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Top Five Restaurants in San Mateo

I'll be staying in San Mateo for business the entire last week of March. I'm bringing my husband and six-year-old son along to make a mini-vacation of the trip. We'll be staying at the Residence Inn. I would be interested in hearing people's top five restaurant picks in or around San Mateo. We like all kinds of foods at all kinds of prices. But I must say that I really appreciate a restaurant that delivers a big bang for the buck. Why pay more if you don't have to?

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  1. These have been on my must try one day when I'm in San Mateo:

    Noodle Shop-(Chinese)
    Shanghai East (Chinese)
    Happy Cafe (Chinese)
    Everyday Beijing (Chinese)
    Little Sichuan Restaurant (Chinese)
    Little Shanghai Restaurant (Chinese)
    Joy Luck Place (Chinese, dim sum)
    Dessert Republic (Chinese desserts)

    Rainbow Pizza (Greek)

    Pancho Villa Taqueria (Mexican)

    Kisaku (Japanese)
    Izakaya Mai (Japanese)
    Himawari (Japanese ramen)
    Yuzu (Japanese)
    Hotaru (Japanese, reasonable & pretty good, open everyday)

    Romolo's Spumoni & Cannoli Factory (desserts)
    Sibby's Cupcakery (no store front, need to pre-order & pick-up, extra charge for delivery)

    Use the search function above on all, probably many post..Please report back on where you guys end up.

    9 Replies
    1. re: hhc

      This post reminds me... I used to visit San Mateo for work maybe 8-9 years ago. There was a hole-in-the-wall chinese place on that main drag -- El Camino -- they used to write the menu, in chinese, on this huge mirror on the wall. All asian customers... and me: a big, doofy american. Used to order blind, and everything was always fabulous. fresh. delicious. Is it still there??

      1. re: hhc

        In my opinion, avoid the Noodle Shop on 25th ave. The hole in the wall chinese might be silver house, El Camino, which has pretty decent authentic cantonese, but is a little downhill since 8-9 years ago. Hotaru on El Camino is consistent, good Japanese, I had hamachi the other day and they were fresh, huge slabs. It's inexpensive and has good udon lunch specials. Joy Luck Place on 4th is probably the best dim sum in the area, other than in Millbrae. Romolo's Cannoli is the best. If you go to Yuzu, 37th ave, then by all means walk down the street to Romolo's. I have a 3 year old, so these are all very child friendly. BJ's, although a chain, is your best bet if you have to eat at the strip mall with the Target by your hotel. Also nearby, another chain, Chipotle, Foster City blvd, is cheap, clean, burritos and tacos for lunch. North Beach pizza on 3rd/B used to be the best pizza, but you have to ask for the crust extra crispy. I'd suggest for more upscale dining, go up to San Francisco as the peninsula is really not the best for such food.

        1. re: peppatty

          Peppatty, why avoid the Noodle Shop?

          1. re: peppatty

            Peppatty, what do you have against Pancho Villa, enough to recommend Chipotle instead? I have an occasional barbacoa now and then when a co-worker drags me there, but *recommending* an ex-McDonalds-chain over a very serviceable, authentic SF burrito? Why?

            And North Beach pizza - really - what about Pizza A Go Go, especially their thin crust? And, even for a chain, Amici's?

            In terms of that particular mall, I'll take Armadillo Willys over BJs. BJs is that deep fried chain food that I hate when I'm on the road. Willys at least is straight-up meat. I have a burger there every few weeks. Even more child friendly.

            Even better is The Fish Market, just two lights down fashion island. It's a little generic, but the food is light and tasty. You can get a decent lunch special for $20 out the door and double that for dinner. Not cheap-cheap, but a much higher range of food. Will not leave you feeling greasy inside and out. It would be a good choice on an "I'm very tired and just want to sleep" night, when you don't want to dust off your Mandrin and/or fight the parking garages of San Mateo.

            The real benefit of San Mateo is chinese. Look up Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot and Everyday Beijing, and I love Shanghai East as previously recommended. All will be very child friendly simply because they're chinese. This assumes your entire family is OK with authentic chinese - you said "any cuisine" but these places are pretty hardcore. The important point with Shanghai East is to stick to the Shanghai dishes - they'll try to make a Boiled Beef, but it's not right.

            But look - San Mateo is less than a 20 minute drive from some of the good SF restaurants (those near the freeway - talking Mission through SOMA and Potrero Hill). Give hubby and junior the car, grab a cab to caltrain and dine in the city (traffic northbound can be heavy until about 7pm). They can have a great day at the Waterfront Museum or Exploratorium then you eat of the fruits of SF. Nothing better in the world.

            Viogner is likely the default fancy eats in SM. You should probably stay away, it's not bad, just overpriced and not the best with kids.

            One of San Mateo / Foster City's hidden gems is the 3rd Ave kiteboarding spot. It'll be a little early in the year for kitboarding, but you might get lucky. Take your kid down at about 4:30p and you'll see something you probably don't get much of at home - if the wind's up you might get 30 or more kites in the air. 3rd ave reliably gets the precise kiteboarding wind at that time of the afternoon, and it's all very visible from land - the guys do jumps just yards from the parking lot.

            1. re: bbulkow

              The "even for a chain" ding for Amici's is a little odd after a recommendation for Pizza A Go Go / Pizza My Heart, given that the latter is four times the size of the former. :)

              Do you not like North Beach Pizza? They seemed to be pretty reasonable the one time I've been. Not to knock Pizza My Heart, which I also like -- although Speederia in San Carlos has won me over for that NY-style thin crust style.

              (And Chipotle's always been better to me than the other "fresh mex" chains out there. While my handle isn't actually a reference to them, at times I feel obligated to stick up for 'em, even though they wouldn't be where I'd send anyone looking for a taqueria.)

              1. re: Chipotle

                I know it's a month later, but I feel the need to set the record straight.

                Regarding chains of pizza: Amici's has 10 locations, Pizza A gogo has 14. You're right they're bigger, I'm wrong (but 4x was obviously an overstatement). My confusion was the name change to "Pizza My heart" with the old logo. Search 'pizza a go go palo alto' and you find the old web page with no other locations. I will begin sneering at them forthwith. I only like what I've been told to order "a gogo style" at the PA branch - the regular crust is too thick for my taste.

                Yes, I do not like North Beach Pizza. To my taste, they're poor example of "california style". I like a crisp crust, they're very thick. The cheese is very thick, which has its points, but with a soggy crust gets old fast. Best eaten in-house, immediately, before the sog sets in. The sauce is unremarkable. It's about like regular Pizza My Heart, but even thicker and doughier.

                My girlfriend ordered our standard PMH order a few weeks ago, forgot to say the magic "thin crust" words. We ended up throwing away half the pizza, and we're not, generally, food tossers.

                Regarding Speederia, I tried it once, and didn't really get the fuss. I suspect it's because I'm not hip to the NY style. It seems like a very casual meal, and if I lived/worked closer, I may get to love it. But I don't.

                I'm actually coming around to (gasp) Round Table for my corperate delivery needs, because they make a thinner pizza, and they've got the delivery thing really down. And they're liberal with the roasted garlic.

                I concur Chipotle's the best of the "fresh mex chains" (I really hope Tacone doesn't take off - they're deeply objectionable), and glad we agree they're not a taqueria. Really - there are 35 in the Boston area, 17 in miami, and two in Tuscaloosa. I can't see Chipotle as rec-worthy, especially not as a 2.2 mile drive.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  I haven't been to Round Table in a while, although I recall liking them more than I thought I would the last visit. I'm not sure I'd have considered North Beach Pizza "California style," although I'm not sure entirely what I would, either. (I think sort of Wolfgang Puck-ish woodburning ovens, flatbread kind of crust and slightly weird toppings, possibly?)

                  I haven't been to the one Tacone I know of in Redwood City, because it never looked particularly interesting. This doesn't lead me to reconsider that. :)

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Yeah ... you nailed it ... North Beach Pizza IS 'California Style" ... "Old-school California style" ... a new category. The type of pizza found in California pre California (new) pizza.

                2. re: bbulkow

                  I recommend Pancho Villa also as it may be fun for a six year old to pick out what he's going to eat & watch the people assemble his plate (cafeteria style). Also, the fresh fruit smoothies are good. Another big plus for this restaurant...Talbot's Toyland next door:-)

            2. Kaimuki Grill (Japanese)
              Taqueria La Cumbre (tacos)
              231 Ellsworth (upscale)

              1. Sushi Sam's

                My favorite in San Mateo is chinese and Pancho Villa. There are a number of newer places on B street (like Kingfish) that I've never bothered to try, and don't seem to be reviewed much here.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bbulkow

                  My wife and I usually go to Izakaya Mai, Hotaru or the Noodle Shop...all very decent places to dine. I agreed with bbulkow...get into the City!

                2. Thanks to everyone that has posted replies. I'm a big fan of Chinese food, so it's wonderful to hear that that's big in San Mateo. I especially like spicy stir-fried dishes. Anyhow, just wanted to say that we will be going to SF on the Sunday before work starts in San Mateo. We're planning on dinner at Zuni Cafe. Thinking of lunch at Cafe Pescatore so we can park on the streets nearby, dine and then take a ride on the Powell-Mason cable car.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: travelworm

                    I waited to add my two cents.

                    Happy Cafe is a little Shanghai dumpling shop with only two must have items. xlb's and house special chicken (their take on drunken chicken)

                    Joy Luck Place is the best dim sum in San Mateo

                    Everyday Beijing has good noodles and other Northern Chinese items.

                    One other place not listed is Chef Wai's which has a few items that are outstanding. But you have to be lucky to have Andy be there cooking. His staff is good but they are not him. They have a tofu dishes that is out of this world but I do not remember off hand but I will review my first on Chef Wai.

                    Since you have a week you should be able to get some good Chinese while you are here.

                  2. For a near San Francisco like upscale small plate seafood dining experience that combines California, a touch of French and Asian, Lure is pretty decent, but appetizer + main course and dessert for two will run you a c-note. Reservations recommended.
                    You'll be spending that much easy at Sushi Sam's if you binge on sushi, particularly from their exotic imported fish selection on the white board at $8 on the average for two small pieces of fish over pads of rice. Plus as much as I would love to go back to Sam's, the value isn't there anymore (plus you're paying upscale prices at well...a larger hole in the wall, vs Lure where it's a bit more secluded, intimate, and better vibe).

                    Joy Luck Place is your best bet for Cantonese dim sum in the area. Get there before noon or before 11:30 on weekends and you should be fine.