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Great places near San Jose Convention Center?

I first posted this on the California board, before being told that San Jose is covered on the San Francisco Bay Area board. Sorry in advance about the double posts.

My wife will be attending a convention in San Jose in November, and I'll be traveling with her. We'll be staying near the Convention Center, and we're always up for a few good meals. What's relatively nearby that is good? We won't have a car and neither of us drink, but we love almost all kinds of food.

We especially like Mexican (which is hard to find in Orlando, Florida, where almost everything is cheesy Tex-Mex), awesome sandwiches/burgers/pub grub, local shellfish (ideally from a place that won't break the bank), really creative California cuisine (not super-fancy or expensive), and anything else unique that we can't get back home. I'd prefer not to do Vietnamese, since we have a huge Vietnamese neighborhood in Orlando, with lots of great restaurants. I hope to try In 'n' Out Burger for the first time while I'm out there, too.

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  1. Wow, a month and a half with no replies! Ouch.

    Figured I would bump this back up, as our trip gets closer. What are the best Mexican, seafood, and/or unique California options near the San Jose Convention Center?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

      Sorry that I don't have much recent experience with the downtown San Jose dining scene. I will throw out a couple of suggestions, and hope others will chime in and tell me if I'm wrong.

      There is an Original Joe's. There are a number of "Joe's-style" restaurants around the Bay Area. They are retro (this one founded in 1956), red sauce Italian places with steaks and chops, competent simple seafood. Mid-range pricing for large portions. Could be fun if you like that kind of thing. Sit at the counter and watch the line cooks in action.


      Scott's Seafood is also near the convention center. It's probably a little stuffy, but they have cioppino on the menu, a classic SF dish. Our local crab season will begin sometime in mid to late November (depending on conditions), so if you are here at that time the local Dungeness will be great.


      Other than that, I am not familiar with any places in that immediate area. There are a lot of the usual chains and hotel restaurants. The San Jose State U campus is a few blocks away from the convention center so heading in the direction you will find casual places geared towards the student population.

      The Mexican food that you find will likely be in small taquerias and you may have to venture a bit outside of the downtown area to find those. I hope someone else who spends more time in the area has some suggestions for you.

      1. re: pamf

        I think Original Joe's and Scott's are both the kind of places you'd take elderly relatives.

        There's a large concentration of restaurants on N San Pedro north of W Santa Clara that spills over onto surrounding blocks. There are branches of La Piñata and Taqueria San Jose (small local sort-of chains), I'm not sure how they compare with the others.

        Los Cubanos is decent, but probably not of interest to a visitor from Florida.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Original Joe's is kind of expensive by my standards, and my wife isn't into old-school "red sauce" Italian too much (even though I love it, and I'm sure it would be good).

          1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

            Check it out for breakfast or lunch while your wife is at the convention.

      2. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

        Unfortunately, downtown San Jose doesn't have the best eating options in the area - and Vietnamese are some of the strongest - but there are some goodies. Definitely check out Mezcal for Mexican food. McCormick & Schmick's is a national fish and seafood chain, but I've found their San Jose location often has good local fish choices. Both are just a few blocks walk from the convention center.


      3. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants within walking distance.


        1. I suggest La Peñita Restaurant for authentic and delicious Mexican food. It is a tiny and simple place just north of the 280 freeway overpass...5 short blocks down Market St. from the Convention Center. Ask for what you want -- each dish is prepared to order (some sauces are ready).

          601 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113
          (408) 295-0434

          1. lol. This is not your target cuisine. I just cannot resist House of Pizza. It's old style delicious greasiness and it is addictive. When we drive between San Francisco and Fresno, I time a stop for this pizza. There's nothing like it.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Cynsa

              Just looked at House of Pizza's website --- the round pizza pie is cut into squares! Can't remember the last time I saw that.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                We lived in Cupertino in the 80's before moving to Forestville... I love those 'squares' at House of Pizza with linguica. It arrives at the table with pools of red grease and I love it - not on my everyday diet. Steak Sandwich is good, too.

                Is Japan Town near enough to the Convention Center?

            2. La Victoria Taqueria
              140 East San Carlos Street

              25 West San Fernando Street, San Jose, CA

              San Pedro Square Marketplace has a lot of restaurants to choose from

              McCormick and Schmick is next to the Fairmont (close to convention center)

              Scott's has apparently been renovated/revamped lately. Worth a try.

              Eulipia might be reopened by then. They've been remodeling.

              The Loft on Second St is reliable and affordable.

              3 Replies
              1. re: emi50

                La Victoria and Mezcan are opposite ends of the Mexican spectrum: La Victoria is an inexpensive taqueria, Mescal is a more upscale place specializing in Oaxacan cuisine. The latter will have some items you won't find at a Tex-Mex place, like emfrijoladas (sort of a little like enchiladas but with pureed beans instead) and chapulinas - fried grasshoppers, which are much, much better than you'd expect. "Just like Mom makes!", the waiter told us.

                1. re: tardigrade

                  Mezcal actually sounds perfect to take my wife to, and I may investigate La Victoria if I have some down time on my own. I'd totally try the chapulinas!

                  1. re: tardigrade

                    One more place in downtown San Jose: in the late 70s, long before the downtown was rebuilt with offices, hotels, and other high-rises, it was mostly cheap stores, pawn shops, and little hole-in-the-wall restaurants catering to a mainly Mexican clientele. One side of one street - San Pedro - escaped renewal, and is a living fossil of what downtown used to be, including the last old-style Mexican holdout, Don Pedro. You will literally trip over their signs. Foodwise, it's so-so, but you won't find any other place like it.

                2. Also: Trials Pub. My favorite downtown cafe: Caffe Frascati, right around the corner from the convention center (great coffee, sandwiches, lunchtime soup, pastries). Also good cafe with crepes and great sandwiches: La Lune Sucree, close by and next to a Philz Coffee.

                  1. This is all great advice, thank you! Any more San Jose suggestions? Our trip is about a week away now.

                    Also, we'll be going to Monterey for one day to visit the Aquarium. What is the best casual seafood joint in that wharf area nearby?

                    15 Replies
                      1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                        Check out the San Pedro Square market - lots of interesting food vendors there (make sure to check out the ice cream at Treatbot), and they have some live music and other events on the weekend. Near there is Mmoon empanadas, which is pretty tasty.


                        1. re: babar

                          San Pedro Square Market is great! Tons of choices and a great vibe.

                          1. re: Zoe19

                            I agree with this. The taco bar is great, as is the Asian fusion hotdog place.

                          2. re: babar

                            Is the Loteria Taco Bar at San Pedro Square related to the Loteria Grill at the LA Farmer's Market ?

                          3. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                            Please do not make the mistake that northern calfiornia has good seafood. There are only a few native/local fish catches --- sardines/smelt, abalone, sand dabs, crab, salmon, a couple others --- and you're just before crab and long after salmon season (crab opens for thanksgiving). If you want the good stuff you have to ask for line caught local and ask exactly which port it came in at. It might be flash frozen, that can be a plus. I am certain that Florida has VASTLY better fish. This goes for anywhere in northern california.

                            I never eat well right near the convention center. I grab something and it's never very good. Taqueria Victoria is solid straight up taqueria style - get the Orange Sauce. Original Joe's kind of old-school american and fun, but high priced.

                            If you have a car there are lots of small great places within 10 minute drive - some very adventurous places, like Bun Bo Hue at An Nam. You can get the normal kind, or you can add chunks of blood, or pizzle. Or great indian, I'm still happy about Chettinad places, but there's great CHEAP south indian too. A fun food experience is the McCarthy Ranch center, which has a slew of good cheap places - various chinese, indian, malasian, etc.

                            You might consider an evening in Palo Alto, it's an example of the "train towns". The university ave shopping district has about 150 restaurants and can be pleasant. Mountain View is another train town, better and cheaper food, but not quite as scenic.

                            If you have a car, the world changes.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              The SF Bay Area is no San Sebastian, but there is great local seafood to be found. You won't get better spot prawns, Dungeness crab, rex sole, patrale sole, or California yellowtail amberjack in Florida. Seafood in Monterey on the California board:


                              1. re: bbulkow

                                Re train towns: the cities between San Francisco and San Jose originated as stops along the Southern Pacific railroad, serving the local farms. Today, the downtowns - all within an easy walk of the train station - serve the local dot-comers. Mountain View has the best Chinese on the Peninsula, followed by Millbrae, IMHO, and a good variety of not too expensive Asian cuisines. Palo Alto has more upscale restaurants. Trains run frequently - see http://www.caltrain.com/schedules.html for information: the San Jose station is a 15 minute or so walk from the convention center, but IIRC there are free shuttles. The advantage of the train is that you don't have to look for parking - and some of the cities on the Peninsula make a lot of $$$ from parking tickets!

                                1. re: tardigrade

                                  What is your rec for Chinese in Mtn. View? thx.

                                  1. re: ceekskat

                                    Don't get to Mountain View as often as I used to when I worked nearby, but I like Hunan Chili and Fu Lam Mum (they have dim sum weekdays at lunch).

                                    1. re: tardigrade

                                      Fu Lam Mum is your best bet in Mountain View. It's an elegant 2-story Cantonese restaurant that opens till midnight, with a discount menu after 9 PM. I've taken out-of-state seafood lovers there, and they are shocked how you can have a late-night dinner there with live seafood (lobster, fish, prawns, clams, etc.) straight from all the fish tanks. Free corkage too if your negotiating skills are good. They offer dim sum till they close, but it isn't that good when ordered late at night, unfortunately. :-p

                              2. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                                I would recommend Passionfish in Pacific Grove, which is really not that far from the wharf in Monterey and worth it. Great sustainable seafood in a casual but nice atmosphere, amazing wine list with almost no markup.

                                1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                                  You can always head a bit north of downtown to Japantown. I like Gombei (noisy and casual) and Kubota (a little more relaxed and intimate, great service)

                                  1. re: aelliottsherman

                                    Kubota is the fanciest restaurant in Japantown, and you get what you pay for. I'd say skip Gombei and head for the specials on the wall at Kaita, my #1 favorite in SJ Japantown. Yum!

                                  2. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                                    Very close to the Convention Center is Pho 69, which has amazing truffle sweet potato fries (I replied to the query about good s.p. fries already!) and really, everything we've had has been very good. They have nice touches like cucumber and mint in the water. It's order at the counter and then they bring it to your table. Not at all fancy, but not a hole in the wall, either. We like to go there on First Fridays, when there's late night art happenings.

                                  3. If hotel provides transportation to close by places or check light rail...

                                    Cafe Rehoboth for Ethiopian

                                    1. Monte Alban (980 S 1st St) is just under a mile from the convention center and has some good Oaxacan and Salvadoran dishes.


                                      1. Henry's Hi-Life, well priced steak and salad sort of place. I second Trial's pub, if you're into beer they've got great stuff on cask and decent pub grub. Teske's Germania on North 1st is fun if you enjoy German food/beer. There are some decent Japanese and Indian places thrown around, not really downtown though. House of Siam is good for affordable Thai. Sadly my favorite place in the area closed their SJ localtion.

                                        1. Thank you so much for all of your recommendations. We just got home from San Jose this morning, and had some great meals.

                                          Day One:
                                          Starving and tired from our two flights, we had an early dinner at Mezcal. We loved the ambiance and atmosphere of the place, but the food was merely good, not GREAT like we were hoping. We shared the Oaxacan appetizer sampler with 2 Memelitas, 2 Molotes, 2 Quesadillas, 2 Taquitos, and my wife liked the quesadillas best. They were actually batter-dipped and lightly fried, not at all like the quesadillas we are used to. We both agreed everything was on the bland side, though. The three mole sauces that came with the chips were across-the-board excellent, but the chips themselves were burned. We also tried the chapulines, but unfortunately neither of us liked them very much. (I really wanted to!) For dessert, my wife got the pecan ice cream (which had a gritty, sorbet-like consistency, like the homemade ice creams I've made in my little ice cream maker), and I got a sorbet sampler with coconut (awesome), strawberry (okay), and red plum (didn't love it, even though I usually love plums).

                                          Day Two:
                                          This was my wife's big day for her presentation, so we decided to take it easy and have breakfast at the Marriott hotel restaurant, the Arcadia. It was expensive, but the convenience couldn't be beat, and I had a delicious omelette stuffed with chorizo, great hash browns (a pleasant surprise, since I usually find hash browns greasy and bland), and sourdough toast. She liked her breakfast as well.

                                          Since she kicked ass with her presentation (and was also tired), she wanted to celebrate by having dinner at the Arcadia. She got scallops that seemed okay, and I didn't want a big, expensive steak, so I ordered lamb sliders. The order came with two of them, both tiny (even by slider standards), but they had a lot of flavor. Duck fat fries were super-bland (we would not have been able to tell them apart from Wendy's fries), and the creamed spinach was disappointing. She had been looking forward to the molten chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream, but the cake was super-bitter. I'm not the biggest chocolate fan in the world, but she didn't much care for it either. This was a bummer of a meal, especially since it wasn't cheap. (I always try to avoid hotel restaurants, but she really wanted to eat there.)

                                          Day Three:
                                          I wasn't feeling too great in the morning, but I accompanied my wife back to the Arcadia and watched her order a lemon ricotta waffle, which sounded pretty awesome. At first they brought her a regular waffle, and when she asked if that was right, the waitress looked shocked and tried to convince her that "it's the same thing, only with a different name." We were skeptical, but a few minutes later, they brought her the real lemon ricotta waffle, and I ate the regular waffle, since she had already started it and they were just going to throw it away anyway. But the lemon ricotta waffle was GROSS -- neither of us could stomach it. The grasshoppers at Mezcal were way less disgusting than this awful waffle. After that, I convinced her to not go back to the Arcadia.

                                          We took a cab to In 'n' Out Burger for lunch, which I have wanted to try for years. It turned out to be an expensive little trip, but our cab driver was kind enough to wait for us without leaving the fare running, so I tipped him well for his patience and kindness. I absolutely loved the burgers, and thought they lived up to all the hype. Far better than Five Guys, BurgerFi (a new upscale, In 'n' Out-inspired burger chain in Florida), and every other fast food burger. I got a double-double animal style and a "normal" double-double to compare them, and loved both. We had been advised to order our fries "well done," and they were okay -- nothing special. Neopolitan shake was good, but Steak 'n' Shake still makes better shakes, if you ask me. The burgers were well worth the cab fare, at least.

                                          For dinner we went to Original Joe's, since it was a short walk from the hotel. However, it was Saturday night, so it was slammed, and we waited for over an hour. The food was worth the wait, luckily. We both ordered weekend-only specials. My wife got a huge portion of perfectly medium-rare prime rib, and I got the roast pork. That was a little disappointing, since it wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting something with more seasoning, maybe shredded -- more like Cuban-style lechon asada only with Italian spices and maybe vinegar peppers, rather than pretty typical (and somewhat bland) slices of gray roast pork. However, the table bread was delicious (I enjoyed dipping it in good EVOO and balsamic vinegar), and my side of ravioli more than made up for the roast pork being a slight letdown. It wasn't nearly as expensive as I expected, considering we both drank water (we can't/don't drink alcohol) and didn't get appetizers or desserts -- and we were STUFFED.

                                          Day Four:
                                          Inspired by the ravioli, we went back to Original Joe's for lunch when they opened on Sunday, and didn't have to wait at all. My wife ordered the ravioli for herself, and I got their lasagna lunch special. Both excellent. I really liked Joe's -- it seemed liked a real retro time capsule, and the tuxedo-clad waiters could have all been extras from The Godfather. I half-expected to find a gun concealed behind one of the toilets in the bathroom! Unfortunately we shared a spumoni ice cream for dessert without knowing what spumoni was (a rookie mistake), and neither of us much cared for the boozy taste or the chewy, fruitcake-like chunks.

                                          For dinner, we walked to another one of your recommendations, La Victoria Taqueria. It was crowded and completely inaccessible (my wife uses a walker and had trouble climbing the seven or eight steps to the entrance), but the food was great. It might have been the best meal we had the entire time, and it was certainly the cheapest. I had a torta sandwich with spicy ground chorizo, and she had a carne asada tostada (that I shared), both full of delicious, fresh flavors. I enjoyed the orange and green sauces, as well as a strawberry-pineapple agua fresca with chunks of real fruit in it. This was an awesome recommendation. Needless to say, you can't get Mexican food as good as La Victoria OR the somewhat-underwhelming Mezcal in Central Florida.

                                          For dessert, we walked to the funky and hip Psycho Donuts on our way back from La Victoria, but that underwhelmed as well. Maybe it's because we caught them relatively late on a Sunday evening and things weren't fresh, but the three donuts we shared were all disappointing -- a chocolate donut with powdered sugar, a maple-frosted donut, and an old-fashioned. The old-fashioned was the best of the three, but my wife, the REAL dessert person whose sweet tooth puts mine to shame, took a bit of each of them but didn't want anything more than that. I was psyched to see they had Bawls Root Beer with guarana, which I've never seen in Florida before. I love root beer, so I bought it to wake up with the following morning.

                                          Day Five:
                                          Our last day (yesterday) was relatively low-key. We visited the Tech Museum between checking out of the hotel and going to the airport, and just split a roast beef sandwich and curly fries at the cafe there; no big whoop.

                                          We ended up with hours to kill at the airport, so we got Mexican food there for dinner, and it was surprisingly good for airport Mexican food (but not nearly as ambitious as Mezcal or as delicious as La Victoria). I got a huge, overstuffed, Chipotle-style burrito with chicken, cilantro rice, black beans, cheese, sour cream, barbecue sauce, corn, salsa, and guacamole -- pretty ridiculous, but it was an actual menu item, not something I forced them to create for me. It tasted pretty good, with more flavor than your usual Chipotle burrito. My wife liked her carnitas taco and little cheese quesadilla.

                                          So those were our meals in San Jose. Thank you again for all the guidance and recommendations!

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                                            Kudos for the detailed trip report!! Sounds like you had more hits than misses. Too bad Arcadia was horrible QPR (quality/price ratio) for you and your wife.

                                            1. re: Eugene Park

                                              What a sad commentary on the San Jose Scene. When Original Joe's is a highlight...sheesh!

                                              1. re: budnball

                                                We were pretty limited in our range due to my wife's mobility issues and not wanting to take a cab or public transportation and get stranded somewhere inaccessible. We couldn't beat Joe's location, right across the street from our hotel, and we actually don't have a good old-school red-sauce Italian joint near us in the Orlando area.

                                                1. re: budnball

                                                  I agree that DTSJ is hardly the culinary center of the South Bay, but what's wrong with Original Joe's? Yes, it's old-school red-sauce Italian but it does it well.

                                                  The OP brought up a very good point about La Vic's being the best of their trip--often times the best food is also the cheapest, in simple settings. Speaking of, If I'd hit this topic sooner, I would have seconded charlie's rec of Monte Alban. It's where I go about 80% of the time when I feel like eating somewhere not far from downtown (La Victoria takes up the other 20%.)

                                                  1. re: Radical347

                                                    I am glad the OP enjoyed his meal at OJ's but I find it over priced and underwhelming. I would never recommend it to out of towners. The "characters"/ waiters, are not nearly as amusing as they seem to think. However it does great business and a friend is bartender/ server there, so I will drop in on occasion The clientele seem to have a great time. Wedding receptionsand prom dates galore.

                                                    1. re: Radical347

                                                      A few doors down from OJ, on the same block, I would have recommended Pho 69, but Lou specifically said he didn't want Vietnamese fare. Pho 69 is a slightly different take on Vietnamese food, incorporating modern French and California influences. It's casual, very reasonably priced, and the food is delicious.

                                                      1. re: aelliottsherman

                                                        I think we saw it, but neither of us are so big on modern French, and we get plenty of wonderful pho and Vietnamese food back in Orlando.

                                                        Thank you all, once again!