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moving up that way..trying to decide if we live in the Portola valley would we NEED to go into town for good food

Hi we are moving up that way from San Diego.. We are going to be at Stanford but really like dining out so we are looking at areas in between Palo Alto and the city.. Are there really good restaurants in the Portola valley /Burlingame etc area.. or would we need to go into SF?
,hoping at least not weekly!
We are truing to pin down an area.. many thanks

ps.. how far south does anyone live AND go into the city for dinner?

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  1. If you really like to dine out, live as far north up the Peninsula as you can stand. Professionally it would make more sense for both me and my wife to live on the Peninsula, but as obsessed foodies that would be just too much of a sacrifice.

    Portola Valley is the sticks.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      There are loads of Stanford folk around Portola Valley - I wouldn't call it the sticks at all!

    2. We live just a few minutes from Portola Valley. The area is beautiful and wonderful for families, but doesn't have much food wise. There are a few decent places around, but the city has many many better options. We do go up to the city for dinner - it isn't that bad, but you have to plan. Also difficult with kids to schlep up to the city to eat. The bonus is that Indian food is good close by in Sunnyvale area. Also good taquerias in Redwood City.

      1. find a place in potrero hill near the 3rd/22nd caltrain station so that you guys can easily get down to stanford.

        or you could live near the millbrae BART/caltrain station so that you have easy public transportation to both stanford and the city

        it's so much more enjoyable to do dinner in the city though when it doesn't have to be a huge pre-planned event and it can be spontaneous and you can just hop on the bus and go somewhere

        (the answer to your question is no, there really aren't good restaurants in that area)

        that being said though, as much as a foodie as i am (and as you and your wife are, and everyone else on the site), i personally don't think proximity to restaurants should be a huge consideration when deciding where to live (even if that comment will get me in trouble on this site); but this is now moving into life advice.

        10 Replies
        1. re: vulber

          The best restaurants, food shops, farmers markets, and CSA programs (not to mention culture / nightlife) are pretty much a package deal around here.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Portola Valley has food delivered from at least 2 CSA programs that I know about - one from Blue House Farm in Pescadero. Also the Menlo Park Farmers Market is nearby for food. Many restaurants in the city have tables much closer together than on the Peninsula.

            Even foodies can find great food within 10 miles of Portola Valley if they know where to look and if you live here there are plenty of people with big kitchens who cook dinner parties.

            1. re: amhey

              There are quite a few more CSAs with drop-off points in the area. Mariquita's Two Small Farms CSA has a multitude of locations, many of them full with waiting lists. The small CSA in Salinas, J&P Organics, that I patronize has a drop at Stanford, I was surprised to learn. Marin Sun Farms has an active CSA program near campus. With this level of demand for quality ingredients, it still puzzles me that local customers aren't demanding a higher level of cooking in restaurants.

          2. re: vulber

            >find a place in potrero hill near the 3rd/22nd caltrain station
            yes, and to boot, that area is a lot like Portola Valley :-)

            >i personally don't think proximity to restaurants should be a huge
            >consideration when deciding where to live
            i agree, especially given the 101 from sf is such an ugly drive.
            if you have flexible hours and can take 280+carpool, this may be more reasonable.
            evenmore so if you have say an academic job which may only require campus visits 2-3 days a week.

            if you do bite the bullet and live in SF, you might want to decide if you want to be in a walkable neightborhood or not with reasonable fwy access to the south bay ... like that may exclude clement st but include say dolores park. potrero has easy parking when you come home but it's not that much a walkable place ... i live on the other side of PH and work in berkeley.]

            1. re: psb

              I'm struck by the cognitive dissonance of suggesting a walkable neighborhood in SF for folks who'll need to commute 35 miles on the 101.

              I mention it because that's my life, living in Bernal and commuting to the E Bay - so I'm not trying to be snide or dismissive. The irony is just well known to me.

              1. re: BernalKC

                What's ironic about it? If you have a long drive to work, it's nice to be able to park when you get home and walk or bike to dinner or the store.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  i'm saying that when possible, take public transportation to work (caltrain), walk/bike/bus to get around the city, and then use cars to get away from the city (trips to wine country, the beach, etc.). it's also nice to be able to go out to dinner in the city and not have to worry about choosing a restaurant based on availability of parking

                  again though, this is getting into non-chowhound territory

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yeah, I do love being able to park the car and enjoy the walkability of Bernal. But in green/sustainability terms, its half a loaf. As I walk to the market I feel some need to genuflect a few times to absolve my freeway-addled-gas-guzzling-cabon-footprint guilt.

                  2. re: BernalKC

                    Mine too. I drive to San Mateo every day from Bernal and prefer to leave my car parked as much as possible on my off time. So I normally have to be dragged to anything north of Market Street :-)

                  3. re: psb

                    Don't forget Portola Valley is bikeable to Stanford, even if you can't walk there. Unless you are fortunate to live in Ladera behind Bianchini's or near Roberts at the corner of Alpine/Portola Rd you are not going to walk to the shops. If you are at Stanford then there is Stanford housing on campus - many folk associated with Stanford live there.

                2. love the handle...
                  this feels like a question that goes beyond topics discussed on foodie board...anyhow, if you're young and don't mind driving/training it, then go ahead and live in the city but don't do it just for the food (if other things like being in an urban environment, museums, live music, bar scene are also important then I get it). Plus if you're a student or in a grad program i think you would want to be close to your classmates but that's just me....

                  I have friends that work at Stanford and live in the South Beach area (near AT&T park) so it's pretty easy to walk to Caltrain, and take the shuttle into Stanford from the Palo Alto Caltrain station. note that no matter how you slice it, it is an hour commute door to door given walking and waiting for the train and then taking the shuttle...if you work late then the train stops every stop so its longer. i know because I do the opposite commute (work in SF and live near Palo Alto)....

                  Anyhow, there are plenty of good places to eat in Palo Alto and you can walk to them if you live in downtown Palo Alto (and you're a quick drive to good restaurants in Los Gatos, Mountain View, Menlo Park)...i would never say it's as good or diverse as San Francisco but there are some really good spots.

                  Burlingame has some decent restaurants as well (a notch down from Palo Alto) but the upside is you're w/in a 25 minute drive to the city versus 45-50 minutes.

                  1. thank you all so far this has helped.. Sadly we are not young anymore.. its not the bar scene we crave.. but dining.. we live a 5 minute walk to UCSD here.. so one of us will be having a longer commute! I have been to SF every year for the past twenty or so.. past husband and now daughter up there.. I do not think I could live in the city.. but we definitely want o eat there a and shop there often.. We have looked at houses and I am thinking now Burlingame ..in that area will be the best bet..

                    I will be back on this board as a newbie when we move asking you all where to go! so its really a foodie advise column today..

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: butterbutt

                      I will stick up for dining on the peninsula. It's really not that bad.

                      There is *nothing* in portola valley itself, except Woodside Pub, which has only one michelin star. Buck's is a fun family place. Flea Street is *super awesome* and likely won't get a star, but on a good day might deserve one. Kaygetsu will break your wallet into small pieces, but you won't care. After that, where do you end up going?

                      You can ride down woodside road, and just before 101, you're in the mexican part of redwood city. Taquerias galore. *great* taquerias, more than you can shake a stick at. It would take years to eat everwhere good in that part of town. I'm working on it.

                      Downtown redwood city is medium grade, but has some winners. Enough to stay interesting. I had a very good meal at Martin's West last weekend, and often enjoy Crouching Tiger. City Pub has the best in fresh north-coast beer. There's 5 or 6 places in our regular rotation.

                      Next circle, if you're working at stanford, is Palo alto / menlo park. The eats there really aren't bad, even though CH gets snide about PA, since there's more form than function. Joya is a great example - mediocre food in an awesome looking room. I am within 5 restaurants of having eaten at every place near university ave (150 places!), and can tell you there's plenty of amusement to be had. Coupa Cafe is great relaxed venezualian. Evvia for the sardines. Paxti's for the deep dish. Tamerine for high end vietnamese. Reposado has treated us well the last few trips. Peninsula Creamery for the old school burgers and fries. La Strada's probably my pick for italian, although Bella Luna and Osteria pack a punch. 3 seasons hasn't been then same since they 86'ed the fire roasted mussels, but we like the relaxed bar atmosphere. La Bogedita for the slow cooked pork. Junoon's not bad although the half price everything before 6:30 often nets us at Mantra on a friday afternoon. The marinated flank steak at Nola.

                      All of that's about 15 minutes from Portola Valley, but close to work (assuming you don't live right on Portola).

                      Circling out, maybe to 30 minutes, gets you San Mateo - some great chinese - Sunnyvale - some great indian - and Mountain View - a cosmopolitan mix of various stuff.

                      Riding 280 into SF will take about 35 minutes into the mission (delfina +++). I don't get up as much as I'd like. You won't either, but it is there.

                      Regarding 22nd Caltrain, I tried that for 7 years of my life. The caltrain is terribly, terribly slow. I took it twice as a trial, and realized that when comparing 1 hour on 101 vs 3 hours in a train, I'll take 101 (off hours commute and I wasn't going as far south). The balance shifts depending on when you go, if you go early enough to take the express trains, and how long it takes from the caltrain station to work. The benefit of *driving* to work and *living* somewhere with walking is you *have to* go to work, and by the time you're home, if it's a 10 minute walk somewhere fun, you'll do it.

                      Good luck making a choice!

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        since when is having "only" one michelin star so terrible?

                        would recommend trying to be fairly close to the millbrae BART; there are many good restaurants located near BART stations (though quite a few aren't) as well as stores; and with the whole idea of the "neighborhood restaurant" becoming more and more popular (which means not offering valet parking in a notoriously difficult to park neighborhood), it'll be much easier to eat at some place like delfina

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Bbulkow, I think you mean Village Pub instead of Woodside Pub.

                          To the OP, if you're into Japanese food, you might like Kaygetsu in Menlo Park.

                        2. re: butterbutt

                          I'd also stick to somewhere on the Peninsula, esp if you're use to a 5 min walk.

                          I've witnessed the Potrero to PA commute (gf at the time) and it had its ups and downs and when traffic was bad (near SFO and again in PA off 101) it wasn't fun. 101 is as bad as most freeways in LA.

                          You can do okay in Palo Alto, Menlo and San Mateo. Burlingame. SM and Burlingame are 20 minutes away from SF.

                          1. re: butterbutt

                            Burlingame is a great place to live. You'll love it. I think you can even manage to live walking distance to downtown burlingame as there are some nice communities within walking distance.
                            Alana's for breakfast is great, i'm also a fan of Stela Alpina for a great little neighborhood italian spot. Kabul is decent afghan food and there are some nice little sushi spots.

                            1. re: butterbutt

                              Another vote for the Peninsula for all the stated reasons by fellow hounds

                              "Sadly we are not young anymore..." Do you *really* want to commute more than 15 min? If you decide on anything north of Redwood City/Woodside, please try the commute before you purchase a home. Definitely would stay near 280.

                              1. re: butterbutt

                                When you get to Portola Valley - join the Yahoo! Group PVForum - you will meet many, many local residents - many foodies - and you will have friends to dine with.

                                1. re: butterbutt

                                  In Burlingame's favor is its proximity to Caltrain and to San Francisco. If whoever commutes to Stanford plans to do it in a car, they should be aware that University/Sand Hill/Oregon Expwy all bog down horrifically during commute hours, and parking in the center of campus is very limited and only available to high level professors and administrators. Normal professors and university staff have to park in progressively further out parking lots, which will add anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes to a commute. In Burlingame, hopping on the CalTrain to the Stanford station with its express shuttle to the center of campus would be relatively fast, while at the same time popping up to San Francisco in the car at off-peak commute hours would be pretty fast. If you plan to commute to Stanford from Burlingame in a car, I'd say you should just live in Portola valley.

                                  1. re: butterbutt

                                    Foodwise, I'd pick San Mateo over Burlingame by a long-shot both for the quality of grocery shopping and restaurants.

                                    And do keep in mind that morning fog on 280 can be so thick in the winter that you'll need to take 101 many times.

                                  2. Good to see that someone's sticking up for the Peninsula/South Bay. It won't really be me, alas, though I've lived here for awhile after decades in SF.

                                    The dining and food shopping scene in SF, Berkeley and Oakland is so vastly more diverse and of higher quality than it is in Palo Alto and environs that it's almost unfathomable that the two places are so geographically close. Education and income levels are way up there in Silicon Valley, but it doesn't translate to certain cultural benefits.

                                    If you choose the right times, you can get to SF in 35-40 minutes or so from Portola Valley. You'll enjoy doing it, since you're new here and there'll be lots of fun adventures. Make sure to check out the East Bay food scene, too.

                                    In your local area to be, check out some of the farmers markets, which can be pretty good, and some ethnic food in the broader area along with a some other places you can read about here.

                                    Take comfort in the short trip to work, the greenery, quiet, the agreeable natural surroundings, Stanford's many offerings and maybe most of all, the humane summer weather in contrast to SF's horrific Arctic summers. I miss certain aspects of SF living a lot, but leaving that weather behind makes up for all of it. And when you want to eat semi-locally, there are a few decent places close by and some other worthwhile things in a wider, but accessible range.

                                    1. I think for your quality of life you should maximize being close to Palo Alto rather than San Francisco. Trying to get too far north on the Peninsula for food reasons is silly. The place with the largest concentration of great restaurants on the Peninsula is probably Mountain View, extending into Palo Alto or Sunnyvale on either side. Manresa in Los Gatos is one of the most amazing restaurants around, far better than anything remotely similar in San Francisco, and it's further south.

                                      Portola Valley is a beautiful community, but it's isolated. There's a good restaurant downtown, but for dining out a lot that's not a good choice.

                                      I would recommend finding a house and neighborhood that you like as close to Stanford as you can. There are great restaurants all around you on the Peninsula, many that are greater than their San Francisco and East Bay counterparts. But they are not as densely packed as in those cities and require a bit more searching. That's what Chowhound is for. If you fall in love with someplace in Burlingame, great; but for food I'd rather be in Palo Alto.

                                      Getting up to San Francisco for dining is pretty easy, especially if you live near 280. It's much easier to get to the southern neighborhoods like Noe Valley and Glen Park. But those have some of the best places, especially for the Italian and pizza cuisines that are indeed much better overall in the San Francisco. Indian food, on the other hand, is far superior in Palo Alto / Mountain View / Sunnyvale.

                                      There's a lot of uninformed negativity posted in this topic that I would ignore! You'd think the name of this site was Chowscaredycat or something...


                                      17 Replies
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          If someone can't find excellent restaurants, food shops, and farmer's markets in the Palo Alto area, I'm sorry, but that's uninformed. Chowhound is here to steer people to the good chow, not scare them away because of people's lack of knowledge, or people's out-of-date knowledge.

                                          When we moved to the Bay Area 15 years ago, there was indeed a huge gulf in restaurant and food quality between Silicon Valley and San Francisco. That hasn't been true for a long time (save for Italian restaurants) and the gap gets smaller every year.

                                          Obviously the Italian restaurant scene is far inferior on the Peninsula compared to San Francisco - and from your wonderful posts that's clearly a very important cuisine to you. But that's the only major cuisine that has such a quality disparity. The other major difference is density, which is a reflection of the difference between the suburban Peninsula and urban San Francisco.


                                          1. re: mdg

                                            As one who spent so much time in SF and is not headed back, I'm almost desperate in wishing I could agree with your assessment, mdg. And I write this as someone who appreciates and often agrees with what you post here, including your recommendation of Taste Buds, which has become one of my favorite spots and of Sakoon, which was a walk for me until recently.

                                            But what is it that we have on the peninsula and in the South Bay that compares favorably with SF/Berkeley/Oakland? Indian food is a clear good start. Ethiopian compares reasonably to the East Bay. There's some ethnic Chinese that might not be up there, though I'm not so much of a fan of some of those places, too much oil for me. All the pho is another. Korean food, maybe, though I don't eat it that much to have a strong sense of it. There's certainly some good stuff at the farmers markets and I'm there weekly.

                                            What's our version of California cooking that has fresh, local ingredients, our Café at Chez Panisse, Zuni, Bar Tartine? There might be fifty places or more like that in SF and the East Bay. I can hardly think of one here. Maybe Calafia, which I like for good ingredients and a home cooked feel, but it's not as refined as a lot of the places north of here. That's an enormous void, especially given the proximity of all that local produce and other food. It's like going to Tuscany, finding some good North African food, but striking out on Italian restaurants. (I'm excluding Manresa. It's too expensive to be part of the equation for most of us.)

                                            Mexican food isn't a Bay Area strength in general, but what do we have down here that's worth going out of the way for? Where's our La Palma? Chavez Market isn't bad, but it's not La Palma. Our rice and beans spots aren't to go out of the way for, there is no upscale Mexican food of any note. Maybe Reposado has improved, but it was nothing much when it opened.

                                            Castro St. is quantity more than quality. You already mentioned Italian, another massive void.

                                            Where's our Rainbow Grocery? Where can we find a great cheese selection down this way? We've got pho, but no Slanted Door. Saigon 75 near the San Jose Civic Center had good, semi-upscale Vietnamese food, but they couldn't survive there. I'm not that much of a pizza eater, but where's our Pizzaiolo, A16, Beretta? Howie's Artisan Pizza just opened in Town and Country in PA and the pizza's as cliched as the name of the restaurant. It's cheese on bread in a fast food environment, nothing close to "artisan."

                                            I don't want to dump on the local food scene. I want to agree with you and bbulkow, more than I can say. But I don't see or taste it. Please fill me in. I want to be wrong.

                                            BTW, I do agree that it has improved over recent years. But it's incremental and I don't see great signs of demand here for what's been integral to the scene in SF/Berkeley/Oakland for decades.

                                            1. re: maigre

                                              Californian? Yes, not as many as in San Francisco, and I think it's a good market opportunity. But Mayfield Bakery and Lavanda in Palo Alto are nice choices, along with Calafia (less expensive) and Village Pub (more expensive).

                                              I don't know the Mexican places in San Francisco very well; once you get beyond taquerias, I don't think it's a strong point for the whole Bay Area. From what I've read, I suspect that Estrellita in Los Altos (for the specials and Chicken Oaxaca), Mezcal in downtown San Jose, and Casa de Cobre in Saratoga hold their own with other places in the Bay Area. That reminds me that I have to add a Casa de Cobre update; my second meal there was much more consistently fine than the first.

                                              As I mentioned, there's nothing in pizza that can come close to Gialina, A16, or other San Francisco favorites. The best I've found is Pizza Antica in Santana Row for Italian style, or Giovanni's in Sunnyvale and Slice of New York in San Jose for New York style. None of those are desination pizzas, but Slice of New York makes the best meatball sub I've ever had.

                                              I don't know what the specialty is at Rainbow Grocery. Is it the cheese? As far as I know, both San Francisco and the Peninsula have to concede to Berkeley in the cheese shop category.

                                              I think Tamarine in Palo Alto can more than hold it's own with Slanted Door, and there's plenty of depth in less expensive Vietnamese in San Jose. Zitune in Los Altos more than holds its own with Aziza for Cal/Moroccan. Evvia in Palo Alto is a sibling of Kokkari in San Francisco (and Evvia came first). For less expensive Greek, does San Francisco have an equivalent of Santa Clara's Athena Grill? What restaurant in San Francisco can beat Dishdash in Sunnyvale for Lebanese food, especially the amazing mansaf? One can offer similar comparisons for many other cuisines (Peruvian, Afghan, Carribean, Ethiopian, Turkish, etc.). The depth in any particular cuisine may not match San Francisco, but the quality is there.

                                              And of course our Indian restaurants are a special gem. Achari dishes at Hyderabad House in Palo Alto, dosas at Madras Cafe in Sunnyvale, and chicken gongura at Taste Buds in Sunnyvale are absolutely astonishing dishes that I've never had better anywhere in the country (or London), and these are some of the least expensive places around.


                                              1. re: mdg

                                                San Francisco is not as strong for Mexican food as other places such as Redwood City or Oakland that have concentrated Mexican communities, though there are a few good places, and it's the place to go for Yucatecan.

                                                People who don't know the Mission sometimes think of it as a Mexican neighborhood, but it's very mixed, and many of the Latinos are from other countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala.

                                                1. re: mdg

                                                  Good references mdg for good restaurants comparable to similar cuisines in SF.Like Tamarine so much more than Slanted Door ,but don't think Zitune compares to Aziza.Dish Dash is Palestinian(the name of the traditional dress of Palestinian woman)encompassing the pan-arabic cuisines of Palestine,Lebanon,Syria,Jordan and also Greece.Back a Yard for West Indian Food in Menlo Park.Zeni for Ethiopian is also a winner in San Jose.

                                                  1. re: casalbore spirit

                                                    I need to get to Tamarine. Maybe that'll quiet me down about the Slanted Door reference. :-)

                                                    Thanks, everyone, for all the examples. I agree with some, disagree with others, haven't tried some others, yet. But as one poster mentions, the aggregate of SF or Berkeley/Oakland is far greater than the aggregate of whatever broad region of the peninsula or South Bay that one can define.

                                                    I'm the first to defend some of the offerings down here. There's all sorts of great Indian and plenty of other fine ethnic places. I used to go to Zeni all the time, now eat regularly at Cafe Rehoboth for Ethiopian. There's plenty of food from various countries that I like a lot. But it's scattered all over the place. They're relatively speaking, few and far between. The density of restaurants on Mountain View's Castro St. is, as I wrote earlier, quantity over quality. It would be impossible to find a similar concentration of restaurants in SF/Berkeley/Oakland without having a far superior set of choices.

                                                    And the California cuisine thing is no trivial matter. How many places down this way have the quality of ingredients that can even be bought in the local farmers markets? This should extend far beyond just California cooking. Maybe more places than I realize are using them and the restaurants keep quiet about it.

                                                  2. re: mdg

                                                    oops. i posted the reply to the wrong spot...

                                                    1. re: mdg

                                                      Rainbow Grocery is a supermarket sized, collectively run food store at Division and Folsom. It's a SF institution that's grown from a small space 40 years ago or so into what it is now. They've got farmers market quality produce, no small amount of which comes from growers who sell at various local farmers markets, a nice and very reasonably priced cheese department with knowledgeable workers managing it, a terrific bulk selection, all sorts of other odds and ends, most food needs, other than meat. Quality is high, prices generally reasonable, at least compared to other stores selling the same things. You can find stores like this in lots of places, college towns, especially, but usually not this size, with this much history and personality. It's probably not for everybody, but there's only one Rainbow and every foodie should check it out, at least once.

                                                      1. re: maigre

                                                        If you're willing to sacrifice some variety/quantity as well as non-food products, I find Bi-Rite to be a much better option as it is so much less overwhelming, AND IT HAS MEAT!

                                                        1. re: vulber

                                                          I like Bi-Rite, It's like an upscale Trader Joe's. The staff is great almost like Edmund Gwenn in "Miracle on 34th Street, they gave me a map and directions to Rainbow to get the black walnuts they didn't have. Should you need spices or grains at reasonable prices, a large selection of cheese, a discount for being old or having coupon then it's Rainbow. But why it must be either/or and not both if you have already made the trip from the south.

                                                      2. re: mdg

                                                        I hadn't heard of Casa de Cobre before your mention here, mdg. So we went and gave it a try and it worked on all the counts I've complained about here. First, the menu was more interesting and creative than we tend to see in the Bay Area with Mexican food. And the dishes delivered with nice complexity and flavors. Everything we had was excellent. On top of it, it turns out that they're using lots of organic veggies and high quality meats just like I'm saying I don't see often enough around here.

                                                        We'll be back there, sooner than later.

                                                      3. re: maigre


                                                        Great post. I think you're moving the debate forward.

                                                        I won't agree, though. I think you're being overly bleak. I suspect it's a combination of being further south than I tend to graze, some lack of investigation on your part, and some desire for a kind of food that isn't a strength of the peninsula.

                                                        I don't - and didn't - pretend that the peninsula is as good as San Francisco. I think it might be up there trading punches with berkeley / oakland, where we can call out winners and loser in each - and Berkeley / Oakland would come out better by a hair.

                                                        To get at your real gripe, though - you seem to want "californian food". "What's our version of California cooking that has fresh, local ingredients, our Café at Chez Panisse, Zuni, Bar Tartine?" My first answer is you need to head over to Flea Street immediately, but my second answer is this area isn't good at that kind of food. Stanford / Silicon Valley creates a small nexus of that kind of dining, but the strength down here is more down and dirty.

                                                        Google hasn't helped, but adding a lot of that food on campus so little of the money is spent in the outside community.

                                                        I find myself returning, again and again, to Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and every day Mexican. I do not bother trying to eat Japanese in the east bay any more. Chinese means mining the China Village spawn, and not much more. Chinese in SF is about as weak as Italian here.

                                                        I will also agree that south of sunnyvale, I've found very little of note - and Sunnyvale's all about Indian. You might have to journey north more, to Junoon and Tamerine and Flea Street and Del Medio and Bella Luna and Village Pub. In particular, your question of "where's our slanted door" when there's a near-clone right here.

                                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                                          Agreed the place for California Food is at Flea Street Cafe on the Alameda in Menlo Park - a stone's throw from Portola Valley. Jesse Cool, the chef, also runs the Cool Cafe in the Stanford Art Museum.
                                                          Japanese - Menlo Park or Los Altos - San Jose has Japan Town
                                                          Chinese - Soo Hong - or go to Wolfe Rd down 280 to 99 Ranch mall - many holes in the wall - also in Cupertino
                                                          Indian - Mountain View - Amber, many smaller places - agree with Sunnyvale also Fremont
                                                          Every day Mexican - Amigos (Ladera), Lulus (Menlo Park) older places in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redwood City (Authentic in Mexican part of Redwood City).
                                                          Many restaurants serve seafood. For seafood I'd go to Half Moon Bay or San Francisco - you can go to the Fish Market in Palo Alto or San Mateo, but unless you are careful their food has too much oil on it. Fish is the weakest link in local Portola Valley restaurants. Scott's in Palo Alto or San Jose has fish on its menu and is a solid bet, but nothing extraordinary. I'd buy fish from Half Moon Bay - you can get crabs live right off the boats and bring it home. Cooks Seafood in Menlo Park is a hole in the wall but it has fish. Andronico's in the Stanford Mall have good fish too. Actually for many fishes that are frozen on the ships when caught frozen might be your best bet! Santa Cruz is also a place to have fresh fish.

                                                        2. re: maigre

                                                          There's an Italian restaurant near the Menlo Park train station - gambardellasrestaurant.com - its been in business for years. You won't find the heavy tomato sauce type of Italian that you find in New Jersey - but there are plenty of places that can string together a few veggies and pasta.

                                                          1. re: amhey

                                                            Have to disagree about that italian restaraunt. I have on moderate authority that it used to be good, but ate there a year ago and it's poor compared to La Strada, Vero, and Osteria in PA -- at the same price. I'd even rather go to pasta?. None of those places serve "Italian-American".

                                                            There's even two good "Italian-American" choices - Carapaccio's in MP and Pro Bono in PA. Probably the most reliable classic cocktail outlets, too.

                                                            And Soo Hong is either awful (MP) or OK (PA) - so many other choices.

                                                          2. re: maigre

                                                            The milk pail has a pretty good selection of cheese.

                                                    2. Given butterbutt's obvious preference for a more bucolic living environment than SF I second those who say it's not worth living in the City just for the food. It doesn't make much sense to live some place you don't want to be with a long commute 5 days a week when the alternative is to live where you want to live but with less frequent commutes to the City for food.

                                                      There's no doubt the Peninsula offers much less dining excitement than either SF or the East Bay but it does have its strong points. For instance nothing in SF or the East Bay can compare with the quantity and quality of the Peninsula's dim sum offerings.

                                                      Here's my take on the tradeoffs between the different Peninsula locations mentioned--

                                                      What's good and bad about living in Burlingame? Easier commute to SF for your city meals, but the daily commute to Palo Alto can be annoyingly slow. Burlingame has lots of restaurants and is close to Millbrae's dim sum mecca and Koi Palace. Not a big fan of dim sum? Neither was I until knowledgeable friends introduced me to the best of what the Bay Area has to offer.

                                                      Portola Valley is well off the beaten path but the traffic is light so a 20 or 30 minute drive to a restaurant through open space can actually be rather pleasant. Just make sure you don't live in one of those areas where it takes 20 minutes just to get to 280. Your commute to SF will be longer than from Burlingame but the smoother flow of traffic makes it less frustrating than driving on 101.

                                                      Living near Stanford will minimize commute to work and you will have many restaurants to choose from in Palo Alto and Mountain View. Palo Alto and Menlo Park have neighborhoods that compare well to Burlingame and Portola Valley though I'm not sure about relative housing costs-- all of these are expensive.

                                                      Living further south will mean a longer dining commute to SF but will put you close to South Bay options which should not be disregared. Can SF can offer a bun bo hue equal to San Jose's Bun Bo Hue An Nam? As you decide where to look for housing you may want to consult Google for driving times. Keep in mind that for most people driving through green hills on 280 is much more pleasant than an equivalent driving time crawling along on 101.

                                                      1. I have to agree with a lot of the posters. It's not ideal on the Peninsula, but it's not awful either. I live in Mountain View and routinely hit Berkeley for the Cheeseboard (pizza and cheese), Crixa, and Berkeley Bowl. It's a quick shot down the 101 to Delfina, Tartine, Everyday Beijing, the Ferry Building, Crown and Crumpet (what can I say, I'm an afternoon tea junkie), and Maki. Those are not places we have here.

                                                        But yes, the Indian is solid, Fraiche yogurt is great, Mayfield Bakery is turning out good bread, the PA farmer's markets are decent, Shalizaar's Persian food rivals Westwood. It's not a barren wasteland by any means.

                                                        I would also keep in mind that the traffic is not as bad here as it is in Southern California. You can get killer dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley, but it will take well over an hour to get there from Santa Monica. It's pretty quick to travel to SF and the East Bay, relatively speaking.

                                                        Personally, I enjoy the opportunity to get out of the Peninsula on foodie outings, but would loath commuting on a regular basis.

                                                        I think charliemyboy makes some good points.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: YSZ

                                                          When there's no traffic it takes me 50 minutes to drive from Berkeley to Palo Alto or vice-versa. At rush hour it takes twice that.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Yes, it does take that long. I think my standards are highly colored by years spent in LA, so fifty minutes to the East Bay or thirty to SF doesn't seem bad to me. I wouldn't want to do it every day, but a couple of times a week is very feasible. That said, I avoid rush hour whenever possible.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              And my house in Menlo Park to Yoshi's Oakland, door to door, in 35 (for the 10pm show).

                                                              I think you guys are just being overblown. It's not a black hole. Live music's an example. There are almost no regular live music venues from Sunnyvale to San Mateo. Every place closes - the fox theater closed a few weeks ago, so did that funny jazz room in downtown PA. There's coffeehouse music at Red Rock, there's a mixed bag at the university, and that's it.various stuff at the university, that's it.

                                                              *That's* what a black hole looks like.

                                                              1. re: bbulkow

                                                                Sure, if there's no traffic you can get from Menlo Park to Yoshi's in 35 minutes, provided you don't get pulled over for driving 90-100 mph.

                                                          2. One plus, though Palo Alto can't compare with SF, their restaurants are a big step up from San Diego.

                                                            9 Replies
                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              And, based on my limited experience, in San Diego it seems to take half an hour to go ANYWHERE, even within San Diego city limits.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                May God help San Diego.

                                                                "The Leland Stanford Junior College area is something of a culinary black hole. Will you have a car?"
                                                                Robert Lauriston Aug 20, 2008 05:55PM

                                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                                    I agree that Menlo Park/Palo Alto/Portola Valley make up a culinary black hole. I keep trying but the better eats tend to be around the perimeter in Redwood City, Mountain View, etc.

                                                                    The OP hasn't given us any info on what she considers "good food". If it's Japanese, then the Peninsula wins hands down.

                                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                      Also agree on the black hole comment. I moved to Menlo Park from OC about a year ago and have been very disappointed in the food. However, I wouldn't want to commute 45+ minutes to work, so if I were the OP, I'd live closer to Stanford.

                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    That's what I thought too! Except for some upscale restaurants in La Jolla, I couldn't think of much else near UCSD.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      I didn't want to say it, but yes, I'll agree with you here about San Diego's culinary standings.

                                                                      With the money saved on commuting costs by living close to work, the OP can get a hotel room in the City once a month for a weekend of eating.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        Ok while I admit we do not come close to SF with the culinary offerings I will stand up for a few of the restaurants in San Diego that are quite up there with Palo Alto.. (we have eaten in SF and Palo Alto a few times).. It also does NOT take 30 mins to get anywhere.. So please do not not think of coming here for a trip.. We live in La Jolla,across from UCSD and go regularly to Del Mar(Market and Addison two of the top)in about ten minutes.. Downtown is 20. That is what we love about here. We can go to so many good restaurants within 20 minutes. That is probably what worries us the most is that we will have fewer options on the peninsula..

                                                                        We like all foods.. oh did I also mention I do restaurant Interior design so of course love the ambience as well .. to throw that in the loop as well!! Glad to see my topic has brought lots of comments!

                                                                        1. re: butterbutt

                                                                          If you're willing to go to to the radius of about Palo Alto, you'll have just as many choices as San Diego. PA's dining scene takes quite a bit of spadework to decide what you like, so it'll get better as you try more of the choices.

                                                                          If you want to stay in Portola Valley / that part of woodside, you'll be limited to more like 10 or 15 places, all of high quality because the income level up there is so high.

                                                                      2. No matter what city you live in, there's going to be one (maybe two or three) cuisines that are better than anything else San Francisco has. Sure, there's better dim sum on the peninsula, and maybe better Mexican in Redwood City. But unless that type of cuisine is critically important, it totally misses the point, because nowhere else. in the Bay Area has the incredible variety of cuisines found in San Francisco.

                                                                        20 Replies
                                                                        1. re: vulber

                                                                          Adjacent cities, different story, but I don't think there's any cuisine where San Francisco doesn't beat Palo Alto with one arm tied behind its back. Even Evvia, which is probably their best restaurant, is a spinoff of the superior Kokkari in SF.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            I'm eating in the area 3 or 4 times a month for the last couple years, and at a new-to-me place just about every time. There are a handful of individual spots that best SF because not only are they good food but in some cases not represented in the City: Back-a-yard in Menlo Park, Tamarine in Palo Alto (better than Slanted Door), Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto, and Cafe Silan in Menlo Park.

                                                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                              Coupa Cafe definitely, since there is currently no Venezuelan food in SF.

                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                Coupa's a lot better than the two previous Venezuelan places in SF and embarrasses Pica pica in Napa. FYI, Back-a-yard is Jamaican and Cafe Silan is Kurdish (with a wood-burning oven that makes a better charred crust than the City's pizza representatives).

                                                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                  Pica Pica embarrasses itself, though not as much as when they opened and had no pork on the menu.

                                                                                      1. re: vulber

                                                                                        Huh, you're right, Evvia opened in 1995. I always took it for a spinoff since it wasn't as good as Kokkari.

                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                          interestingly enough, i noticed that evvia used to be on the top 100 list before kokkari

                                                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                      Good to read nice things about Cafe Silan. I've intended to go there a few times, but showed up too late for lunch. I'll make a point of trying it soon.

                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  wow, this topic has some folks excited.

                                                                                  first off, given parking and traffic, it would take me about the same time to get from the center of Palo Alto to San Carlos and Los Gatos as it would take me to get from Pac Heights to a restaurant in the Mission or SOMA on a Friday or Saturday night. Nobody should be comparing a town of 50,000 to one of 800,000 and 10 different neighborhoods. Given that, there are enough good (if not really good or great) places to eat in Palo Alto and nearby cities (MV, LG, MP, etc.) for someone from San Diego to be more than satisfied in my opinion. It's not like they're moving from Manhattan.

                                                                                  Personally I'm not enough of a foodie to sacrifice two hours of driving for restaurants alone (that's just me) and it doesn't appear that the OP cares enough about all the other aspects SF living.

                                                                                  There are also some great Farmer's Markets in the South Bay as well between Los Gatos, California Ave in PA and the MV Farmer's Market.

                                                                                  In the end, it looks like the real comparison is between Burlingame and San Francisco based on where the OP will end up so all the talk about the South Bay is really just hypothetical...it's a good way for me to procrastinate though.

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    I'd like to know the cuban place vastly superior to Bodeguita del Medio.

                                                                                    Little Star vs Paxti's I'll take Little Star, but they self-proclaim as being, what, St Louis style or something, and it's a close contest. Little Star with a hand tied behind its back loses to Paxtis.

                                                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                      Bodeguita del Medio's marketing etc. has a Cuban theme, but they don't serve Cuban food. It's some kind of Cal-pan-Latin fusion or whatever. There is real Cuban food in San Jose, at Habana Cuba.

                                                                                      Little Star is Chicago-style. You're thinking of Pizzeria Pi in St. Louis--the owner sent his chef to Little Star to learn their style. Pi got national attention when Obama asked them to cater a dinner at the White House.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        Yes, BDM is a little fusion-y. The one dish I get there (the slow cooked pork) is on the cuban side, though. You could argue for the Yucatan.

                                                                                        Reminds me a lot of a great little place in Provo, UT across from the police station. Piled high rice and beans and slow cooked meat on a paper plate. Don't ask.

                                                                                        The question stands - where in SF is *vastly* superior? Cuban, or Cal-pan-Latin-whatever-you-think-BDM is.

                                                                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                          Bocanova in Oakland is the first pan-Latin fusion place I've been to with really delicious food. All previous attempts were the kind of mindless hodgepodge that gives fusion a bad name.

                                                                                          Paladar in SF (which also serves Colombian dishes) and Habana Cuba in San Jose are the only places I know of serving real Cuban food these days. I haven't been to Havana Sol in Vallejo yet.

                                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      As mentioned earlier, San Francisco is 10x bigger than Palo Alto, so I should hope so in terms of quantity. (Of course San Jose is bigger than San Francisco in terms of population, but hardly comparable on its own to San Francisco in terms of restaurant quality.) A better comparison would be to an individual neighborhood of San Francisco. But even so, bring it on:

                                                                                      - Modern Vietnamese: Palo Alto wins (or draws) with Tamarine.
                                                                                      - Cal/Greek: Palo Alto wins or draws with Evvia. Kokkari is the spinoff, not Evvia.
                                                                                      - Achari dishes and biryanis: Palo Alto wins with Hyderabad House. I won't apologize for focusing on specific dishes vs. entire cuisines on Chowhound!
                                                                                      - Steak frites: Palo Alto wins or draws with Bistro Elan.
                                                                                      - Caribbean: Palo Alto wins or draws with Coconuts.

                                                                                      Other folks have mentioned the Venezuelan and Cuban cuisines.

                                                                                      And one can do similarly for most cities in northern Santa Clara county, until you reach just about everything except Italian and pizza. This area has just as much culinary variety as San Francisco, but it's a different (and less Eurocentric) distribution.


                                                                                      1. re: mdg

                                                                                        Thanks for mentioning Bistro Elan. That's a good example of chef-driven, seasonal cuisine. But I will say, that I always feel like I have to pay more there than for a comparable meal in San Francisco. PA and MP generally cost more.

                                                                                        1. re: mdg

                                                                                          "A better comparison would be to an individual neighborhood of San Francisco."

                                                                                          Yeah, a fairer comparison would be Palo Alto vs. the Mission. Or if you want to rig the game, Pacific Heights, San Francisco's answer to Palo Alto.

                                                                                      2. re: vulber

                                                                                        What vulber posted is a big part of how I see it. Not only the variety, but the likelihood of quality, conscientiousness about ingredients, higher percentage of good places, local culture to support it.

                                                                                        1. re: maigre

                                                                                          Ah, I think I may see part of your problem. Likelihood of quality and higher percentage of good places are indeed generally better in San Francisco vs. the Peninsula. But after living here a while you can play the percentages (e.g. Indian has a high likelihood of quality; Italian very low likelihood). And things will always be more spread out in the suburbs than in the city.


                                                                                      3. We've lived in Portola Valley for 19 years. Type Portola Valley into the search box and you will find the restaurants. Parkside Grille is the best. Then there's Mike's in the Ladera Shopping Center - these are where established the locals hang out. The Red Lotus in the same shopping center has good Asian/Fusion cuisine. Then for quick food especially with kids there's Amigo's Grill (Mexican) and Round Table Pizza in Ladera. Then you go to Woodside. The Woodside Pub has fine food. The Bakery has good food and is another local hang out. Bucks is where you take visitors - it is has outlandish exhibits and the proprietor Jamis MacNiven knows anyone of any importance (almost) in Silicon Valley.

                                                                                        After that Palo Alto is a destination town near Stanford. The restaurants range from fine to student burger and pizza places. There's also middle eastern food with a belly dancer. I should mention in Portola Valley the Stanford crowd hang out at a place that sells some of the unhealthiest burgers in a beer garden with yellow jackets - an old roadhouse known locally as Zots.

                                                                                        Then there's the Stanford Mall - California Cafe is OK for business meetings and right next to Stanford.

                                                                                        Mountain View has plenty of Asian restaurants, Irish pub and Italian. Then there's Los Altos and Menlo Park - we tend to go there for Italian and Japanese.

                                                                                        Its not a bad ride to the city and there are many good restaurants including vegetarian Greens and Millenium. You can probably do it in 45 minutes when traffic is good - we sometimes drive to Daly City or Millbrae and take the BART if the restaurant is near Market Street.

                                                                                        We often prefer San Jose to San Francisco - parking costs less, the freeway goes closer to the center and sometimes the theaters offer good events.

                                                                                        Portola Valley is an excellent community, with really good schools and environmental/outdoor focus.

                                                                                        It's not like San Diego where you might go to the Old Town. The center of the Bay Area is water - so people tend to eat in smaller cities.

                                                                                        If you want a discreet, fine restaurant with private rooms then you can find the ambience at Chantilly's on El Camino in Atherton (or is it Menlo Park).

                                                                                        If you read The Nine Nations of North America - San Diego is in Tex-Mex land regarding cooking. Border is San Luis Obispo. Here we are in Ecotopia - where we are fruit and nut cases. So even the every day restaurants like Mike's and the Woodside Bakery (squash soup to die for) may seem good for you. In Portola Valley you may find more people eating 5 little meals a day, rather than 3 large ones to stay thinner - so that's a consideration. Or they'll take out a meal from Roberts or Draegers in Menlo Park. So you might like a Tapas place like Cascale in Mountain View. If you are at Stanford you will have such a social life that you will eat with academic folk on the Peninsula mostly - you may find your lifestyle changes and you find yourself climbing Windy Hill before lectures (as one of our academic house guests does) or biking daily to Stanford.

                                                                                        Call me when you move to Portola Valley - its easy enough to Google me - and I'll show you some good food when I know your tastes!

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: amhey

                                                                                          love your report.. I am so appreciative of all of the comments.. They have really helped. That is so funny the comment about the five meals.. It will be interesting to see how different people are up that way. I will keep in touch!

                                                                                        2. Check out San Carlos. The downtown (Laurel St.) has a good concentration of restaurants that range in cuisine and price point. There is a farmer's market on Thursdays during the summer. Some of the often mentioned good eats on the peninsula are there: Refuge, Speederia Pizza, and Harmony Yogurt in particular. In the past two years a new market has opened (Bianchini's), fancy cupcake place, wine bar, good Turkish, good Greek, good family joints, and more.

                                                                                          San Carlos is also a Cal Train stop, so getting to PA is easy.


                                                                                          1. Gosh what a topic that was! We are in escrow in Redwood City.. I had re-posted about restaurants up that way, but had forgotten this one from Dec. There is very good information here.. Thank you to whomever it was sent me back to my original post! Melanie looking forward to your Chowhound events when we get there! I can see we will have fun discovering our new favorites..

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: butterbutt

                                                                                              Started reading this without noting the date and began to wonder what planet you all are living on--I spent about 4 months on the penninsula last year and wondered how anyone could claim anywhere was "lacking" --to me that whole area has an embarrasment of riches. To complain that you'd not be able to walk to any given destination...well, it's all relative, isn't it after all. You sound plum spoilt rotten. (in a happy way)

                                                                                              The only flippant comment I was going to make is that if the OP were moving to PV, they could afford a helicopter to drop them in town.

                                                                                              Best of chowhounding to you, BB