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What's the deal with restaurants in Palo Alto?

My wife and I moved to Palo Alto in January and have yet to find a moderately-priced restaurant we love. On the slightly-higher end, there are a few options we like: Evvia, Mayfield Bakery, Bistro Elan.

For an easy weeknight meal, we've found the options to be amazingly poor. There are so few high-quality fast-casual and high-quality middle-priced restaurants that I'm wondering if I'm missing something.

Wish we would've stayed in San Francisco.

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  1. Try Mountain View. Palo Alto is the Noe Valley of the peninsula: a few good options and a lot of overpriced Americanized ethnic food.

    I do love the hot chocolate at Caffe del Doge and the frozen yogurt at Fraiche.

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    Caffe del Doge
    419 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

    1 Reply
    1. re: Windy

      That analogy is hilarious and accurate, Windy! +1 on Fraiche, and also add Howie's.

    2. Yes, I definitely agree...
      I live in Redwood City, and we regularly drive up to 15 minutes on a weeknight for a good casual meal. And even though Palo Alto is well within our casual weeknight range, we never go there (except for occasional trips to Coconuts for tasty Caribbean food).
      I would say that ~80-85% of the time we wind up in the San Mateo/Foster City area (there are endless choices in this area), 10-15% of the time in the Redwood City/San Carlos area, and 5% of the time in Mountain View.
      So I don't think you need to move all the way back to San Francisco... just closer to San Mateo.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lrealml

        I used to live up in San Mateo/Foster City and always found myself in downtown San Mateo for casual weeknight meals; there's a lot of variety there. Then I moved to downtown San Jose and found a dearth of places and ended heading to Mountain View/Sunnyvale all the time.

        Palo Alto has always been one of those places where I felt like with all the restaurants on University and along El Camino that there ought to be more than a handful of places worth eating at.

      2. I'm not sure what your definitions for fast-casual and middle-price restaurants are.

        The following below in Palo Alto or Menlo Park will do take out (which is what I think of when people say "fast"), but any restaurant that doesn't have a explicity-stated dress code is "casual" in my book, and that covers most of the restaurants in the area.

        The following below have the majority of their entrees for less than $20, and are pretty much my go-to places when I was working in PA and picked it up on my way home when I felt lazy and didn't want to cook.

        Hunan Garden on El Camino for Chinese food (high quality, casual)
        Gyros Gyros on University for Mediterranean (high quality, fast, casual)
        Siam Royal on University for Thai Food (high quality, fast, casual)
        SGD Tofu on El Camino for Korean Food -- their specialty is Tofu Soups, but they also do decent Korean BBQ there too.
        Cook's Seafood (I think this is actually in Menlo Park) for fast, high quality, super-casual Seafood. Fish & Chips, Fried Scallops, that kind of thing)
        Darbar on Lytton for Indian Food (high quality, fast, casual)
        Coconuts on Ramona for Jamaican (high quality, fast,casual) -- not sure if they do take out or not, but their sister restaurant Back-A-Yard for sure does.
        Cafe Barrone (Menlo Park) is more cafe than restaurant, but their food is also pretty good.
        Gombei in Menlo Park (next to Beltramo's) is homestyle Japanese food. They do offer sushi/sashimi occassionally as specials, but their strength is in their other dishes.

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        Hunan Garden
        3345 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306

        Gyros Gyros
        498 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

        1. I think the question may be what's your deal? (Sorry, that's a Stanford joke.) What type of food do you like? Palo Alto has good-to-excellent choices in Indian, Chinese, Italian, Middle Eastern, pizza, and many more cuisines which you can find with a little bit of searching here on Chowhound. Have you tried the places recommended here before? Which do you like and which do you not?

          You're right that there aren't great Greek, American, or French places within Palo Alto at a lower price point than Evvia / Mayfield / Bistro Elan, but there are plenty of other of the world's cuisines represented there.

          Michael

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          Bistro Elan
          448 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306

          1. Believe me, bergersworth, I can relate. I moved to Mountain View six years ago after decades in SF. It's an adjustment in many ways. It's still the bay area, but it's really a different culture down here and values about and attitudes toward food are different. You'll be smiling in July, though, when it's summer here and it's 58 degrees with the wind howling in SF.

            Sometimes, you'll have to head up to the city or the east bay to have an inspired meal in an urban environment and you'll savor it knowing that what was once easily available is now a special, but still accessible treat.

            Otherwise, search the board and see what you can find. Be willing to drive twenty minutes. That will help a lot. Density of quality is not the name of the game in the south bay. (That's not unique to the south bay. Any suburban style area is this way, lots of SoCal, the Texas cities, etc.) You'll find your spots where you do and eventually, you'll build a list of places you feel pretty good about. There are a lot of good things to eat, but not a lot of great things, at least not for me and my family. I realize this offends some people, but it's not meant that way.

            We enjoy Calafia. It's not necessarily the place for the greatest recipes; it's not at the top of the list for California cuisine, but it's good food in a casual setting made with high quality ingredients, including grass feed beef and the like, something which is in shorter supply in restaurants down this way. I think it fits the bill for what you're asking for if your expectations are in the right place.

            I haven't tried anywhere near all the places near University Ave. or on Castro in Mountain View, but I find those areas to be more quantity than real quality. There are places I haven't been that I want to try, though. Scattered about are interesting ethnic restaurants that aren't worth a plane flight for those outside the area, but that are worth trying. Some will probably become regulars on your circuit, some that aren't will at least have been worthwhile adventures.

            On a related note, there are lots of good farmers markets, very reasonable competitors to the ones in SF. Some items will require a trip north, though. Trying finding a good selection of cheese somewhere. If you succeed, please post its location.

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            Calafia
            855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA

            5 Replies
            1. re: maigre

              I do not know of a dedicated cheese shop on the peninsula but for good cheeses I go to Robert's Market in Woodside, Piatti's off of 92 in San Mateo and The Milk Pail on the Palo Alto Mountain View border.

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              Piatti
              625 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley, CA 94941

              1. re: artychokeasana

                I think you mean Piazza's Grocery. And there's another in Palo Alto on Middlefield Rd near San Antonio Road, near the Milk Pail. Roberts Mkt has a 2nd place now, in Portola Valley. For Italian cheeses (and others) go to Woodside Deli in RWC on Woodside Road, closer to 280 than 101. Great place for imported pastas, proscuitto, deli meats and popular for big, old-fashioned sandwiches.

                1. re: idtoca

                  yes, thank you I did mean Piazza's and I didn't know there was another-so thank you!

              2. re: maigre

                I think it depends on what you mean by "good"...
                With places like Sigonas, Draeger's, the Italian specialty stores, and Whole Foods, I can find enough different cheeses to make do, but there is certainly no Cowgirl or Cheeseboard equivalent on the Peninsula.

                We are complaining, but honestly, most "Suburbs" and event some cities in other parts of the country are much much worse than Santa Clara County for food...
                The cheese selection at our local whole foods would be like cheese heaven in most parts of the country.