It is my personal opinion that pizza transcends mere comfort food. While some of my friends jokingly call me a “pizza addict,” the idea of joining a pizza-related support group has never once crossed my mind.
Instead, I’d prefer to consider myself more of a ‘pizza aficionado’.
With that, I invite you to join me on a journey to Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza, a place where tradition meets innovation and the arrival of a new chef.
Willow Street has deep roots in the Silicon Valley restaurant scene. Its journey began in 1991 in Willow Glen, introducing gourmet wood-fired pizza in a small brick building where its flagship remains.
Its success led to a Los Gatos expansion two years later and other locations, since closed, at the Westgate shopping center on San Jose’s west side, and in San Francisco and San Rafael. On Nov. 8, the restaurant will celebrate three decades of being a local fixture in the town of the cats.
Willow Street’s Los Gatos location offers a relaxed and unpretentious dining experience. Located within Lyndon Plaza, its spacious patio provides picturesque views of historic downtown Los Gatos and Town Plaza Park, while the interior gives a charming small-town ambiance.
The open-concept kitchen, cozy booths and tables create a warm and inviting vibe, while the full bar adds to the restaurant’s versatility, making it a suitable choice for a variety of dining occasions—solo, with friends or a romantic meal.
Beyond its inviting atmosphere, Willow Street’s menu is a delight and features a diverse array of creatively crafted pizzas, salads, sandwiches and a signature burger.
In the midst of its 30-year milestone, Willow Street is spicing things up with the arrival of a new executive chef, Hisham Abdelfattah, whose kitchen expertise and personable ways earned him a spot on the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 2023 “40 under 40” list.
“With this move into Willow Street, this award sets a standard for me to live up to,” the chef says. “I feel like a new quarterback joining an already successful team.”
His backstory is an exceptional tale of tenacity, collaboration and innovation. Beginning his career as a prep cook and dishwasher at 15 years old in order to help support his family, he also cooked at home for himself and his mother.
By age 20, he had already become an assistant sous chef and taken on management responsibilities. By 28, he had helped open seven different restaurant concepts. Abdelfattah’s story is a testament to his natural leadership and chef-driven trajectory.
Hisham is also the creative force behind El Halal Amigos, launched in 2020 and incorporating Halal ingredients and flavors into Mexican cuisine. Now, Abdelfattah’s current focus is on enhancing the wood-fired pizza experience at Willow Street.
“[Willow Street’s] been here for over 30 years,” says the chef. “I’m not here to reinvent the wheel, I’m here to put rims on it.”
The alliance was made possible with the support of Ed Rathmann, a founder of Willow Street Pizza, who also brought an early California cuisine restaurant, Eulipia, to downtown San Jose in the early 1980s.
The partnership allowed him to turn his vision of the Halal Taco truck into a reality, which started as a food truck and quickly expanded to include a storefront in Willow Glen and a concession stand at San Jose’s SAP Center. The transition marked a turning point, propelling Abdelfattah’s culinary influence, which led to appearances on Food Network’s “Guys Grocery Games” and “Battle of the Decades.”
“We try to make fine dining accessible to everyone at a good price,” Abdelfattah says.
While the chef plans to keep many of the menu staples, his Spicy Steak Fajita pizza has quickly gained popularity. Another dish he is looking forward to releasing in upcoming months is the hearty oxtail osso buco served over a bed of mashed potatoes, combining the Italian classic with Willow Street’s New American flair.
Inspired by some of the “30-year favorites” on the current menu, as well as Chef Hisham’s recommendations, I ventured beyond my usual margarita pizza and tried the Thai chicken pizza—a delightfully surprising blend of flavors. The wood-fired crust provides a canvas for a zesty peanut sauce, setting the stage for tender roasted chicken. Each bite unites the crispy, cheesy, sweet, savory and subtly spiced flavors. Unexpectedly, crisp carrots and onions add texture and freshness while fresh cilantro imparts an herbal brightness. It was unlike any pizza I’d tried before.
For appetizers, I tried two classic favorites–spicy tots and calamari steaks in a spicy tomato sauce. The tots were a fresh and tangy take on the comfort classic. Tossed in cajun spices, they’re mixed with jalapenos and drizzled with chipotle mayonnaise. The calamari pieces offered a contrast of textures with a subtle crispiness on the outside and a tender, chewy interior. The seasoning and Parmesan coating added an extra layer of flavor, while the thinly sliced banana peppers provided a zesty kick. The dish was rounded out by the citrus aioli, which added a nice contrast to the dish’s flavor profile.
Expert tip: As Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza approaches its 30th anniversary, they’re extending a 30% discount on the entire menu.
Willow Street Pizza & Taproom, 1072 Willow Street, San Jose.
Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza, 20 S Santa Cruz Ave, Los Gatos.