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Aug 11, 2011 09:25 AM

Cooking Papa (Foster City)

Cooking Papa is the latest tenant inside the strip mall, replacing Diamond Harbor (and before that, Mr. Fong's). These guys are no strangers to the scene as Cooking Papa 1 first opened up in Santa Clara a couple years back to a great level of success.

The story is that the guys behind Joy Luck Place San Mateo for whatever reason shut the place down, decided to branch out to do Cantonese comfort food fare (in a way a tip of the hat to Fat Wong's San Bruno who is the forefather of this trend) and the rest is history.

As for the name....apparently it was a play on those iPhone type games Cooking Mama, but decided that the male image, which is predominant in a lot of Cantonese kitchens, plus the fact that it invokes the thought of a fatherly figure cooking for you....

It is also said that the chef has experience cooking from Hong Kong and used to cook and work at a dai pai dong before, hence the signages of "Hong Kong Dai Pai Dong" style eats (in Chinese at the restaurant's window). Given that Foster City is pretty much lacking in Cantonese (and the same goes for nearby), something on this level is very welcome indeed, and the fact that grand opening week was flooded with Cantonese speaking customers is a pretty good sign. For now weekends still look pretty packed but you may find seating a lot easier on weeknights.

Bring cash, they don't take credit cards.

Website: and you can check the menus for each location.

Currently the Foster City location has the SC branch staff overseeing the grand opening, supervising, and training. Right now I would say that FC quality so far is a few notches better than when SC first opened (given the time they had to ramp out and work out the SC kinks). Hopefully this keeps up.

There is a ton of stuff on the menu, as much as a HK cafe but without the westernized dishes, it's all Cantonese Hong Kong style. Even though they have xiao long bao here, I would likely skip it, as it is there just for the sake of variety. Their clear broth stewed brisket (listed as Braised Beef Brisket) is really good, and can be ordered as an appetizer or paired with noodles in broth of your choice. The base broth is already a lot better than the likes of Champagne Restaurant (Millbrae), ABC (San Mateo), or even a place like Tak Kee Lee on Noriega (owners supposedly also ran a dai pai dong in Hong Kong). You can actually taste the dried tilefish flavor in the noodle broth, although it lacks the dried shrimp roe flavor which would enhance their won ton noodles (cannot complain otherwise).

Cantonese BBQ: they have Peking Duck, roast duck, Hainan style chicken (don't compare it to Singapore but it's tasty and acceptable), crispy skin roasted pork belly, marinated duck tongue, crispy fried pork intestines.

One of the highlights here is steamed to order cheung fun, available even into the night (although they close at 9:30 pm which is the only downside other than cash only). The carb on carb special known as Ja Leung (fried cruller with cheung fun skin wrapped around it, cheung fun soy sauce, sesame seed, plus two dip sauces on the side) is very well executed, at least the cruller is still crispy, a key point. Wasn't too sold on the beef cheung fun, as the beef wasn't hammered into a paste, and still looked like minced/ground. The fish paste cheung fun however was quite solid with some cliantro.

Those who like congee can pick from 17 kinds (it's basically the same congee base, recooked once the various ingredients are put in to bring it to a boil to draw the flavors out more


Like Fat Wong's they also have a lineup of noodle soups with "mai seen" (thin tubular rice noodles) with their in house fish broth that's quite tasty.

The dessert that's pretty much on everyone's must order plate is their Sa Yung 沙翁, called egg puff on the menu. One order comes with four large pieces of fried doughy goodness, with a sugar donut like exterior, and a very creamy smooth eggy interior. This is one of those old school pastry items from the 1980s and before that is now experiencing a mass revival. Haven't had one in such a long time and thought this rendition was not bad, although I'm sure hong_kong_foodie will think Koi Palace's rendition is supreme. But hey this is Foster City.

Hong Kong milk tea here is not bad, and it tastes similar to a Chinese tea (even though they claim the leaf blend is imported from Hong Kong) but it's quite potent...might make you stay up so don't drink it too late.

They even sell their own mooncakes right now.

Overall a very solid performer of non upscale non seafood Cantonese in the area. Really hoping quality keeps up if the SC branch staff depart after the ramp up/training period is over (or maybe they will stay). I see these guys already outpeforming Champagne Restaurant in Millbrae (even though CR has roast goose).

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  1. Brilliant report. Cheers KK.

    I am very happy to note that I don't have to trek to Fat Wong to get my fix of Cantonese 'soul food'.

    3 Replies
    1. re: osho

      We've been here more than half a dozen times. Tried many of the standards as well as specials.

      Some examples:

      Duck Tongues Appetizer
      Beef brisket Appetizer
      Shrimp and Pork Wonton Soup
      Pork dumplings
      Chicken and roast duck porridge
      Beef chow fun
      Hainanese chicken rice
      Chicken with Salted Fish fried rice

      Another (now) standard order for me is the pork belly, even though this past weekend it was not as perfectly cooked as it has been during my other visits.

      I have to say I am very happy that Cooking Papa is so close to home. Every time I have been there, it has been full or close to it. I daresay it distinctly reminds me of some of the food in HK. I can't find fault with the food nor service. Touch wood.

      1. re: osho

        How was the Hainanese chicken rice? It is one of my fave dishes.

        1. re: Parigi

          By US standards, it is an excellent rendition. As long as you don't expect Singapore hawker centre quality, you will be pleased.

    2. Ample parking and acoustics to enable making conversation within are pluses over the Santa Clara location. Foster City has lagoon water scenery. Quality of food seem consistently good ala Santa Clara. The L7 Braised Pork Hock Lo Mein we had was a winner!

      5 Replies
      1. re: CYL

        (一畫勝千言)………. "One picture is worth ten thousand words"

        "Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu'un long discours" …….. "A good sketch is better than a long speech”

        N1 – Shrimp Won Ton
        N2 – Shrimp Dumpling Soup
        N5 – Won Ton and Dumpling Soup
        B2 – Half Peking duck
        P1 – Chicken and Roasted Duck Porridge
        D51 – Hong Kong Style Egg Puff

        1. re: CYL

          一畫勝千言..... ahh yes but in this case, the picture won't tell you the shui gow/shrimp dumplings could be on the mushy side on the interior, or the won tons have nice crispy shrimp....or if the duck has fat under the skin :-) With food you really need both pics and words to tell the whole story.

          1. re: K K

            The intent of inserting pictures was to complement discussions. I agree that it takes both written material and pictures to better convey the story. Pictures can neither describe taste or texture, or the freshness of the ingredients. Quotations tend to exaggeration or may not be truly appropriate to the situation; therefore, they should not be taken literally, but seasoned often with a grain of salt.

            1. re: CYL

              Not discounting your efforts or pictures at all, much better than what I can take :-) Thanks for adding them.

              But there is definitely a stir fry / kitchen heat / wok hay problem at CP, hope they can fix it.

          2. re: CYL

            went again sunday morning before 11 and there was no waiting for a table.

            NI-shrimp wonton soup (6.50)
            --8 golf ball sized wontons with whole, fresh-tasting, crispy shrimp within. broth tasted of shellfish. 2 pieces of veggies also present.
            A3-xlb (12 pieces, 10.50)
            --lots of fatty meat within with lots of msg. didn't experience this the lst time
            RR2-rice noodle roll with shrimp (3.95)
            --tasted same as before, whole crispy shrimp within silky rice crepes. above average
            P10-sliced beef porridge (5.95)
            --long slices of thin tenderized beef in a rice porridge seemingly free of msg. green onions and pickled radish on the side had to be added to provide flavoring to the porridge. main porridge had a fresh, clean bland taste.

            today's choices could easily be surpassed elsewhere. these items are not papa's strengths.
            though i couldn't taste much msg except in the xlb, i felt drowsy afterwards.
            no doubt CP uses chicken bouillion/chicken extracts which contains msg. the chicken essence masks the taste but not the effects of msg.

            a yelp review mentions they now take credit cards but not Am EX.

        2. K K and CYL: Thanks for your write-ups - I'm so looking forward to a visit to CP soon,,,

          K K Cafe
          3095 McKee Rd, San Jose, CA 95127

          1. K K: informative, excellent reporting!

            the mooncakes are smaller, is a sixer, comes only in lotus bean single yolk, and has no ingredients listed (14ish)

            lines seem long but cooking papa has the sign in system down pat. electronic signboard indicates which numbers are up, 4 categories (1-2) (2-4) (4-6) (8+) basically numbers are called almost as the table is being vacated

            -chow fun not great here
            -tomato beef chow mein is done the classic, old fashioned way
            -various noodle soups and noodles in fish broth are very good
            -egg puffs are great
            -shrimp rice noodle (rice crepes) same quality as tea houses.
            -parking may be congested on weekends.
            -cash only.

            2 Replies
            1. re: shanghaikid

              Which chow fun did you order? Wet or dry version?

              For better results, I would request using less oil and less sodium/salt/soy sauce. That's if the instructions are followed faithfully by the chef...

              1. re: K K

                C4 chow fun with beef & soy sauce (santa clara)-kind of salty
                c9 singaporean chow mein (foster city) : just ok but singapore rice vermicelli tastes better elsewhere..

                thanx for the tip. may try once more per your instructions. didn't specify which version but the chow fun seem dry but the "taste" wasn't there. not a wow but better than average,

            2. Thanks for the update. I liked Diamond Harbor but I like Cooking Papa too.

              Cooking Papa
              2830 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

              3 Replies
              1. re: Chandavkl

                I certainly do not miss Diamond Harbor, overall sub-par food and execution (and not cheap), but I have to admit their bbq deli shop (which is now vacant with a "for lease" sign), the cha siu (bbq pork) to go was pretty good quality.

                1. re: K K

                  Ever try the curry sliced fish? Mmmm.

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    Nope. I'm glad you found a gem in that cubic zirconian of a restaurant though! Too bad that didn't even save them.