Asian market in Menlo Park?
There is a Chinese grocery store called Tin Tin Market on El Camino Real in either Mtn View or Sunnyvale.
There is also a big Japanese grocery store at 280 and Saratoga Ave (take 280 South and turn right from the offramp, it is on the first block on the right) that used to be called Yaohan, but I think they changed management and is now called something else. There used to be a Kinokuniya bookstore inside also along with an eatery which I hope are still there.
I don't know which Ranch 99 you're thinking of, but the definitive one is up in Milpitas Square, on the other side of 237 from MacArthur Ranch. There's also an Asian housewares store, a whole bunch of restaurants of various sorts and varying quality, a Double Rainbow with ginger, black sesame, durian and other off-grid ice cream flavors, depending on the season. Lion Market, at Saratoga and 280 is not as impressive, but handy.
Wow, what a coincidence. I found an anniversary present for my husband online, at a store in San Jose. When I went through the site and saw that their online map located them in an area they called 'Japantown', I had to go. Who knew San Jose had a Japantown?
I took a drive down yesterday afternoon and did some wandering around on E.Jackson, between 4th and 7th Streets. Despite it being a sort of cool day (for the valley, at least) I got a weird shiver of deja vu standing on the corner looking down the street. I grew up on Oahu, and remember store fronts like this in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Honolulu, where we'd loiter, eating crack seed and shave ice, before catching the bus home.
I don't think the Hawaii influence was all in my mind - the restaurant I parked next to had a big 'SAIMIN' neon sign in the window. Walking down Jackson, here's what I found:*
San Jose Tofu Co.
175 E Jackson Street
between N. 4th and 5th Streets
The little screen door from the street opens right onto the front counter. Against the back wall a big grey machine has a pile of pale gold soybeans in its chute, and a couple of wooden vats steam quietly. There's a container of some shredded stuff, with a scoop in it (was this okara, maybe? I've not seen it before, only heard of it..) Off to one side are a few shelves of packaged products and a reach-in. I just poked my head in, but it looks like a regular retail, rather than a wholesale-only, operation.
240 E. Jackson Street
A grocery store, good sized, and satisfyingly complete. Five brands of panko, six brands of dried gourd strips, lots of rice vinegar choices, etc. Again, I was just making a quick pass through, so I'm sure there's lots more to discover on the shelves. Again the Hawaiian influence popped up - Hawaiian Sun preserves, huli-huli sauce, Hawaiian sea salt, etc. The crack seed wasn't Yik Lung (sp?), but some Hawaiian brand that looked about right (didn't try, sorry) There's a quite small, but nice looking fish counter in the back, three grades of tuna the day I was there, cooked octopus. An advantage over Nijaya Market in Sunnyvale (more later) is that the fish is still in a big loin, and cut to order. Meat counter too, but didn't inspect. Good selection of cooking gear, (japanese mandolins, graters etc) and some ceramics, but I'll mention other choices on this street. Check out the the register counters - way cool!
Nichi Bei Bussan
140 Jackson Street
at 4th Street
This is where I was heading. While not exactly in the food category, you'd want to stop here anyway. The business cards say 'Since 1902', and all through the store are cabinets with displays from their history, including the time of the interment during WWII. Come here after the Obata show, and feel the resonations.
The store is kind of a general dry-goods store, kimonos and pottery along the walls, origami paper etc. More uniquely, in the back are blots of Japanese patterned fabric. It looks like they'll make futon covers. There's a small selection of books, including cookbooks (had 'Japanese Cooking, a Simple Art' that I remember being hard to find in the pre-Amazon days). I'll go back to get a square-necked smock - even better than a bib apron for keeping clean while cooking. And the woman at the counter told me she could get the little paper balls that you drop in water, where they bloom into flowers! I looked for them for MONTHS without luck before our wedding.
615 N 6th Street
This is just off Jackson, up a flight of stairs. There are a couple of similar shops in the neighborhood, but I liked this one best. It looks at first like the bulk of their stock is the pottery/origami stuff, but wander through the shelves and you'll see cooking pots, tea kettles, tools. Tucked away on a low shelf are some cookbooks, good for a small selection. There were tempting kitchen ceramics, from cunning chopstick rests, to a beautiful 8x12 blue and white wave tile, set in a wooden frame, for serving sushi (expensive, but impressive).
Shave ice!! At least at other times of the year they have shave ice, but that section was closed for the season. The six or seven women packed into this tiny shop were all waiting for the little sweet buns, I think. I need help with this because, I was starting to be late and only got a quick peek in the case. I saw pink ones, and green ones and white ones. More than that I can't tell you, but definitely worth another trip.
Those were the places I picked up cards, but it's far from the an exhaustive look at the street. At the far end of Jackson, a new complex has gone up, with retail spaces in the bottom level. The Blockbuster is, well, unexciting, but right next door is an ikebana shop with great big buckets of twisty branches piled outside. Inside is more, and big selection of vases, and two really sweet ladies who will make an arrangement in a vase that you bring in, or will sign you up for classes if you want to do it yourself. There are a number of restaurants along the street worth a look, maybe checking out which are clearly the popular lunch choices.
It's not Menlo Park, but the drive might be worth it for your friends for the culture hit. Closer to home, I have a couple of suggestions:
El Camino Real and 237/Grant Road
I found this on my bike one day, otherwise I don't think I'd ever have seen it from the road. It's in the far corner of the shopping center at this intersection. Turn in at the Burger King, and look to the left of the big store. It's quite a nice market, Largely Japanese supplies, and I guess it's a chain (their bags list several other addresses) The aisles have plenty of the usual Japanese groceries, but not many exciting finds. Back wall has lots of pretty trays precut fish for sushi/sashimi and cut meat, produce section is quite decent. Great stop for quick dinner supplies, and if you're not feeling up to even that, lots of fresh prepared food in the cases on the left of the store. When I worked at an ISP down here, I'd pick up lunch here pretty often.
The market down the block from Shiok in Menlo Park
(Shiok is at 1137 Chestnut, just off the main street
Mostly grocery shelves of general asian stuff - the Balinese spice packets that my mom and sister used to send home with me are here, and there's a tub of fresh tofu in the reach-in. I really dig the annex next door with all the plates and stuff. Usually only stop here if I'm already in the neighborhood, and am pretty sure that they will have what I'm looking for.
Hope your friends find what they are looking for; I know I have only skimmed the surface of what's here - I'll miss the diversity of Silicon Valley when we move north...
*My apologies for not scanning in the business cards I picked up, something I am trying to do for my personal dB - we're moving at the end of the month and things are becoming unplugged.