. Dried fruit, too.
Best Local Beer
Firehouse Grill and Brewery’s Pale Ale
111 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale; 408.773.9500. Truth be told, making beer isn’t hard. Barley, hops, water and a recipe is all it takes. But making great beer is another matter. Sunnyvale’s Firehouse Brewing Co. has greatness on tap. Brewmaster Steve Donohue creates a number of delicious brews, but the easy-drinking pale ale gets my vote for best all around beer.
Best Thai Restaurant Beer and Wine List
Tee Nee Thai
1423 The Alameda, San Jose; 408.947.7927. You can count on most Thai restaurants to serve bottles of Singha and perhaps a few bottles of unremarkable and often poorly chosen wine. But San Jose’s Tee Nee Thai defies expectations with its great list of Belgian ales and well-conceived wine list. Chewy, malty Belgian ales are a great match for Thai food as are the restaurant’s eclectic selection of white wines that marry well with the spicy/sweet/sour flavors of Thai food.
Best Culinary Career Launching Pad
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos; 408.354.4330. We all know Los Gatos’ Manresa as Silicon Valley’s 800-pound culinary gorilla. But chef David Kinch’s real legacy may be the generation of chefs he has spawned. Former chef de cuisine Jeremy Fox and pastry chef Deanie Fox opened the acclaimed Ubuntu; Jeremy is now chef at Oakland’s highly anticipated Plum. Ex-Manresa chef de cuisine James Syhabout went on to open the superb Commis in Oakland, and now former pastry chef Kendra Baker has opened the super Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz.
Best Croatian Food
185 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650.321.3514. To be honest, the competition for best Croatian food is not particularly fierce. Palo Alto’s Lavanda is one of the few places that serve the little-known cuisine of Croatia. But no matter. The food is still tops. The cuisine straddles East and Western Europe, and Lavanda conducts a delicious tour of the nation’s cuisine.
Best Vietnamese Food That’s not Pho
Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang’s banh xeo
1111 Story Road, San Jose; 408.280.1152. Pho gets my vote as San Jose’s most distinctive dish. But to limit yourself to the beef noodle soup would be denying yourself other culinary delights from Vietnam. After you’ve had enough pho, check out a plate of banh xeo at the Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang, a restaurant that specializes in the dish. Made with turmeric-seasoned rice flour, the big lacy crepes are filled with shrimp and pork and served with a pile of lettuce leaves and various Southeast Asian herbs. Tear off a bit of the bright yellow crepe and roll it up into a leaf of lettuce. Sprinkle in some herbs and dunk into the accompanying dipping sauce. So good.
Best Place to Appreciate Mexican Food Beyond the Burrito
Casa de Cobre
14560 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; 408.867.1639. If so required, I could live on tacos and burritos forever. But then I would be missing a world of Mexican food that goes well beyond the rather limited menu of dishes were get north of the border. Saratoga’s Casa de Cobra is doing its part to showcase regional Mexican food, the kind a Mexican would recognize as the food of home. The restaurant specializes in the cuisine of interior Michoacán, a state in central west Mexico. The roasted goat, grilled chicken and the excellent chile rellenos are recommended.
Best Deli Meats
720 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos 408.358.1731; 4650 Meridian Ave., San Jose, 408.265.9101. Lunardi’s deli has it all: French ham, Lebanese bologna, Braunschweiger, Emmenthaler, smoked Gouda, pepper turkey and a half-dozen salamis and prosciuttos, all by high-quality brands like Saag, Boar’s Head and Columbus. Order it on a sandwich to wolf down on the spot or shop for the week and take your treasures home in neatly folded little packages, East Coast-style. It’ll make bringing your lunch fun again.
Best Way To Beat The Breakfast Crowd
Los Gatos Cafe Uptown
15662 Los Gatos Blvd., Los Gatos; 408.356.0600. While the hung-over masses are huddled outside Southern Kitchen or Los Gatos Café’s ever-mobbed downtown location each weekend morning, Los Gatans in the know hightail it over to the Eastside and the Los Gatos Cafe Uptown, where the parking is plentiful and gratification almost immediate. Same great omelettes, same great French toast, none of the wait.
Best Red Velvet Cupcakes
1280 First St. #F, Gilroy; 408.846.0613. What makes a kick-ass red velvet cupcake? It has to be rich, tender and moist, with a strong presence of cocoa flavor and just the right amount of creamy icing dolloped on top. Most importantly: the cake itself has to be a vibrant, eye-catching, dramatically deep red. Not one of those dark brown or fire-engine red versions that many bakeries try to pass off. PennyCakes in Gilroy bakes the best red velvet cupcakes on the trendy and increasingly overcrowded cupcakery market. Their red velvet is all good. It’s their Thursday special.
Best Bacon Hot Dogs
Bill’s Beer Steamed Hot Dogs
Market and Santa Clara streets, San Jose; 408.202.5410. Ah, there are few things in life truly better than bacon. Undoubtedly one of the best ways to enjoy the crispy-fried and crunchy, or thick and juicy-greasy bits of a boar’s backside are Bill’s Beer Steamed Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs, sold off a cart on the streets of downtown San Jose.
Tony Di Maggio’s Pizza
3852 Monterey Hwy., San Jose; 408.629.7775. On the East Coast stromboli is as common as pizza—a giant, greasy ball of Italian cheeses, sausage, sauce and salami, wrapped in dough and then baked to a golden goodness. It’s like the Devil’s Hot Pocket, sure to bring happy diners one step closer to a triple coronary. Tony Di Maggio’s Pizza, with locations in San Jose and Campbell, makes a damn good one.
Best Place to Build Your Own Bison Burger
1645 W. San Carlos St., San Jose; 408.298.4340. The best thing about the bison burgers at Slider’s is—well, everything. They use quality buffalo meat (a tasty, less fatty alternative to beef, though they have that too) and flame-grill it to one’s liking on an unusual indoor slanted grill. Once the burger’s done browning, they flop the sizzling meat onto a freshly toasted bun, don it with cheese and hand it to the customer to pick the toppings. And it’s their fully loaded burger condiment bar that really makes it. Pineapple, whole olives and sprouts? OK.
Best Mint Mojito Iced Coffee
118 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose; 408.971.4212. Philz’ Mint Mojito is creamy java goodness crushed with ice and fresh mint leaves and mixed with indulgent dairy products. This cool, refreshing caffeine cocktail is best consumed sitting at a cafe table outside this hipster hangout on a sunny, hot afternoon, while listening to one of Philz’ many musician patrons.
Best Use of Headcheese
Various locations. Quickly, the global Vietnamese chain, is known mostly for its tapioca bubble tea, but its Vietnamese sandwiches are at least as interesting. “The Combination” features ham, paté and fatty, chewy headcheese, made palatable with the addition of pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro and hot chili peppers. That’s right: headcheese.
Best Bizarre Japanese / Italian Fusion Dish
Teppan Neapolitan Spaghetti
Curry House, 10350 S. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino; 408.517.1440. The idea of Japanese curried spaghetti might seem odd for a minute, until we realize that noodles are noodles after all, and Japanese cuisine has always made use of noodles. Nevertheless, the Curry House’s Teppan Neapolitan spaghetti is a strange global culinary adventure. Japanese vegetables and spices, spaghetti and tomato sauce, hot-dogs and ketchup. With an egg on top. Weirdest of all: it’s good.
Best Wine Bar on the Beach With San Jose Roots
A Grape in the Fog
400 Old County Road, Pacifica. Yeah, it’s in San Mateo County, but A Grape in the Fog can claim San Jose, as proprietor Beth Lemke used to hold court at the SJSU Alumni Association and also spent a few semesters putting price tags on stuffed animals at Spartan Bookstore. Just off Rockaway Beach, the aptly named A Grape in the Fog is Pacifica’s very first wine bar. Specializing in Pinot Noir, the “foggy grape,” and situated a stone’s throw from Highway 1, the establishment concentrates mostly on small-scale producers from the Western United States and offers up cheese plates and other paired items. Objets d’art occupy the walls and a smoking WiFi connection adds even more ambience to the joint.