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cheap eats near San Jose State?

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Moving up in the world, indeed. After years at my (very good) community college, I'll be at a big four year university. It's kind of exciting. (Yeah, yeah, I'm old enough, but it's never too late to get a degree, right?)

So I'm going to be spending my next several years in the heart of downtown San Jose without a car (bus is free, makes the long commute affordable). I've always considered that part of San Jose to be a culinary cemetary, but I suppose I wouldn't really know. I know next to nothing about the place, foodwise, except for the Togos (and a couple of places that I don't think even exist anymore). Not exactly what I have in mind.

My classes all start at lunchtime, so I'm mostly looking for places I can grab something smallish to study with or take on the bus home. I'd prefer cheap, and walkable from SJSU, any cuisine is fine. What all is around there? Any notable gems for sit down dining on a night I want to stick around later or with friends? Any good cafes with cute barristas that I can hang out at and study (quality of coffee is at least as important as quality of staff!)?

Thanks so much!

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  1. The Student Union will be the cheapest eats with the best long-term spread-out-your-books-to-study parking available in the area; seriously. The food can be good you just have to experiment with certain things.

    Many of the smaller, sit-down businesses don't want students taking up a full booth studying while only ordering the cheapest food on their menu and work it so you end up eating and leaving. It didn't really matter what time, either. (I'm sure I wouldn't either if I owned one of those businesses.)

    If you don't mind a little walk, White Lotus on Market is a good starting point. The Mexican place right next door (Taqueria la Mordia) and La Victoria on Santa Clara are solid performers. For pizza, Nick's on Santa Clara is all right. For pasta, Ravioli's on Park works, too. For really desperate budget-stretching food, Jack-in-the-Box on San Carlos is another; only order from the 99ยข menu.

    1 Reply
    1. re: The Ranger

      When I went to SJSU - wow, 10 years ago, now. There were a couple of super-cheap places on 2nd & Santa Clara (Peking Palace, and some little deli place that didn't even have a name I could find), both have long since closed (like the oddly tame downtown San Jose stripclubs before them). Of course, downtown had only recently pulled out of a long slump back then. In the 80's, it was downright dismal.

      Today, there's a plethora of places to eat downtown, many of them upscale. I believe there's still a few less expensive ones huddled right around the campus on San Fernando (north edge of campus). Also, Tengu Sushi is decent and relatively cheap, it's on that pedestrian non-street (paseosomethingorother) that goes by the mercifully-defunct Pavilion, Camera 12, etc, and terminates at 4th across from the Sience building. And Grande Pizzeria is still around, I remember it being pretty good and not overpriced. The food at the student union prettymuch sucked when I went there, but it may have improved - the building itself, with it's odd offset architecture is cool, and has plenty of places to settle in and study - I found the areas downstairs to be a bit more private. The very best, quietest place to study - the virtually deserted Walquist Library, of course, is no more.

    2. Welcome to San Jose, SJSU is not in the "heart of downtown"

      There are dozens of small restaurants surrounding the campus. Some have been there for decades, some are around for less than a year. Every type of food is represented within walking distance.

      The Togos on Williams Street closed many years ago. I guess there is another one close to campus based on your post.

      I ate at Sonja's Kitchen on Williams Street 3-4 times a week for a couple of years, I haven't been there in 3-4 years. I lived on 7th Street, then later on 5th Street.

      Emile's and Paolos (and Victorian House now closed) were my fine dining "go to" places close to school. For a pizza; Grande Pizzeria. For a view (need a car) Rancho Grandview (now called something similar) but same ownership/same place on Mt Hamilton Road.

      On a three block stretch of Williams Street, there are probably 5-7 places to get food.

      For a place to "hang out" I also recommend the Student Union.

      1. Mostly horrible food but a couple good places. There is a Thai place on 7th or 8th and williams, can't miss it. Not crowded and the food is good. Zanatos on like 2nd street has OK sandwiches. Kobuta on 5th and Jackson has excellent sushi. There is a pretty good korean restaurant in Japan town, i forget the name but i think there is only one. There is a place called Taiwan for chinese food, its in Willow Glen. Also an Italian deli called La Villa in willow glen that has excellent sandwiches and raviolis. For mexican try La Victoria for rice burritos or La Taqueria for real burritos. There is an ethiopian cafe on 1st street (star mars) that is pretty good and an etheopian restaurant on san carlos.

        Try all of these, you will not be dissapointed!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Matt

          Second the reccos for Japantown. It isn't walking distance from campus (as per OP's criteria) but if taking a longer break, it's just 2-3 light rail stops away. Many of the restaurants are a LOT better than Tengu Sushi IMHO.

          The Korean restaurant is called Omogari (www.omogari.biz) and is not bad. Gombei and Kubota are popular with expat Japanese. Minato's attracts a different crowd, but also busy at lunch time. If you like kaitenzushi (rotation sushi), Sushi Maru is a good choice. Upscale: Yasu's. Oh yeah, Kaita is quite good too. I worked in Japantown for years but never tried the Hawaiian place for some reason...

          have fun noshing!

          1. re: Matt

            Kubota's is good, but not cheap. Hukilau is low priced plate lunch and there is Tiki Thursday where house drinks and some appetizers are half off all night long.

            Omogari is the Korean place in Japantown. Kazoo and Minato are reasonable for lunch. For Mexican, try Guadalajara Market on 10th and Empire for big, low priced burritos. And of course Peanuts, the old college standby.

          2. Congrats on your matriculation! I hope you keep us abreast of your discoveries in that area since I know there are chowish places that just don't get the press here. I went to the other school, SCU, years ago so have some familiarity w/ the area.

            I agree w/ others that Japantown is great and you can still eat cheaply. Gombei and Kaita sound like good options. Kubota has nice classic sushi and probably has some lunch specials.

            I will also add that there are many Vietnamese restaurants and delis in that area, although I'm just starting to get reconnected to them. I remember there were some places on William that I went to and have heard that you can find cheap banh mi in the area. I've only been to Vung Tau on E. Santa Clara St. (around 11th or 12th) recently which I'm loving, but it's not super cheap for Viet food. You could have a very satisfying dinner for around $10 though.

            I've linked a helpful guide that has a bunch of South Bay Viet places, including many in the downtown area. Alot of them sound very interesting. Please report back on your discoveries!

            I'm sure there are some coffeehouses near SJSU, but I noticed that Mission Coffee Roasting Co. is still open down the Alameda towards SCU if you felt like getting a change of scenery.

            Link: http://www.vietscape.com/restaurant/

            1. On Thursdays, there's half-priced appetizers and drinks at Hukilau in Japantown. Take light rail to Japantown and it's a short walk. I wouldn't say it's the best Hawaiian food, but it's ok.

              For a good, cheap but sometimes greasy breakfast. You can go to Peanuts (across from the Engineering building on San Fernando).

              For Thai, there's House of Siam on either Market and Post or 2nd St (across from San Jose Rep)...there's 2 locations.

              There's a Top Dog near the 7-11 on 11th St. It wasn't there when I was going to SJSU, but it tastes the same as the one in Berkeley.

              have fun!