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Dec 18, 2010 12:42 PM

Food Highlights of Walkable Mid-Peninsula Neighborhoods

After friends introduced me to Romolo’s in San Mateo I realized there must be other food treasures in my own backyard whose existence had escaped my attention. I really like the small town feel of some of the streets in the mid-Peninsula and would appreciate hearing about your favorite food places (restaurants, markets, dessert places, coffee shops) in “walkable” mid-Peninsula neighborhoods.

By walkable I mean a street that’s attractive, not too wide and where the traffic doesn’t intrude much. Places with outside tables would be a plus. Broadway just north of Millbrae Ave., Burlingame Ave., and Laurel St. in San Carlos meet my definition.

For the purpose of this post I'm defining mid-Peninsula as Millbrae to Redwood City. My favorite cuisines are Asian and Middle Eastern but I’d like to hear about all cuisines and what other people like.

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  1. I think downtown San Mateo is perfect for what you are looking for. Confines are essentially Baldwin on the north and Fourth Avenue on the south, El Camino on the west and the railroad tracks on the east. There is way more than this, and much of this is the subject of other posts but, since you asked, and in no particular order:

    Tres Amigos mexican taqueria B Street between 2nd and 3rd

    Bean Street coffee on B between 3rd and 4th

    Happy Cafe chinese B between 2nd and 3rd

    Pancho Villa taqueria B Street between 3rd and 4th

    Yogurtouille frozen yogurt B Street between 4th and 5th

    Everyday Beijing chinese (of course) on B near 7th

    Ramen Dojo on B near 8th can't vouch personally but those I trust rave

    Draeger's Grocery 4th between B and Ellsworth

    Viogner restaurant upstairs from Draegers

    Sergio's Pasta (fresh pasta) across from Draegers

    San Mateo Farmers Market (Fifth Avenue, Sunday mornings/afernoons)

    Suruki Market (japanese grocery store) fourth between Ellsworth and San Mateo Drive

    Kaz Teriyaki Grill (take out japanese bento etc) corner of Fourth and Elsworth

    231 Ellsworth (good fancy food at the eponymous address)

    Little Sheep Hot Pot (shabu) ellsworth between third and fourth

    Himawari (ramen) Second between Ellsworth and B

    Sweet Breams (taiyaki and ice cream) Second between Ellsworth and B

    Izakaya Mai Second between B and Ellsworth

    Takahashi Market (japanese grocery) claremont between Second and Third

    Jeffrey's Burgers B between 1st and Baldwin

    Bollywood Indian Baldwin and Ellsworth

    Everyday Beijing
    637 South B Street, San Mateo, CA

    Little Sheep
    34396 Alvarado Niles Rd, Union City, CA 94587

    Takahashi Market
    221 S Claremont St, San Mateo, CA 94401

    202 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

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

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

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

    Sergio's Pasta Shop
    205 E 4th Ave, San Mateo, CA

    911 Washington St, Oakland, CA 94607

    Sweet Breams
    220 2nd Avenue, San Mateo, CA

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

    Bollywood Cafe
    3372 19th Street, San Francisco, CA

    9 Replies
    1. re: snw

      Thanks for the suggestions though downtown San Mateo doesn't quite meet my ideal of walkability. I'm familiar with many of these already. Can you mention which three or four or five you particularly like?

      Although the walkable streets I mentioned in my post had a lot of food places, my priority is more for fairly quiet streets with interesting little places than whichever street will give me the biggest variety. Maybe I should have also mentioned 25th Avenue where I've been to Mao's Family Cooking/Noodle Shop but nothing else, or 37th Ave. where the only place I know is Romolo's. I'm probably feeling nostalgia for lost childhood days in a small town where the pace of life was slower and leisurely hanging out in small eating places was a major pastime.

      Regardless of street or leisurely ambience I was looking more for "here are a few places I personally really like and here's why" rather than "here's the complete list of all the restaurants in this area". I have seen that type of suggestion in random posts (many have mentioned The Refuge for example) but am hoping for something more focused than what I have found in searches.

      1. re: charliemyboy

        On that list, I particularly like Ramen Dojo (mild miso ramen with extra kikurage for me, regular garlic pork ramen with extra pork for the SO), Sweet Breams, and Draeger's (fab sandwiches, love their housemade spreads and aiolis). Also great in the area is Hotaru - homey Japanese food (think Oyaku Don), and the unparalleled Sushi Sam's - sit at the bar and enjoy the white board, agedashi tofu, and chawan mushi. I'm learning to not eat sushi anywhere else than Sam's because the quality:value ratio is the best.

        Ramen Dojo is a bit of a trek from the main downtown San Mateo, but certainly walkable.

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

        Sweet Breams
        220 2nd Avenue, San Mateo, CA

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

        1. re: charliemyboy

          I would actually say snw's list is a small selection. There are more than 3x that number of places in San Mateo.

          For example, I like Central Park Bistro, not mentioned, I've liked the looks of the wine bar place where they have bruchetta and jazz.

          Of the two downtown dim sum shops, HK Causeway and Champagne, I kind of like both. Champagne has more interesting dishes but lacks flavor, HK Causeway is more old school. I don't consider either first rank, but are both better than a sharp stick in the eye.

          I like 3 Bees for coffee better than Bean Street.

          Is anyone going to stand up for Burlingame?

          Central Park Bistro
          181 East 4th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94401

          1. re: charliemyboy

            The Tonkatsu @ Kobeya a few shops away from Noodle Shop is superb but not the curry.

            1. re: charliemyboy

              I can fill you in on both 25th and 37th. 25th has a couple of great restaurants. La Lanterna is my favorite - virtually everything on their menu is excellent and MichelAngelo (server) is very attentive and makes it feel like you are family. This is the star of 25th Ave. The Patio is another favorite of mine - the food is good (not great), but it is truly a neighborhood establishment - solid, old school breakfast. My kids love the Mickey Mouse pancakes (yes, MM pancakes are not old school...). Apart from these, I've eaten at Tannourine (Mediterranean, also very good food), which sometimes has a belly dancer for entertainment (more entertaining was watching the uncomfortable 50+ year-old couple in the middle of the room on their seeming first date). There's a new place, Cafe Tradition, that is French/Moroccan - I've tried it once and my dish was very good, but decidely more expensive than the rest of 25th Avenue. Some of the other places that are worth visiting on 25th are Luceti's (also an old-time favorite, but not nearly as good food as La Lanterna), and Fortune House (authentic Chinese Food and always crowded, but not my cup of tea) - though I prefer Oceanic (also Chinese), not technically on 25th, but just off the corner of 25th and El Camino and good food that isn't as greasy/heavy as other Chinese places. There's also a Farmer's Market every Tuesday evening (4-8?) over the summer (started a couple of weeks ago) that has rotisserie chicken, milkshakes, and a couple of other dinner options in addition to fresh produce.

              I don't have as much experience on 37th, though I will say Romolo's is fantastic, but isn't always open when you would think. I love Al Hana - their Shawerma plates are amazing, especially chicken. I also love their beef kabobs (filet mignon) and shrimp kabobs - tasty and garlicky (though the last time I ordered, the shrimp could have been cooked better. I eat here 1-2x per week. It's a grocery store with 5-7 tables, so it's not a place to take a date, but great food and family friendly. Also, Fernando's has good Mexican food and is family friendly - definitely better than Cecilia's (on Hillsdale by 280). I've been meaning to try Yuzu (sushi) as I've heard from 2 different people that it's excellent, but I'm the only one in my family that loves sushi, so it's been harder to get there by myself.

              Good luck!

              54 37th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403

              120 W 25th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403

              Fortune House Restaurant
              2075 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403

              Cafe Tradition
              123 W 25th Ave, San Mateo, CA

              1. re: gregconnor

                Thanks for the report! 25th was a Chowhound gem when I lived up in San Mateo so it's great to get an overview update on this neighborhood.


                1. re: gregconnor

                  I just have to chime in that we went to Oceanic twice 3-4 few years ago and both times had awful food.... It was a while ago, but I remember a too salty duck dish and greasy, soggy crab ragoons. IMO, poorly executed Americanized Chinese food. If I had only known then that Little Shanghai (my new favorite Chinese) or The Noodle Shop (also great) were just around the corner on 25th, Oceanic would have never gotten a second chance. However, Oceanic taught me a valuable lesson... it is one of the main reasons I stopped using yelp and started using chowhound.... Both Little ShangHai and The Noodle Shop are rated well below Oceanic on yelp.

                  1. re: lrealml

                    Never had the duck or crab rangoons at Oceanic, but I'm planning to try Little Shanghai and the Noodle Shop - thanks!

                    Little Shanghai
                    17 E 25th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403

                  2. re: gregconnor

                    For "real" Chinese (Cantonese) on El Camino around the corner from 25th, Silver House and Silver Lake - they are across the street from each other. These have both been there for a long time and cater to a mostly Chinese clientele.

                    Silver House
                    2224 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. In downtown Redwood City, I really enjoy Amelia's pupusas (Salvadorean/Mexican restaurant, my favorite pupusas out of the 4-5 pupusa places I have tried in the South Bay), the croissants at Pamplemousse (French patisserie/cafe), and most of the food at Donato Enoteca (Italian like I am not used to having here in the States). I don't go to Amelia's for anything else but their tasty and cheap pupusas. Pamplemousse is a very pleasant place to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. I don't know how to describe the vibe at Donato Enoteca (modern but rustic?) but I like it, including nice patio, dining room and bar seating - plus I understand they try to source a lot of their food locally and sustainably.

                  I don't know if downtown Redwood City meets your neighborhood criteria (despite a lot of effort and progress in remaking downtown, I still find it a little stale and lacking in defining character), but I imagine might be close to what you're looking for.

                  Pamplemousse Cafe
                  2401 Broadway St, Redwood City, CA

                  Donato Enoteca
                  1041 Middlefield Rd, Redwood City, CA 94063

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: ant_chang

                    In RWC, I like the burgers and fresh beer at CityPub, and I like the dry cooked beef at Crouching Tiger.

                    PS. There's a new place in RWC called Burgerlicious in the movie theater. It's *aweful* with bad service. The Koreans have taken over a sushi place and are serving bad burgers. Only the fries could be considered passible, and the service and decor are beyond wretched.

                    In San Mateo, Little Sichuan at 4th and Ellsworth (in the IHOP building) is *vastly* underrated. I had an amazing dish there served in a bamboo tube which I can't place on their menu but greatly enjoyed. I also have a soft spot for the irish pub, because they have menus from 5 or 6 surrounding restaurants so you can sit at the big tables and get a burger from Jeffery's while the person next to you had thai.

                    Little Sichuan
                    168 E 4th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

                    Crouching Tiger
                    2644 Broadway St, Redwood City, CA 94063

                    1. re: ant_chang

                      I was in downtown Redwood City a few weeks ago on my way to the opera broadcast at the movies and happened to stumble across the farmers' market and meant to post then; small, but great selection and low prices (comparable in the city to Alemany).

                      I picked up gorgeous greens for $1 each, cherries, peaches, tomatoes (all $2 a pound), and some cold-smoked salmon from Blue Ocean. And then promptly forgot half of it under the seat, after 5 hours of Wagner...

                      There's free parking across the street at the Safeway Saturday mornings for the market, but the meters in RWC are cheap and you can park nearly all day. I did notice a few other interesting options along the way to my free spot by El Gruillense that made me want to explore more next time I'm nearby.

                      1. re: Windy

                        It is small and it is cheap...
                        I'm glad you found some good produce... I stopped going b/c it was very hit or miss with hardly any organic selection. I much prefer the San Carlo's Thursday night market or just going to Sigona's....But it has been a while, so I should check it out again.

                        While on the topic of downtown RWC, there is also New Kapadokia for Turkish, Gourmet Strauss Haus for German supplies, food and beer, and of course Martin's West Gastropub.... lots to offer.

                        1. re: Windy

                          Yes, the Saturday RWC FM is ok - mostly basics.

                          Note re the parking meters, at least off of Broadway across the street - they are free until noon on Saturday!!! I see people putting money in the gizmo every time - the signs state very clearly that up until noon on Saturday - Free.

                      2. Same street as Romolo's - Yuzu really great sushi & Alhana's ( I have not eaten here but people love it!)

                        Kuo Wah (Chinese) in the Mollie Stone Shopping Center

                        I really wish there was decent mexican (trust me there is not, Poncho Villa does not cut it for this Mex fanatic!)

                        25 37th Ave, San Mateo, CA

                        Mollie Stone's
                        851 Cherry Ave # 22, San Bruno, CA

                        3347 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

                        Mollie Stone's
                        310 Bon Air Center, Greenbrae, CA 94904

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Tonyettehill

                          +1 for Alhana on 37th Ave.

                          First, they have very good olives in bulk at a reasonable price. Large selection of middle eastern groceries, fresh and frozen phyllo, cheeses, etc.

                          Of their prepared foods, I've had their falafel in pita - it was very, very good. Falafel was made to order, probably the best I've had. More than I could eat at one meal (that's saying a lot for me...).

                          25 37th Ave, San Mateo, CA

                        2. It's out of your area but Mt View has I believe Castro..? ST which is pretty cool with a park at the end and lots of neat food places. Just off El Camino. It's usually worth a trip for a nice lunch.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ROCKLES


                            Cafe Borrone
                            1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025

                            1149 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025

                            Left Bank Brasserie
                            635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025

                            Bona Restaurant
                            651 Oak Grove Ave, Menlo Park, CA 94025