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San Jose Almaden Valley Eats (long) – Thai and Indonesian

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Working in Almaden valley in South San Jose the past year, I’ve been hard pressed to find good chow in this realm of chains and the Oakridge Mall food court. So I’ve been slowly eating my way through several indie (and indian) restaurants...some aren’t really worth posting, some are. So here’s a couple places to start off what may become a series of this part of the South Bay.

Erawan Thai Cuisine, 5945 Almaden Expy.
There was a spell when I ate here once a week for 4 weeks with 4 different groups (not by my choice, these things just happen when you lunch with a group). The food is above-average and can get it really spicy. For lunch specials (around $7-8) you pretty much choose your curry and choose your meat (or go veggie). There are other lunch specials but I don’t remember them. With lunch you get a complimentary egg roll (just okay, but always hot & crisp) and small bowl of soup, which is ALWAYS this sort of spicy broth with small veggies, like a tom yum but without meat or seafood. Anyways, I’ve tried the red, green, penang, and massaman curries, and the massaman is my favorite. I think it’s the spiciest; I ordered it medium and burned my mouth, but another time ordered something else “spicy” and it was barely over mild. I always get the vegetarian, while most of my co-workers like chicken best. I also tried something like veggie with basil garlic sauce, which is a brown sauce with chopped garlic, chili flakes and a few basil leaves. Service is usually quite attentive, and food always comes out pretty fast.

Ori-Deli Indonesian Market and Restaurant, 5479 Snell Ave.
I was thinking of Han went I went here. I like Indonesian food but am not that familiar with it so was hoping to learn more by going here. This is a tiny store with a tiny restaurant attached. There wasn’t another single soul shopping or eating here during the 1+ hour I was there. But it’s worth a post for its uniqueness. The store has 3 short aisles of Indonesian and SE Asian staples, condiments, canned goods, as well as dutch snacks & items. They have 3 brands of kecap manis, sweet soy sauce (did I mention the store is tiny?). The “restaurant” is a windowless room adjoining the store (it had an external glass door but that was locked up) with about 5 booths, and a big table with lots of Indonesian magazines & journals laid out all over. More like a store room than a restaurant, but didn’t bother me. I ordered Nasi Rendang and to go, the Gado Gado, and chatted with the owners while waiting. The husband runs the store (he might decide to carry fresh mangosteen this summer, for like $7-8/pound, but thinks it’s not worth it), and the wife runs the restaurant. I feel weird using the word run because it’s such a tiny (& empty) place. Plus there’s a cook in the back. Cook is Indonesian, husband is from Southern China and wife is Indonesian-born, some-time Chinese resident, and American resident of 16 years.

The Nasi Rendang is pricey at $9.50 for a scoop of rice and about ¼ cup each of 5 accompaniments. It had beef rendang (tender, very flavorful), 4 fat slices of peeled cucumber, abon (pork “dryer lint”, the sweet kind), some lightly deep fried “hash browns” with a sweet coating, and a mixture of veggies in sambal chili sauce (not spicy). The veggies were tempeh, canned green beans, canned but not smelly bamboo shoots, and broad beans called peteh that have a very slight sour taste. Asking the wife about the broad beans resulted in one of those comical exchanges where you hear the word, you repeat it back, they shake their head & stress a certain syllable, you say it again, they shake their head again, and so on while you swear you’re saying the same sound they are. Overall the beef rendang was good, the rest edible, and I wouldn’t order again (plus it’s pricey).

The Gado Gado ($7.25) was a winner, and a big portion. Lightly boiled veggies (cabbage, bean sprouts, potatoes, spinach), hard boiled egg wedges, cold cubes of fried tofu, iceberg lettuce, topped with commercial fried shallots. On the side, a thick, rich peanut sauce redolent of lemongrass. In a paper bag, some shrimp chips and another type that is light yellow, tastes like potato, but is slightly bitter. When I ate it the next day, the chips were stale but crisped up nicely after 20 seconds in the microwave. I also microwaved the sauce until just about scalding and it made the fridge-cold veggies much better.

In the same strip mall there is a small Middle Eastern store (about twice the size of Ori-Deli). Tons of ingredients. Something like 10 kinds of halvah (one that is touted sugar free! low carb!). Fresh cheese sitting in liquid. Lots of eye candy for the Persian cook. I could’ve browsed & browsed but was well past my lunch hour. I bought some Israeli couscous, kebab spice, red lentils, and a pouch of mixed dried herbs. I have no idea what the herbs are for but they looked so damn good!

While I’m talking about this strip mall, directly across the street (also on Snell) is Tandoor Indian Restaurant & Bar (445A Blossom Hill Rd). I’ve tried both the lunch buffet & off the menu, and most things are good but not great. Nan is hot, chewy with an outer crisp, delivered to your table & replenished if asked. Buffet items are not kept very hot, but they’re still ok (tandoori chicken, for example was not dry). Mostly northern dishes. Very nice ambiance.

Link: http://orideli.com/

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  1. The places you are writing about are not in the Almaden Valley. Some call the area Blossom Valley.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Alan408

      Sorry! I am a newby to this part of San Jose, so I defer to Alan if he thinks this area is called Blossom Valley. I'm talking about the area within a short drive of Hwy 85 and Almaden Expressway. Where the ratio of chain to non-chain is like 5 to 1 and ratio of blah to great food is on the order of 10 to 1. Anyone got some good finds around here?

      I'll continue posting about this area once in a while.

      1. re: Alice Patis

        Alice, we seem to be moving in the same orbits. My in-laws live just south of there off of Camden and Almaden Exwy! Where they live is called Almaden Valley but perhaps north is Blossom Valley, who knows. Either way, I'm glad that you're doing some sleuthing around there. I just see chain after chain, strip mall after strip mall.

        Unfortunately, we don't eat out much in that area since my MIL often cooks. My FIL is Chinese from Indonesia so I can't wait to tell him about the Indonesian place! Maybe we'll take him next time we see him.

        I remember having a decent bowl of pho bo vien near Oakridge a few yrs. ago. Don't recall name or exact location, but I'll let you know if I get more info. I've eaten at the Baja Fresh on Blossom Hill which was typical, satisfying BF. For a more quickie "junk food" lunch, I like the polish dog at Costco w/ the fruit smoothie. My FIL was excited that a Pizza My Heart just opened up on Blossom Hill. Original one is in Santa Cruz, and they sell NY-style pizza by the slice. Website is www.pizzamyheart.com

        You know, I thought I had read somewhere about a couple of Chinese, maybe even Peruvian places nearby (on Monterey?), so I'll keep a lookout. Good luck chowhounding and keep us posted!

    2. I don't frequent Ori-Deli very often but I tried it sometime last year.

      I was impresssed in the past by the satays: tender, moist and the peanut sauce hits the spot - a bit unusual in Indonesian standard, probably due to the processed peanut butter used.

      The nasi rames (combo rice) should have the satay and rendang beef which I think the two most interesting items.

      Ori deli is great for Indonesian/Dutch food items which can't be beat by any other stores.

      1. There should be several chow-worthy places in that area (probably 10 min drive or so).

        The Grand Century mall, then also the shops in the Tully Rd area - plenty of interesting Vietnamese dishes for sure.

        1. thank you for posting about south san jose!!!, almaden valley, blossom valley. my hubby and I moved there from sunnyvale not too long ago and am ever hungry for finding better food in the area. we got spoiled with all the choices north of here...

          we agree erawan thai is the best for the area.. fairly consistent too. the sushi place near the ori deli (tomo sushi) is pretty decent. or at least much better than the ariake chains around there.

          have you been to tlaquepaque? it is technically in willow glen I think, corner of curtner and lincoln... (they have three locations) but a short drive from our area. good mexican food... stay away from the verde sauce.. but good carnitas & rellenos. there is a new bbq place that just went in next door.. i'm curious to give that a try.

          we are still looking for a good pizza, bbq, chinese restaurant... there is a place called "hand pulled noodle house" by albertson's on capital expressway and vista park that has good hand made noodles. but most of the dishes there are hit and miss. most are just o.k.

          mojo burger has great angus beef burgers, decent fries... a bit spendy for a burger, but good. (by nob hill across from santa theresa high school).

          can't wait to hear your further adventures!

          1. m
            Melanie Wong

            Good 'hounding, Alice! I especially appreciated the report on Ori-Deli. It's been one of those places I've been meaning to try but then forgot about.

            Ocean Delight is not too far a drive from that area. I think it has dim sum at lunch time. I only had the one set banquet there and don't know what the regular offerings are like.

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            1. Thanks for the sleuthing! I work down at 85 & cottle, and I've been looking for good lunch places as well.

              I concur RE Erawan--it's good enough for the area that I make the drive once in a while. I've tried a few other Thai places in the area but haven't found anything better.

              I'll definitely try out the Indonesian place. I LOVE Mangusteens, so maybe I can convince him to order some for me even if he doesnt carry them. ($8 bucks a pound? Wow...in Cambodia they must have been less than $1 a pound, but we didn't really pay attention. They tasted good enough to pay quite a bit more)

              Mojo Burger: I didn't think it lived up to expectations, but I live in the city where hand-formed Nieman Ranch beef burgers with good buns are the same price as the flat machine formed patties of Mojo. Plus which, if memory serves it was fried instead of grilled, which to my taste leaves too much grease on the surface of the patty. Fries were decent, but overall this place struck me as much like an In-N-Out at 2 times the price.

              Ocean Delight: I suggest you check it out. It will be a bit of a drive, but they serve consistently good dim sum at lunch time. Apparently they'll also custom cook whole fish if you happen to have gone fishing and caught something special.

              Wish I had more suggestions for you.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Steve G

                I'd like to second the recommendations for Ocean Delight, as well as make a recommendation for its sister restaurant, Ocean Palace.

                There's also a Filipino bakery (Gold Tray Manila) in the same strip mall as Ocean Palace that I like to go to at times to pick up a bag of their sweet bread rolls (I think the name is pan de sal, but don't hold me to it). The bread is especially good when warm -- crusty outside, soft and fragrant on the inside, and only a dozen for $1.50.

                As far as other options go for eating in the area, I like the branch of Aqui's in the Pet Club/Long's Drugs shopping plaza at the corner of Snell and Blossom Hill. I think they describe themselves as "Cal-Mex", so if you're looking for authentic Mexican food, don't go there. The special of the day is usually pretty good -- most of the time I order at least one of their specials when I go there. They used to have a jambalaya on the menu that my wife enjoyed, but unfortunately have taken it off after they redid the menu recently. Of course, I'm not saying it was an authentic Creole rendition of the dish, just that my wife and I enjoyed sharing an order when it was a special of the day.

                For even less casual Mexican food, there are always burritos at the Burrito Factory across from the Long's plaza on Blossom Hill. Just a solid burrito, nothing fancy, but they will definitely fill you up for lunch. So far, I haven't gotten anything else from there except for burritos, but I do remember they have other items on the menu if you don't want a big burrito.

                Lastly, if you like cheesesteak, then you could try the Cheese Steak Shop in the Albertson's shopping plaza on Monterey Highway, close to 101. Being a fan of garlic, I am partial to their garlic cheesesteak. Again, I'm not saying that it's the best cheesesteak in San Jose, just that there's a place in South San Jose where one can satisfy a cheesesteak craving at lunch, if necessary. Sort of how O'Henry's Donuts are good, but I wouldn't necessarily make a special trip just to try them, like I might for Stan's or Lou's.

                Hope I didn't bore everyone with my rambling.

                Ocean Palace
                5316 Monterey Hwy
                SJ, CA 95111

                Gold Tray Manila
                5320 Monterey Hwy
                SJ, CA 95111

                Aqui
                5679 Snell Ave
                SJ, CA 95123

                Burrito Factory
                463 Blossom Hill Rd
                SJ, CA 95123

                Cheese Steak Shop
                5524 Monterey Hwy
                SJ, CA 95138

                1. re: Larry
                  m
                  Melanie Wong

                  Naw, you had my rapt attention. Please keep posting, Larry!

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Thanks for the compliment, Melanie. Considering the number of tips I have gleaned from yours and other people's posts here on Chowhound, I hope it's a start to repaying my debt. :)

              2. "In a paper bag, some shrimp chips and another type that is light yellow, tastes like potato, but is slightly bitter. "

                I wonder if the bitter chips were emping belinjo, made from some kind of Indonesian nut. Very authentic, if so.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ju

                  Those empings crackers are widely available at Ranch 99 Markets and made from real melinjos. Virtually all if not all the ingredients of majority common Indonesian dishes are now common here in Bay Area Asian markets.

                  Even those "daun jeruk purut" (kaffir lime leaves?) are now available in plants that you can install in your garden - San Jose Indonesian bazaars.

                2. There is a new Hawaiian joint called Mahalo in the strip mall on Almaden Expressway before Branham Lane next to the Burrito Factory (also quite good) that may be promising.

                  1. I went today for lunch, mainly to follow up on the Mangosteen front.

                    I got the gado gado, which was OK, but at 7.95 or something quite expensive for a plate of veggies with a bit of tofu and a generous slosh of peanut sauce.

                    I asked the man about Mangosteens, and he thought I was asking about the magazines. After much confusion involving him pointing at a table that I definitely didn't think had anything related to mangosteens sitting on it, I realized we were talking along different paths.

                    He definitely seems to have a source, but even with an extra voice asking for them said he wouldn't order them, as he can't sell them after they've been there ~5 days.

                    I wonder how many people here on Chowhound would be interested in sharing a crate of them or something? I'd be good for 2 or 3 pounds of them. If we could somehow guarantee to him that most or all of his order would be sold, I'm sure he'd do it.

                    On other fronts, they do have the half sphere of what seems to be cane sugar, akin to the cones of cane sugar used in some Mexican cooking. My BF says they're indispensable for just the right sweetness in some Thai dishes. Reasonably priced, too.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Steve G

                      I heard mangosteens were contraband. Anyone know otherwise?

                      1. re: topa
                        d
                        David Thompson

                        As far as I know they are still contraband in this country, although there are those who smuggle them from Toronto to NYC and you can find them in some of the hidden away markets in parts of that big city. There are so many ethnic markets in NYC and most people haven't a clue what a mangosteen is that the vendors get away with selling them.

                        You can buy frozen Mangosteens in markets - good selection in LA area and southern Orange County, but come on, those aren't fresh ones at all and taste totally different.

                        There are some growers in So Cal and in Florida I am aware of. Try Homestead Florida.

                        Irradiation works for Logans and Rambutans - I buy these from Hawaii and other places - they ship to CA, why can't we get approved for Mangosteens???

                        I've got some fruit related links you might want to check out here: http://www.davestravel.com/links/inde...
                        all from my personal net research.

                        Regards,

                        David
                        Dave's Travel Corner
                        www.davestravel.com

                        Link: http://www.davestravelcorner.com

                        Image: http://www.davestravel.com/photos/fru...

                        1. re: David Thompson

                          I know this is nitpicky, but in fact they are *not* and have *never* been contraband in the entire country. What they are is illegal to import into or to ship within the US. Mangosteens are in fact grown legally in the United States, in Hawaii, and are fairly easily available there fresh in markets in season. Try the Hilo's farmer's market.

                          but no, you won't be allowed to bring them back to the Mainland, and yes, they will inspect your luggage before you leave HI.