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The Refuge in San Carlos: REAL Pastrami and more!

The Refuge opened up on Tuesday. I wandered in for lunch today.

The sign on the front says "wine bar, pastrami, charcuterie." I had a Pastrami sandwich with coleslaw and russian dressing. It was simply outstanding. The pastrami was warm and moist yet not fatty at with great texture. It had the perfect amount of spice. It was served on a hearty rye bread that did a great job of standing up to the pastrami. The sandwich was a perfectly reasonable size: ample, but not overstuffed. Let's see if I can put it into perspective. The refuge's pastrami is to the typical boar's head pastrami as a hershey bar is to an artisan handmade truffle. Not in the same universe.

My 2 year old son, had a very tasty grilled cheese and fries. He liked it a lot...and I concur.

In addition to the pastrami, they have fresh ground american kobe burgers, cheesesteaks made from fresh sliced ribeye, a nice charcuterie and cheese selection, as well as soups and salads.

They've also got what looks to be a very well thought out wine and beer selection with an emphasis on biodynamic wines and Belgian beer.

I spoke with the owner, Matt. He told me that he had been chef de cuisine at Viogner and wanted to open up his own, much less formal place. I hope he'll be successful.

Prices. Not cheap, but reasonable for the quality. The basic pastrami is $13, reuben $14, cheese stakes and burgers $12.

Bottom line: I think this place is yet another winner for San Carlos (yes, SAN CARLOS!) . If you like pastrami, this is a place that is worth a trip out of your way (possibly a long trip out of your way!) I'm looking forward to returning soon to try the other items on the menu.

The Refuge
963 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA 94070

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  1. Thanks for the report. Looking forward to reports about future visits

    The Refuge
    963 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA 94070

    1. Just went to Refuge tonight. The pastrami is fantastic! Definitely worth a visit, especially if you like meats and appreciate artisan, quality food.

      This isn't anything like pastrami you normally get from a deli. This is homemade , smoked pastrami that has more in common with the best smoked briskets from great BBQ joints than the deli-style pastrami one normally thinks of.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Shane Greenwood

        That was pretty much my impression. It's lean, but juicy, the flavor is similar to traditional fatty NY pastrami, but a bit smokier than I recall ever having encountered in New York. In some ways it was the best pastrami I've ever had. I got the plain, now that I know what it's like I wish we'd split one plain and one Reuben. Pickles were very good. For the total sandwich experience I still prefer Wood Tavern's.

        The fries were Belgian-style, like Luka's. I must have been really hungry as who wants fries with a pastrami sandwich? Odd that they have cole slaw as an ingredient in sandwiches but don't offer it as a side dish.

        Chopped liver was good but bland, I prefer the style with more onion. Odd menu, that's the only other real deli-type item.

        Re an earlier complaint, they had a sign at the door saying please wait to be seated.

        Wood Tavern
        6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          They do have a heavier smoke then NYC. While I'm not generally an advocate of a heavier smoke, which seems to prevalent in West Coast smoked fish, it does seem to work, here for their pastrami which I also think is the best I have ever had. Now, if only they had dark rye........

          West Coast Cafe
          466 San Mateo Ave, San Bruno, CA 94066

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            They will do sides of anything if you ask; they are just not on the menu. We have gotten a side of coleslaw before...
            Last time, I also got a side of the chopped liver to go with my pastrami salad (because eating chopped liver with salad is completely logical in my universe). The salad is huge, fresh, filled with pastrami, and served with a slice of toasted rye.
            Btw, I love their chopped liver; although, I agree that there are not many flavors other than liver...

        2. Their site is now live, and their menu is online:


          It looks fantastic, and I don't think there's anything like it in the area. Haven't been yet, but will soon, hopefully this weekend.

          1. Wow, thanks for the report on the pastrami, it sounds intriguing, I must visit soon. Is it hand carved? Ever since visiting Katz's deli in NYC I have been craving something like what I had there but am mostly sure it doesn't exist here.

            Just looked at the menu and answered my own question and it says it is indeed hand carved.

            1. I had lunch at The Refuge today and it was a disappointment. I had the pastrami w/cole slaw & Russian dressing and an iced tea.

              1) I did not find the pastrami especially flavorful. It was not very peppery and seemed closer to corned beef than pastrami.
              2) I was disappointed there was so little pastrami in the sandwich, especially for $14.
              3) The cole slaw was OK and the sandwich was served with a scoop of good potato salad and half a tasty sour pickle.
              4) The rye bread was very good.
              5) The iced tea was served with simple syrup instead of sugar, which is a nice touch. However, the charge for iced tea was $3.00, which seems pricey to me.

              With tax & tip, I spent $21, which seems like quite a lot for lunch in San Carlos. Those are prices I would pay (and have paid) at Katz's and the Carnegie delis in NYC, but the sandwiches there would have 3x the amount of pastrami on them.

              1. I know only Jewish deli pastrami--New York, LA, the late and lamented Solomon's in SF. Have you by chance tasted any of those so that we may know how it compares and whether or not it's "worth a special trip"? I don't know what Boar's Head tastes like but don't associate it with the above.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Fine

                  The pics on the website make it kind of hard to tell what style their pastrami is. The OP's analogy was in the wrong order. Boar's Head tastes nothing like pastrami, but is more like what non-pastrami always tastes like. The dominant flavor is pepper, with no smoke flavor or flavor imparted from the rub that you'd get at Carnegie, etc (coriander, garlic, pepper, mustard seed notes). The picture of the sandwich indeed makes it look understuffed for 14 bucks, but this is the good old Bay Area, so I guess that is to be expected. I'd like to get up there and try it so I can give a report comparing to the different styles.

                  To quote their webpage: "The menu is eclectic and cohesive. Our ultra-tender, mouth-watering pastrami, hand-carved and steaming hot, will be a Bay Area revolution. Nobody has ever served this type of pastrami in the Bay Area. It is made with respect to the bold traditions laid down by the great delicatessens such as Langer’s and Katz’s."

                  The specifically say hand carved and the reference Katz's and Langer;s (I doubt the slices will be as thick as Katz's, which is good, because I think Katz's slices too thick)

                  1. re: P. Punko

                    I think the NY/Jewish Deli comparison is wrong. Refuge is nothing like Katz's, Carnegie, or any other deli. The Pastrami is very much an interpretation of the meat. They've developed a recipe that has more smoke and less of a pronounced pepper flavor. So some pastrami traditionalists might not get it, especially if they're expecting deli style. But I found it to be extremely flavorful, and a little more like a smoked brisket.

                    They also seem to take a bit of inspiration from Belgium, serving many imported beers. As a concept, I think they're a little unfocused, but that meat is good.

                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                      I can understand The Refuge's wish to take pastrami in a different direction and elevate it to a higher culinary plane. I just wish they would put more meat on a $14 sandwich!

                      1. re: Shane Greenwood


                        They specifically reference Katz's on their website, this is the only reason I mentioned it. My take on NY deli pastrami is that pepper is not the dominant flavor, but more a mix of the other seasonings as I mention. I wonder if the best local comparison would be to Memphis Minnie's pastrami, which I think they do one day a week (I haven't had it). I'd love for someone to compare the two.

                        1. re: P. Punko

                          sorry, wasn't commenting on your post per se, but rather the comparisson in general. Whether it's on their website or somewhere else, the reference to Katz feels off the mark when it comes to the chow. I'd caution anyone going to Refuge to expect something different than any NY deli.

                  2. I got the $7 serrano ham charcuterie plate to go today. The menu doesn't make it clear that with your charcuterie selection you get two great chutney/relishes (cherries in some kind of liquor, and dried apricot with almonds and white raisins), gherkins, toasted walnuts and a generous handful of unpitted olives. There was a generous amount of extraordinary, thin-sliced serrano and a half-dozen pieces of fresh crusty bread to piece it all together with. All in all, for $7 it's the best, highest-end gourmet lunch to be had in town.

                    The draft beer selection is something you won't see anywhere else on the peninsula, with unusual picks like Delerium Tremens and Chimay at your service.

                    Looking forward to more, and to seeing what they do over time. This place has a pretty promising pedigree.

                    1. Had dinner there with my fiance earlier tonight. I ordered a glass of the Chateau Aney bordeux, which was a bit pricey at $15 but went beautifully with the meal.

                      We started out with the five-item charcuterie and cheese plate, with country pate, chopped chicken liver, foie gras torchon, serrano ham, and brie. As mentioned by the other poster, the plate came with very generous amounts of bread, crackers, chutneys, and nuts, and was very enjoyable and satisfying. My favorite selection was the chopped chicken liver, which was light and fluffy, with a refined liver flavor.

                      For the main course I ordered the Reuben -- two juicy slices of pastrami (I agree it didn't have the characteristic peppery pastrami flavor, but was tasty nonetheless) were covered with homemade sauerkraut and gruyere, then topped with rye bread slathered in Thousand Island dressing and the whole thing nicely grilled. Delicious!! The potato salad and pickle which came with it were fine but I prefer more vinegary versions. My fiance ordered the pastrami sandwich with coleslaw and russian dressing. While acceptable, it wasn't anywhere as good as my Reuben.

                      With a cup of tea, tax, and tip, the bill came out close to $80 for two which was pretty expensive considering it was for two sandwiches, a glass of wine, a cup of tea, and a meat/cheese plate. However we enjoyed our meal and would go back, but for lunch and order less to keep our costs down. I wish they offered less expensive wines by the glass, which would help in our patronizing it more often.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: PekoePeony

                        If you want REAL pastrami, go here :

                        Now that's the real deal!


                        1. re: bbqman

                          Hi bbqman, I'm not sure I understand your comment. Have you tried Refuge too? How would you compare them. Just wondering what the difference is and why millers would be considered more real. Thanks.

                          1. re: Shane Greenwood

                            Hello Shane,
                            I live about 3 miles from Refuge, but I just cannot see paying that much for a glass of wine and a tiny sandwich.
                            Miller's on the other hand brings in their pastrami, bagels and most of the other goodies from back east, so when I say "real" pastrami, I am referring to what you would find in an east coast deli. This may or may not be what you are looking for.
                            Good hunting!


                            1. re: bbqman

                              Sounds great, I'll give them a try for sure.

                              1. re: bbqman

                                It's been a while but when I tried the pastrami at MIller's I was underwhelmed. It just wasn't very flavorful or special. Once again, I am comparing this to what I have had at Katz's in NYC and I don't think can be found around here.

                                I still like Moishe's Pipic in Hayes Valley for Bay Area pastrami but it's not on the level of what you can get in New York.
                                -Just my 2 cents

                                1. re: virtualguthrie

                                  Does anyone know if Moishe's makes their own or are they buying it?

                                  1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                    Moishe's uses Vienna Beef products for most of their deli meats including the pastrami. They do a great job of preparing it and it is sliced from a whole brisket and served hot.

                          2. re: PekoePeony

                            We went tonight for an early dinner and had the seven item meat and cheese plate with pastrami rillette and serrano ham. We did not know that rillette meant a kind of pate (which we enjoyed) so the server gave us two small slices of pastrami on the house. It was delcious and I have never been a big pastrami eater. It was as good as some excellent cold bbq pork slices at a Cantonese restaurant. Cheeses were all excellent (brie, gruyere, bucheron, Humboldt fog, and more I can't remember). As other posters have mentioned, we loved the bread, chutney, pickles, almonds, etc. that came with it. Wine, yes, was expensive, but after my glass I had a draft beer (Applinger?) and it was wonderful. All the beers on tap are Belgian we were told. Will definitely go back. Seems to be a pretty unique place.

                          3. I just had lunch at Refuge this weekend. I loved my Reuben. I was fearful the meat cut so thick would be chewy as heck but to my surprise and delight it was as tender as butter! It was also beautifully marbled with the perfect amount of fat. The Rye bread also seems to be sturdy enough to hold up against the sauerkraut and dressing. A side of fries was excellent as well, these are double fied and remain crucnchy ;ong aafter they arrive at the tablePricey? Perhaps, but I was plenty full and thought the quality better than any Reuben I have tried locally.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: dhoffman1421

                              They do use a good rye bread there.

                            2. Had dinner there on 4/4/08 - an outstanding pastrami with coleslaw and Russian. The meat was piled on high, and was succulent and tender, sliced maybe 1/2" thick. Really an amazing meat product, and a satisfying combination. Had the Duchesse de Bourgogne (sp) on draft, which almost seemed to cross the line into sweet Lambrusco territory -- very good and very interesting beer there, enthusiastically served in the proper glasses.

                              It looks like the right people are finding the place (not exactly sure what I mean by this, but the clientele made sense), and it's really hitting its stride. It was quite crowded at 5:30 on a Friday, with $10 beers lining the bar, and the place overall feels warmer now. Maybe it's all those butts on seats.

                              So, yes, most things there are on the pricey side, but they are also of extremely high quality and knowledgeably made, so it's a premium I am more than happy to pay. Check this place out; it is hard to imagine a disappointing meal here.

                              1. There was a review in the Contra Costa Times today

                                Not that my tastes match up with this particular reviewer who in the past has devoted a column to a fast food chain ... so it is no surprise the food here would impress him ... but there was some interesting stuff in there.

                                Seems like Kermit Lynch had something to do with the wine list.

                                There is a picture of the pastrami ... so anyone curious about that ... there it is.

                                One of the things that caught my attention on the menu in the beginning was the house-made Black Cherry Wishniak Soda

                                The CCTimes article mentions the the Nevermore Salad which seems to be a Baltimore-specific thing.

                                Taking a look at the menu again today they have ... World’s Fair Ohio burger (Sweet meat blend, circa late 1800s pressed into onions w/Cheddar


                                Anyone tried any of the above.

                                Yeah, yeah ... pastrami ... Rillettes ... good beer ... but the sameness of all the Bay Area menus makes this a destination-worthy place for me ... IMO, we should encouraqge people who aren't serving crudo and huckleberries.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: rworange

                                  As someone who has been to the Refuge a half dozen times and is setting out the door for a seventh, the reviewer was right on. Have to say: the fries are not frozen, they are twice-fried fresh potatoes, and excellent. The pastrami is an otherworldly animal worthy of your time. It is not unlike the finest rib meat you have ever had. Only, it has a finer crust.

                                  I am so glad to see that this place is getting so much business that even San Carlos locals have to wait their turn.

                                2. Went for dinner last night. Fantastic pastrami!! I had a Reuben and my husband had the French Dip that was very good but nowhere near as good as my Reuben. French fires were great and plentiful. We also had the Nevermore salad, a very garlicy, oregano-ey dressing on a wedge of iceberg, surprisingly good, and I don't eat iceberg. I got a view of the pasta dish as well, it looked fresh and simple, covering 4 huge pieces of toasted bread, I am planning on ordering it the next go around.

                                  Great beer and wine list, I wanted to try them all.

                                  Seating is first-come-first-serve which would have been nice to know since the server who greeted us didn't tell us that and we waited like dummies for him to seat us. It does sort of suck to spend $80 on a dinner where you need to hover and rush other diners to get a seat. That same server was really just bad in general, didn't seem knowledgeable about the food and I couldn't tell if he actually cared at all. Basically, don't go for the service, go for the pastrami.

                                  The noise level was also really loud, this was a Friday at 7:30 so I expected noise, but we were actually shocked when we walked in. We could hear people yelling "WHAT???" to their companions at the bar.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: tart

                                    I may have seen you there, or at least been shouting in the same room. :)

                                    Our server was a woman, so we had a different one than you did, and she did seem fairly knowledgeable, able to explain to to me what the menu meant by "sweet meat blend" for one burger and why one beer was singled out as a "food beer."

                                    I did have that burger and it was good, but slightly overcooked for a medium burger -- although I recalled afterward that kobe beef (even the American wagyu) doesn't seem to hold up well when you push it past rare, so I may try again. But the pastrami I had on my first visit definitely seems to be the star attraction. My dining companion had a pizza cheese steak -- which he reported was very good, and it *looked* very good, although I admit with Jersey's pretty close by I wouldn't have been tempted to try the Refuge's more expensive one.

                                      1. re: Humbucker

                                        I think he's refering to the World's Fair Ohio Burger. The owner, while growing up in Ohio, frequented the local burger joints and he found that the meat tended to have a little sweetness to it. Think of it as a sausage style burger.

                                        1. re: Humbucker

                                          According to the waitress, it had onions and a bit of brown sugar pressed into it. Despite my complaints about it being a bit overcooked, it was still a good burger - it ended up with a slightly oniony caramelized crust on it. Next time I get it, I'll order it medium rare, though. (Although next time I'm at the Refuge, I'll probably get something with pastrami!)

                                    1. Finally made it to Refuge and was not disappointed. I had the ruben and it had tons of tender thick slices of meat in it. We also had the chicken noodle soup, which was really good, along with the mussels, very fresh and tasty as well. The cherry soda is awesome. Fries are crispy, with salt and black pepper. Yum, yum! A bit spendy for sandwiches, but it matches the quality, so I can't complain.

                                      1. I find it hard to believe this thread is so old.

                                        I was very happy with my Ruben at Scratch in Mountain View yesterday. I think they claimed "kobe beef", the pastrami taste was delicate - not old school. The texture of the meat was very, very good. In keeping with the delicate theme, the sourkraut and slaw was also a tame. I could have used more slaw. But still, it was very credible.

                                        11 Replies
                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          That's good to know, but how's that tie in with The Refuge in San Carlos and this old thread?

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Because The Refuge is known for its Rubens. I would call the Refuge the best ruben in the bay area.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              Your post was about the Ruben (sic) at Scratch, did you want to connect the dots and share with us a comparison to The Refuge's Reuben?

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                The Reuben at The Refuge has been written about extensively. What I love about The Refuge is the pastrami topped hamburger, which is decadance defined. The price at The Refuge is the only problem.

                                                Scratch's Reuben is not as flavorful as The Refuge's. Every element of The Refuge's Reuben is bolder, but Scratch's version has excellent tender meat quality, no graininess that is common in typical Corned Beef. The elements are well in balance, and the entire Scratch Reuben is well integrated and hangs together. Overall, I would say the Scratch offering is very fine, one of the best in the bay area. If you simply account for the "less flavorful" aspect as Scratch's interest in lower salt cooking, I hold their version in high regard.

                                                High enough to go find this old thread and mention it on the same page as The Refuge.

                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                  Nice post ... and nice way of drawing out more info, Melanie.

                                                  401 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041

                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                    Thanks for the details, and sorry for being semi-belligerent. Is Scratch's Reuben made with pastrami rather than corned beef?

                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      I don't remember. The lunch menu doesn't seem to be online. I remember "waygy beef" and "reuben". I didn't taste all the spices common in actual pastrami. I'll check it next time I'm by.

                                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                                        Still an excellent destination for Pastrami in the Bay Area. Quick update - they've stopped offering chicken versions of their cheesesteak sandwiches.

                                                        Also had an excellent side of fries topped with cheese sauce and pastrami.

                                                        1. re: osho

                                                          I finally made it here and the pastrami reuben is as wonderful as everyone says. As others mentioned, there's a smokiness reminiscent of a barbecued brisket, but still tasting like a pastrami with the peppery seasonings. My sandwich wasn't skimpy at all - lots of meat, but not ridiculously overstuffed. The bread was good but the bottom slice didn't quite stand up to the sandwich ingredients. I didn't care for the pickle. This was before a rehearsal so I couldn't sample the Belgian beer selection.

                                                          I'm sure glad it's in San Carlos so I'm not tempted by it very often, but it's great to confirm that there is top-notch pastrami available on the Peninsula.


                                                          1. re: osho

                                                            Quick update:

                                                            Pastrami is as excellent as ever.

                                                            And the fries with the pastrami topper make a fantastic pre-dinner snack.

                                                            You can even get them to go and hop over next door and imbibe a nice 4-beer flight at Ale Arsenal.

                                                            1. re: osho

                                                              Please tell us about Ale Arsenal.

                                            2. I just heard about this place after seeing it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives over the weekend. The pastrami looks amazing, can't wait to give it a try!

                                              11 Replies
                                              1. re: Bunson

                                                Bunson, where ya been?!?

                                                In case it's closer to you, a new branch opened in Menlo Park,

                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  Had lunch at the Menlo Park branch today - split a Reuben with a friend. We both were disappointed. This was a very greasy, not very flavorful sandwich. Neither of us felt that the $17 price was justified & neither of us will probably return. I've eaten lots of pastrami sandwiches & Reubens over the years - this was forgettable. Very pleasant service, extremely noisy room for lunch....

                                                2. re: Bunson

                                                  It's quite good...and quite pricy.

                                                  1. re: Civil Bear

                                                    Compared to what? At $17, the Refuge's Reuben is only $2 more than Max's.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      ....and the one at Max's is also pricey. And Refuge's is even more so. I would guess it is pricey compared to 90% of the pastrami sandwiches sold in America.

                                                      Don't get me wrong though, it is a very good sandwich.

                                                      1. re: Civil Bear

                                                        Cheap pastrami sandwiches aren't made with meat that tastes like pastrami, so who cares?

                                                        That's like comparing house-made pasta with Buca di Beppo.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          My comment was about price, not about comparative quality, and I think it's appropriate to note the high sticker price for anyone venturing out to San Carlos for the sandwich. If comparing price and quality, as a reference point the Sentinel makes an awsome corned beef sandwich for about half the price.

                                                          Personally I prefer the Wednesday pastrami at Memphis Minnie’s. It's $12 with a mound of bbq fries, and I think that is a bit on the high side.

                                                          1. re: Civil Bear

                                                            The Sentinel doesn't give you a chair, table, roof, or walls. Shorty Goldstein's charges $12 but it's not very comfortable. If you just want to gobble and run that's fine but The Refuge is a comfortable place to enjoy a meal and some excellent beer.

                                                            Carnegie Deli charges $18.

                                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Maybe $3 more than Carnegie Deli NYC and about par with the one in Vegas. My recollection of the Vegas version was that it was monstrously huge. Great pastrami but overwhelming. Moreso than Refuge's. And you have the benefit of better beer at Refuge.

                                                    2. re: Bunson

                                                      you may have to-I don't know why this is but every time I drive by it is closed. Every time.

                                                      1. re: Bunson

                                                        Was in Redwood City on business the other day so I decided to stop by the restaurant in San Carlos. Thought I would switch it up a bit and order the mole burger and a side of "goofy" fries. Big mistake.

                                                        The goofy fries were a heavy salty mess. Super garlicky fries with large chunks of salty pastrami smothered in a salty cheddar sauce.

                                                        The mole burger came with bacon (more salt) and was cooked medium-well as promised on the menu. The mole lacked flavor, but in all fairness it could have been due to the clashing of the other salty ingredients.