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Jul 2, 2009 10:06 PM

San Mateo recs, please


I will be staying in San Mateo Monday thru Thursday for next few months for work, and would appreciate recommendations for places to eat. I enjoy good, clean food of all sorts prepared wih care from fresh ingredients. Sushi, Chinese (different styles), Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, French, steaks, sea food, Italian, Lebanese, Korean, the occasional sports bar, etc., etc. Price range $50 more or less per person. Within easy drive of Foster City/San Mateo. Alcohol a big plus, as is bar seating (I travel solo most of the time).

BTW, I have searched the board, and found some great recommendations (I enjoyed Sam Sushi quite a bit). There is quite a crowd of houndies on this board.
Anyway, I started this post to consolidate all that info in one place. Also, if you can, please be as speicific as practical about the dishes you would recommend at each place.

Many, many thanks in advance and happy chow !

- Traveling Hound from Boston

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  1. The downtown area around 3rd St. (via 3rd St. exit off 101, also short walk from SM's Caltrain station) is crammed with little independent restaurants. It is one of the old-fashioned Peninsula small-town downtowns (like Burlingame's, Mountain View's, etc.).

    Unfortunately I know little of these restaurants. The one downtown SM place I have much experience with is 231 Ellsworth, which is fairly high-end, also creative. Reconstituted and reinvigorated around 2000 with veteran personnel from a longtime high-end restaurant in Saratoga. It does a lot of special-occasion dinners for food and wine organizations, offering them excellent value, I think, compared to some of its competition. That's why you sometimes will see crowds of dressed-up people talking earnestly about wine etc. Also offers lunch (or has in the past anyway, check current hours) which can be moderately priced. Sort of place where you can get a _glass_ of LeFlaive Bourgogne Blanc with your meal (itself a rare, allocated wine) because the wine staff are wine hobbyists themselves.

    231 Ellsworth
    231 South Ellsworth Ave., San Mateo, CA 94401

    1. I dislike the word foodie because it just sounds too cutesy. However, I'm kinda digging houdies

      Here's a search of the Restaurant and Bars database. If you click on the name you will get the restaurant record which often has linked reports.

      Some of the places I remember that get positive mentions are Joy Luck, Mr. Pickles (for a sandwich), Little Sheep

      Changing the search to "Foster City" I remember good recs for Tabla, ABC Seafood and Diamond Harbor.

      There's more that's good than that, but those just stick in my mind.

      I tend to snack more when I'm in the SM/FC area so I like Sweet Breams for their chibiI-taiyaki and Romelo's for their cannoli and ice cream.

      Just a little down the way in San Carlos, The Refuge gets solid thumbs up, especially for the pastrami. Another place I ltried and liked in San Carlos was Istambul Restaurant. There are the usual Turkish dishes but also some less common baked goods and dishes

      Hope you report back as you try things so we get an idea of your tastes and some fresh reports on the area.

      6 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        Joy in Foster City might be the best Chinese in the area. Taiwan style. Definitely the best potstickers anywhere. Excellent hand cut noodles, lions head stew, and high ratings for the stinky tofu (but I haven't tried that)

        Izakaya Mai in downtown San Mateo is good Japanese Izakaya style. Hotaru is the best sushi. Santa Ramen has the best noodles. Saigon City is the best Vietnamese (cheap too). 231 Ellsworth gets high marks here, it's expensive with a slightly formal vibe. Gator's Neo Soul is excellent southern American.

        rworange is right about Refuge in San Carlos. Also worth checking our in San Carlos are Speederia Pizzeria for by the slice, Pilita Grill for Turkish, Sneakers for your sports bar, Town for meat & potatoes and a lively bar packed with swinging suburbians, and Mack's BBQ for ribs and brisket.

        Also worth checking out is the Thursday evening farmer's market in San Carlos. Lots of prepared food to graze on and 4 blocks of fresh fruit and veggies to buy.

        One other place that is worth looking at that you might like as a sports bar is a dive called Marvin Gardens. They have a back patio area, some average bbq, decent burgers, good beer selection. A nice, low key place to hang out and one of the Chronicles top 100 cheap eats places.

        You can click the links below to find posts and reviews on each place. Please update us on what you find. Happy eating!

        Speederia Pizzeria
        711 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA 94070

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

        Joy Restaurant
        1489 Beach Park Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404

        Hotaru Japanese Restaurant
        33 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

        231 Ellsworth
        231 South Ellsworth Ave., 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

        The Refuge
        963 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA 94070

        Pilita Grill
        680 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA 94070

        1163 San Carlos Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070

        716 Laurel Street, San Carlos, CA 94070

        Marvin Gardens
        1160 Old County Rd, Belmont, CA

        Mack's BBQ
        1754 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA 94070

        1. re: Shane Greenwood

          Just a quick comment on Mack's BBQ:
          Finally had a chance to try it last Friday at about 12:45 - it took almost 45 minutes in line. Got to talking with the people in front of me and asked if they'd been there before. They had so I asked if the line was always like that. They said they'd never seen it as slow as it was that day. Turns out that there was only one person working - making sandwiches and taking payments. She was very pleasant and my pulled pork sandwich was very tasty (could only finish half and took rest home for another lunch the next day). Still don't know if it's always that slow or what... What's been your experience?

          1. re: RWCFoodie

            Have always been in and out pretty quickly. Maybe 10 minutes tops. Could be that they are gaining in popularity and haven't adjusted the staffing. It's a mom and pop operation. Hopefully that was just an off day when you went.

            1. re: Shane Greenwood

              Thanks, I'll have to try it again another day. The patio in back is a nice quiet, open-air place to kick back and enjoy...

        2. re: rworange

          i live in san mateo and am completely addicted to sweet breams, to the point that i'm a facebook fan so i can easily know what the flavor of the week is. she now also makes matcha frozen yogurt. while not nearly as strong and bitter as the original in kyoto, it is still really tasty, especially with hot vanilla chibi. chibi are waffle-type batter in a fish shape about 2 inches long, with a natural filling. i particularly love the vanilla and occasional weekly special green tea. she also offers azuki, scharfenberger chocolate, and nutella.

          sushi sam's is great sushi, and a great value if you stay on the menu and away from the whiteboard. the SO and i go almost weekly. the sake and hamachi are almost always silken, though there have been clunkers on a couple visits. the tamago is boring. of course, the whiteboard is fabulous, but it is usually $10+ a plate. i love the "special ikura" which is ikura marinated in sake and soy. real wasabi available upon request ($5??), which we almost always get. the real wasabi is a fairly large portion and fed four hungry eaters. i also love the agedashi tofu. really interesting desserts too.

          kingfish has some good options, particularly the french dip which is cut to order and actually medium rare. i also like the skillet mussels. since we've had success with those dishes, we haven't veered elsewhere in the menu.

          lure was beyond awful. avoid.

          we also like joy luck for dim sum. it isn't as good as koi palace or my current favorite koi garden (dublin), but it is convenient and pretty good. the siu mai and the shrimp jook in particular are excellent. abc dim sum is good too, though it's a lot more helpful to have a cantonese speaker with you due to language barriers with the waitstaff. the waitstaff are very friendly and enthusiastic, it just can be hard without language skills to get across what you want to order.

          we didn't particularly like everyday beijing, but i think that is because we just don't like beijing-style food. apparently it is an excellent example of that cuisine. i do like the beijing eggplant there though.

          pancho villa is a good americanized taqueria. everything is very fresh, and the salsa bar is fabulous. somehow they always have ripe tomatoes for the salsa, even when i can't find them. i usually get two chicken tacos. the SO likes the carnitas. i think the aguas frescas are too sweet, but i'm anti-sweet in general.

          himawari is great ramen though arguably second to santa.

          and don't miss clear optometry for the best tart frozen yogurt ever. seriously. yogurtville, red mango, quickly, and the new one on 4th ave aren't even in the same league. they also sell that takes the cake cupcakes, which are my favorite, ici gelato, and marco polo ice cream. i usually get a small plain yogurt with raspberries.

          saigon city... i'd have to disagree. the branch on 3rd ave has good pho, but the rice plates are not good. the branch at the strip mall with marina market off hillsdale is better overall.

          the chronicle reported that gator's neo soul has closed. we thought it was only ok, but the SO lived in new orleans so he is a tough customer.

          the chronicle also reported in one of the cheap eats articles that the indian place on south norfolk at third, tucked away in the strip mall (which has my beloved rose dry cleaners) which offers amazing takeout indian. i keep meaning to try it.

          i haven't tried little sichuan, but there seems to be a tour bus full of chinese tourists doing pick ups and drop offs quite often. they must have some kind of deal with the tour company, but the food may also be good.

          Kingfish Restaurant
          201 South B. St., San Mateo, CA 94401

          Joy Luck Place San Mateo
          88 E 4th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

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

          Sweet Breams
          220 2nd Avenue, San Mateo, CA

          1. re: artemis

            more links

            Everyday Beijing
            637 South B Street, San Mateo, CA

            202 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

            Pancho Villa
            365 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

            Clear Optometry
            138 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA

            Dil Khush Indian Cafe
            460 S Norfolk St, San Mateo, CA

        3. New York steak at Capellini in San Mateo ( as well as bar scene), Pumpkin Curry at Narin of Burlingame, Vindaloo Chicken Curry at Clay Oven in San Mateo, Deluxe Turkey Sandwich as well as soups at Specialtys Cafe on Norfolk in San Mateo.

          1. Check out Lure restaurant in San Mateo on 2nd. Great seafood and a cool vibe. You wouldn't expect it to be in there...

            1. I've lived in the area for about 25 yrs; here are some places I enjoy, or have enjoyed in the past (but can't speak to what they're like currently):

              B Street & Vine--my new fave. Wine bar/casual restaurant. Try the bruschetta, great assortment. On B St in San Mateo. Service can be spotty but if you can deal with that, you'll enjoy it. Live jazz some nights.
              Jeffrey's Hamburgers: also on B Street, it is always busy. Very good burgers.
              Taxi's Burgers: San Mateo on El Camino Real. The original outpost of a small local chain (if there are any others left). Burgers are good, the bonus (over Jeffrey's) is this place has it's own parking lot.
              North Beach Pizza: San Mateo outpost of a small/local (SF) chain. B St and 3rd. Try the Verdi pizza.
              Max's--in Burlingame, on Old Bayshore Highway. The owner (Dennis Berkowitz) has quite a few of these Jewish-type deli/restaurants and isn't loved on this board, but truth be told, what he does,he does well, and you can't get that kind of kosher soul food anyplace else on the Peninsula. Parking is very limited. And, you gotta love the fact that the owner doesn't care about "critics," only pleasing his customers.
              Crepevine--Burlingame Ave in Burlingame. I eat here a lot for casual meals. You order at the counter, food is delivered. Great breakfast items (actually served all day), pastas, sandwiches, salads. Always busy. They have a SF rest as well. Family owned.
              Steelhead Brewery: Burlingame off Burlingame Ave. Casual place, always busy.
              Cafe Scala--Burlingame Ave. Italian food.
              Lil Biscuit House--San Mateo, on 37th I think. Very, very good BBQ. My ribs were falling off the bone.
              Kabul--Burlingame Ave. Afghani (sp?) food, newly-opened twin of a location in San Carlos. Haven't eaten at this one but drove by it last week and it was busy.
              Spiedo's--San Mateo, 4th Ave. Italian, good food. It's been over a year but I hear it's still good.
              Central Park Bistro--San Mateo, 4th Ave. Haven't eaten there in a while but it was very good a few years ago. Seasonal menu, live jazz some nights.
              Cappellinis--San Mateo, B Street. Another old one. Still always busy.
              Old Port Lobster Shack--in Redwood City (Veteran's Blvd). Haven't eaten there in a few years but it was excellent. Their lobster roll was terrific.

              Enjoy, and enjoy the Bay Area!