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Oct 8, 2008 11:01 PM

Best places to eat in downtown San Mateo

For those of you that live in San Mateo or like to hangout in the downtown area, I'd like to get recommendations on the best places to eat, from expensive special occasion type places, cheap eats, or casual dinners with friends.

I used to live and work in downtown San Mateo but it's been a long time. Are there great places like in San Francisco?

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  1. Recent post on San Mateo:

    I would add Central Park Bistro and Spied (both on 4th Ave) and Astaria (on 3rd) for more upscale that what was listed in the above post

    8 Replies
    1. re: rednails

      Thanks, that's kind of disappointing since the only thing that's been added to the area is Gator's. Everything else is a holdover from over 10 years ago. I'm wondering why that is.

      1. re: kitchenstink

        Little Sheep Hotpot is new.
        231 Ellsworth re-opened in 2000 with a new chef.
        There's someone new in the old Chef Wei spot.
        Is kingfish really that old?
        Dunno about some of the rest
        Overall, I think you're probably right, not all that much change....

        1. re: bbulkow

          What about Lure? I've heard good things about that place.

          Kingfish used to be something else, I think the predecessor had spent a lot of money redoing the building.

          Perhaps I'm used to San Francisco restaurants, but most of the mentions of non Asian places all seem like they are passable.

          1. re: kitchenstink

            Lure has gotten great reviews. A young asian woman chef. Fresh, creative seafood but a bit pricey. I also hear that a new Brazilian restaurant (one location already in Hayes Valley) called Espetus Churrascaria is is shortly opening in San Mateo at the corner of B and 9th.

            1. re: SanMateoFoodie

              Thanks for the input, I had a great time at Espetus in the city, great idea to open in SM. Any types of places like Nopa, Range, Firefly?

              1. re: SanMateoFoodie


                204 - A Second Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

              2. re: kitchenstink

                i went to lure last night and was not impressed at all. i had the "whole tai snapper with May’s Sambal, Lotus Root, Jicama & Tat Soi Salad" and the SO had "hawaiian walu Yucca, Tropical Fruit Salad, Serrano Chile Vinaigrette" and neither were very good.

                the snapper was nicely cooked, though apparently yelpers have had problems with overcooked fish. the sambal.... there was at least a half cup of it on the plate, with a bunch dumped on each side of the fish and a bit on top. that's a lot of sambal. and since it's heavy and very strongly spiced, it completely overwhelmed the taste of the fish. i ended up scraping it all off my plate. the salad was poorly dressed, very oily, and totally uninteresting. overall, a poorly thought out and executed dish.

                the SO had the walu. the fish was nicely cooked. the fruit salad was odd... little diced fruits, with stringy and dense yucca slices. the alleged vinagrette was not spicy, and just added oil to the dish. the best thing that can be said about the salad is that the fruit was fresh. the general response was "well, this is better than yours. tasty but hardly mouthwatering. uninteresting."

                and the service. my god it was amateur hour. we got there at 7, the restaurant was empty. we asked for one of the two-tops in the window. the hostess was quite curt and said no, those are already reserved. ok, fine. a few more couples came in over the evening, and several of them asked to be seated in a different place than they had been put. the restaurant was virtually empty, but they were putting people at the two-tops at the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. the answer to these requests was always no, and not in a polite or deft way. ick.

                the servers hovered, were overeager, and also lacked skill. faces fell as well declined appetizers, wine, sides, and bottled water. try not to look so sad as you see the price of the bill falling. the water glasses were refilled, which was good, but they did it by reaching across the table and over our food. considering there was ample space behind each of us, they should have reached from behind instead of across our conversation. the waitress checked back several times to ask "are you still enjoying that?" wow. for those prices, i would expect a bit more professionalism and training.

                one other couple was put in one of the two window two-tops. the other table never had anyone sit there, despite the couples who asked to be moved once sat by the kitchen.

                my SO asked for a dirty martini. "stoli ok?" "no, i'd prefer grey goose if you have it." "yes we do, sure thing." and then the martini arrives. the SO confirms the type of vodka in the martini. "stoli!" said the server. we paused and then the SO reminded him that he asked for grey goose. the server frowns, catches himself, and then takes it away to bring back the right martini. in fairness, once the right martini came, the SO thought it was very good.

                total was $70 something without tip.

                despite being literally four blocks away, we would not go back. it cost way too much for poorly executed food and amateur service.

              3. re: bbulkow

                I have not been to the place that took Chef Wei's spot. It does not look promising though. I don't know what kind of clientele it's trying to attract, but certainly not the Chinese crowd. Joy Luck is still the only Chinese place we'll go to in this area.

          2. There is also close to 231 Ellsworth a great prime rib place - San Mateo Prime - it's on 3rd / Ellsworth, across from the Walgreens.

            Great bar - full bar, and the prime rib style is like House of Prime rib, but better and closer for us on the peninsula!

            1. On the cheap end of things I'd recommend:

              Amici's (chain but best pizza downtown)
              Jeffrey's Hamburgers
              Thai Satay
              El Pollo Supremo
              La Michoacana
              Nawab (probably your best Indian bet though it was hit and miss on my last visit; skip the lunch buffet)

              Here are some of my past posts:

              La Michoacana in San Mateo - Cheap Greaseless Tasty Pupusa Lunch... Who Could Ask for More?

              Thai Satay in San Mateo – Great Curries and Egg Rolls But Don’t Get Busted by the F.B.I.!

              Ordinary Nawab Cooks Indian Classics Extraordinarily Well (San Mateo)

              1. Little Saigon is one of my go to places for cheap eats down there.
                Viognier seems to be the only expensive special occasion type place.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Shane Greenwood

                  Just made the mistake of going to Amici's. I had a good pizza there once (at different branch).....but it just isn't good - was supposed to be cheese, sauce and garlic. Tasted like salty oily cardboard - no taste of tomato whatsoever. Even though I was waiting for take out and was the only one there it wasn't even hot - must have been sitting a while before they boxed it. I wasn't up to driving to A16 (which was the pizza I was craving) but now I feel ripped off (it wasn't cheap) and unsatisfied. Oh well, three strikes (this was the third bad pizza in a row - well once a year I guess I forget) and you're out Amici's :(

                  1. re: Shane Greenwood

                    231 ellsworth is special occasion worthy
                    As is maybe San Mateo Prime
                    I'd put both above Viognier - even though I haven't eaten at San Mateo Prime
                    Central Park Bistro is a little high end, depending on the special occasion

                  2. Last year I lived in downtown San Mateo for a few months and ate almost everywhere, except Lure which I really should have tried. Kingfish is disappointing, it has the feel and taste of a high end chain restaurant. Gator was a huge disappointment. For sushi, Sushi Sam's (despite the name) is terrific, along with Izakaya Mai, which is good for sushi and more. Chef Wai was great but there is a report that he's not at the restaurant anymore and it's gone downhill. Viogner inside Draeger's has gone downhill without reducing prices, not what it once was. I really liked Astaria, great bar too, but there is a chef change and I have no idea how it is affecting things. At the low end, I really like Saigon City, which is two blocks east of the train tracks. Bistro Luneta is another block east and serves excellent, if somewhat expensive, Filipino food with some fusion dishes. The two Indian restaurants in downtown are awful. I was even served spinach that had clearly come from a freezer package at one of them. Santa Ramen has a lot of devotees but I find tastier ramen in the Japantown mall or, when I'm south of the city, in Mt. View.

                    Santa Ramen Japanese Restaurant
                    1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA

                    Bistro Luneta
                    615 3rd Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94401

                    Saigon City Restaurant
                    418 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

                    Izakaya Mai Restaurant
                    212 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

                    Sushi Sam's
                    218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: realspear

                      Chef Wai's restaurant has been gone for awhile. There has been at least one failed restaurant there since - not sure if there's even a tenant at the moment.

                      1. re: estnet

                        That's really disappointing. In a sea of anonymous Chinese restaurants on the Peninsula, Andy Wai was a real standout. Since I don't live down there, it doesn't matter that much, but it's still disappointing. As much as I like places like the Hong Kong Flower Lounge, I haven't found anything much like Andy's food up here, which was a lot more innovative than HKFL and pretty much every other Chinese restaurant in the city, since he left for the Peninsula.

                        1. re: realspear

                          While I agree that HFKL is rather large and impersonal and not my cup of tea, I love eating at Shanghai East, Little Shanghai, Everyday Beijing, and Joy Luck for dim sum (all in San Mateo) and do so as frequently as possible. I think the food at each is excellent - although not innovative - service is always great and prices low.

                          These businesses always seemed quite humble, in a good way.

                          I reject the idea that Everyday Beijing is anonymous - the number of beijing focused restaurants in the area is low, and those big chewy dumpling skins are just the ticket some days.

                          Chef Wai left, and reviews were that the joint was fickle. Service could be hit or miss, excellent reviews by "old friends of Andy" and meh reviews by others, and high prices. I can't comment on the food because the reviews always turned me off, then it vanished.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Bottom line, Chef Wai was poorly mismanaged and run as a restaurant, perhaps the blame shifts more towards the 2 or 3 other investors who focused more on operations and the business. This resulted in waitstaff turnover, poor staff training, and of course low walk-in and new customer satisfaction. These guys probably put all their stakes into thinking that their executive chef's star power and ardent old fans from the Harbor Village SF days (e.g. the VIP golfers) would keep their engine well oiled, when in fact it eventually backfired.

                            It is a shame that to get the best of the best of Andy's cooking, that one had to know him (or go with someone who does), and have him make up the menu for you (Chinese omakase if you will). Part of that is a perhaps bad Cantonese Hong Kong kind of culture where one has to invest heavily in a relationship to get the primo stuff (and service), not a reflection on Andy, but in a way these ardent fans and golfers perpetuated this kind of behavior. Well from a bigger picture, it kind of goes both ways, you invest in a relationship, tip well, the staff remember you as does the chef, and they take care of you.

                            That happens at other places too. An un-named sushi place in the South Bay is like that too that caters to not VIP golfers but VPs, except there's no subtlety whatsoever in terms of treatment should you be treated very differently from regulars. Basically your choice, your money.

                            But those who have had the best of Andy, will come to understand why he's such a talented chef, and why only he has been able to recreate that true old style Hong Kong flavor, while ingeniously incorporating fusion elements into his cooking and take it to new levels. There were a few decent items off the regular menu (before it got reduced to one page nearing the death knell of the place) in its heyday.

                            Just a disclaimer, I'm not an "old friend of Andy", although I've family members who are. But I am seeing things from both sides to offer this perspective. As far as I know, Andy has not secured a new chef gig yet, but is helping out at a very famous fusion place in SF. There's another CH here who probably has even more updated information on him (cough cough).

                            1. re: K K

                              According to today's Chronicle, Chef Andy will be Chef de Cuisine at Heaven's Dog, the new restaurant opened by Charles Phan (Slanted Door) on Mission between 7th and 8th. I will certainly check it out, I never had any problems getting good food at the San Mateo location. Chef Andy was accessible and willing to chat about food every time I was there, I'm looking forward to the new place when it opens.

                              1. re: realspear

                                Thanks for the update. He was indeed working at the Slanted Door after he left Chef Wai, doing non cooking yet creative design type things, I guess that is no longer a secret with the Chron's annoucnement and proof of what he was going to be up to. I hope this new venture works out for him.

                      2. re: realspear

                        Dojo is the hot spot for ramen now, but I have no idea how to avoid the lines.

                        Ramen Dojo
                        805 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401