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Mar 25, 2007 11:45 AM

Palo Alto and nearby

I know there are old posts on this topic, but I couldn't find any that were very recent or helpful.

My mom and dad live in Palo Alto and I visit them pretty often. The problem is, they like good chow when they're led to it, but they don't seek it out themselves so they often end up settling on yucky places like Zao and even (gasp!) Bucca di Beppo. We went to Evvia once for a special occasion. I thought it was good but wasn't overwhelmingly impressed. Also Evvia isn't necessarily the best place for them because they don't eat lamb ("that's a baby!" my mom would say).

So I'm looking for recommendations at any price level for chow within a 15 minute drive of Stanford's campus. Sushi places need not apply (they aren't very adventurous).


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  1. No need to eat at Bucca di Beppo. Trattoria Buon Gusto in Menlo Park might be their speed. It can be a bit noisy, so best to get a table near the windows.
    And there's easy parking in a public lot a couple doors down from the restaurant.

    Edited to add:
    Places I've been to multiple times, that is, found good enough to return are:
    Palo Alto - La Strada, Coupa Cafe, La Bodeguita, Cafe Elan, Cafe Brioche, Tamarine, and Su Hong (not MP branch
    )Menlo Park - Back-A-Yard

    1. I just ate at Iberia in Menlo Park last night. I loved the food and the atmosphere. Our service was terrible, but the food I think is worth the risk. It is Spanish with tapas served at the bar. If you are a smaller party, say 3-4, there are some tables with comfy recliners near a fireplace at the bar to sit if you want tapas. There are about 25 kinds. The rest of the meny is pricier and has many small plates as well.

      My report:

      On University in PA, we like La Strada for very specific things (i.e. things we have had). They have a wonderful meat plate antipasto, and some nice appetizers. Have not had entrees there, but if MW says they are good, you can definitely take that to the bank. The antipasto is priced per person, but they are generous. We ordered it for one with some other appetizers and it was enough for two.

      I have only eaten in the bar area at La Bodeguita (on California), and we had a nice time. It was a little loud. It is Cuban/Fusion food. They make a great Cuba Libre (rum and coke), possibly because they use good rum and skimp on it, so it is not overpowering.

      4 Replies
      1. re: P. Punko

        I haven't had a real entree at La Strada. Like you, I love the cured meats . . . and admired the hand-operated Berkel. The pastas and pizza have been very good too.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Yeah, to follow up for those interested, the meats for the meat plate are fresh sliced on a stunning slicer right there (the kitchen is open). The parma prosciutto is very good. The other meats consist of bresoala (dry cured beef)- which is absolutely great (since it is always quite pricey, I don't eat it that much), speck tirolese (another cured pork- subtle and delightful), salame felino (also killer) and mortadella, which just cannot hold a candle to the rest. Most meats were sliced nice and thin, with the salame slightly thicker. Truly a great and quality version of my fave Italian appetizer.

          1. re: P. Punko

            You're making my mouth water! I'll have to try La Strada and report back. Iberia looks promising, too (love tapas).

            Thanks for the tips.

            1. re: alimentation

              I love the casonsei - sausage and amaretti ravioli sauced with brown butter and fried sage leaves. Also, their pastas with long-cooked meat sauces are consistently good (chitarrine with lamb sauce always seems to be on the menu... same with the risotto with oxtail).

      2. Los Altos Grill can get crowded, but it's always a reliable choice. Great bar and a very reliable meat-centric menu. But go on either a weeknight or early or late in the evening. If you head there during peak times prepare to wait!

        There are so many great choices near University that you shouldn't have to settle for Zao! If anything you can get a good burger and shake at the Peninsula Creamery. And La Strada for Italian and Tamarine for gourmet Vietnamese are both great choices as well.

        3 Replies
        1. re: VirgoBlue

          Stay away from the fries at Peninsula- I think they only get fried once, so they are barely cooked on the inside. If they gave them the twice over, they'd be fluffy and good.

          1. re: P. Punko

            funny i was there last weekend and both the BF and i remarked at how good the fries were. they were crispy, hot and cooked enough.

            1. re: katg

              Good to know- maybe we were there on a crappy night. Everything was so mediocre we haven't been back, but you give me hope.

        2. As the weather gets nicer, I'd suggest the patio at Caffe Riace. It's a bit hidden between Page Mill & California avenue, but the food & atmosphere are terrific. We especially love the grilled vegetable antipasto & the pasta dishes. The wine selections were broad and very well-proced, too.

          While I love the food at Iberia, we have had universally bad service there 3 out of 3 times. In fact, our last visit was so bad, we almost got thrown our after a verbal confrontation with the manager (server switched wines on us for a $50 premium, yet they insisted we pay).

          While I'm not the hugest fan of their cuisine, our local friends adore Gambardella's in their newish location by the MP train station. It's a very nice evening out, and the grownup ambience is quite nice.

          For more divey places, I'd take them to Fresh Taste Mandarin. Consistently excellent cuisine, with the most beautifully-cooked vegetables you can get. Our favorite is the low-fat steamed chicken & veggies with garlic sauce and the (full-fat) broccoli chicken. Prices are ridiculously inexpensive and the dining room is clean & pleasant with warm & friendly service.

          If you're looking for a good steak and a "parent-friendly" atmosphere, you can't go wrong with Sundance. Consistently good steaks & surprising pasta & veggie entrees, too. Not cheap, but always a safe bet. This is my father's favorite restaurant when he comes to visit.

          You'll note I've purposely left off any University Avenue choices. After my own experiences circling the block for parking while my mother (the queen of the backseat drivers) provides a running commentary as I dodge bicyclists & pedestrians, I thought I'd do you the favor of only listing places with easy parking & access.

          3 Replies
          1. re: foodiegrl

            Caffe Riace has atmosphere in spades, but one needs to be careful about ordering. Here's a thread with some advice.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I am going to pile on with Cafe Riacce. I will admit its been a while but their Carpaccio seemed to come right out of a package and their pastas weren't much better. With the exception of Bodeguita, California Avenue needs help with dining.
              If it were me and 15 minutes were an acceptable driving time, I would wander down a bit further south and visit Mt View with a host of better choices.

            2. re: foodiegrl

              The parking lots along University Ave in Palo Alto are large and numerous. I even found a new one (new to me) last night after eating at Tamerine - there's a little alley that takes you right to Tamerine.

              Regarding TheCounter - the bar is terrible, especially at the price. I didn't see what they did to my drink, but the taste was pre-mix.

              Has the OP considered Cheesecake Factory? Osteria? Pasta?? Gordon Bierch? Empire Taproom? Peninsula Creamery? On california, Cafe Pro Bono? All non-adventurous places.

            3. I agree with foodiegirl, stay away from University Avenue unless you're extremely patient and willing to battle an army to find parking around dinner time.

              A short walk down California Avenue will present you with quite a few choices, La Bodeguita del Medio is a good bet although the atmosphere can be a bit noisy and bustling. Try Spalti if you're looking for italian, it's a far cry better than Bucca di Beppo with a much calmer setting. For Spanish/Mexican I would suggest Palo Alto Sol, their salsas are wonderful and everything there tastes like it could have come straight out of abuela's kitchen.

              The Counter Burger, although a chain, is great for a good burger fix. They offer build your own burgers with a variety of creative toppings and sauces. The Counter also has a bar, and even if you only go here for drink make sure to order the onion strings, thin, cripsy, and irresistable.

              4 Replies
              1. re: suzanolivia

                I'm glad to hear you had a good experience with The Counter, but the two times I've been there, I've had terrible wait times and probably the worst service I've experienced at a restaurant in a very long time. The manager/host shooed us away looking like he didn't even want to bother helping someone who didn't just come out of the Stanford football game, and the waitress didn't come by our table to even greet or acknowledge us until 15 minutes after we sat down (this is no exageration).

                I won't go patronize them again.

                1. re: VirgoBlue

                  There is a huge City parking garage between Cowper and Webster, a block from all of the University restaurants.

                  1. re: VirgoBlue

                    Yeah, I've actually been to the Counter several times. I like their burgers a lot but the service has been absolutely horrible on more than one occasion. Once I ordered a burger, they brought me something other than what I ordered, I clarified, they brought me a second burger, and even that one was wrong. Everybody at my table was done by the time I got the right burger...

                    1. re: alimentation

                      Sounds typical. There's no reason why anyone should put up with such shotty service. That's why I can't bring myself to go there anymore. It's absurd. The burgers aren't THAT good.