Palo Alto Dining
I will be spending the weekend in Palo Alto and am looking for suggestions on anything fun, different, or "must tries" in the area. We will be there for a total of 3 nights, so have plenty of time to check out various spots. Really into food, but love cozy bar with unique atmospheres. Also, we want to stay in the area, as we have spent plenty of time in SF Bay previously! Any suggestion would be seriously considered and greatly appreciated! Thanks ahead of time!
Weekend traffic might not be too bad, but if you're trying to get from the downtown Palo Alto area to, say, downtown Mountain View between about 5PM and 7PM on a week night triple the time allowed for the trip. Parking can be a problem at most times.
In downtown Palo Alto - University Ave. - I like the newish Amber branch for Indian, Reposado for upscale Mexican (very noisy), Three Seasons for upscale Vietnamese (although they've been plagued by construction on their block ever since they opened). I can't think of any place I'd describe as "cozy": with the high rents, the startups and the venture capitalists it's a be-seen type of scene.
Some of my favs for lunch: Jing Jing (you can find better Chinese on Castro St. in Mountain View but this is walking distance from where I live), Janta for their Indian buffet (limited selection, but changes a lot: Darbar up the street is uneven; neither are open for lunch on weekends), the Thai place on University for their soups. If you want someplace a bit different, there's Paris Baguette on University, a US branch of a Korean chain that features mostly French but also some Korean baked goods.
Around Palo Alto:
In the $40ish pp:
Evvia - Greek-cal food
Flea Street Cafe - Fresh, cal food
Station 1 - Fresh, cal food
Village Pub - steak house setting, formal American food with modern twists
Donato Enoteca - Italian
Under 40ish pp:
Martin's West - Gastropub - food can be a bit uneven
Hole-in-the wall and/or Under $20 pp:
Oren's Hummus Shop is pretty good for Mediterranean
Palo Alto Sol - good Mole, enchiladas, and margaritas
If you are into wine, K & L, Beltramo's, and Vin Vino all do tastings on the weekends. Check schedules/prices on their websites.
It depends what you want. I'm not very impressed with the late night options in Palo Alto
Madera has the swanky, older vibe - can be pretty quiet though depends on the night.
Joya has the same vibe and serves food.
La Bodeguita serves decent mojitos its not particularly late night - it has a cigar room and a patio.
NOLA and next door Old Pro (sport bar) have a college feel. NOLA has decent food.
I like the mole at Palo Alto Sol, too. I wouldn't call it a hole in the wall. Mediterranean Wraps, also on S. California, probably is. It's my favorite place for shawarma around there. Izzy's has pretty good bagels. Cafe Brioche is a cozy, friendly place with good French food.
Near University Ave., NOLA is a fun place for Cajun/Creole food, though the TVs sort of bug me, but that's a matter of taste. Reposado has more upscale Mexican food, if that's what you're looking for.
In the Town and Country Village, I really like Mayfield cafe. Howie's Pizza is good, too, but probably not worth a stop on a short trip.
A drink in the bar or by the pool at the Rosewood hotel on Sand Hill Road isn't cozy, but has great people-watching and can be fun.
You should check out the bar (Madera Lounge) at the Rosewood hotel for cocktails. Great view and a great place for people watching. This is where all the VC's, millionaire nerds, cougars of Silicon Valley hang out. Hilarity ensues.
Nola is also a pretty fun place for cocktails. The food's alright.
You have lots of great recommendations already. Depending on where you're coming from, you may want to check out the Indian food options. In addition to Amber Dhara in Palo Alto, Sakoon, Amber India, and Artisan / The Menu are all nearby in Mountain View (in decreasing order of atmosphere). I'd go with Tamarine over Three Seasons for upscale Vietnamese downtown, and Reposado over Palo Alto Sol for Mexican. Vero is excellent for Italian in downtown Palo Alto and is a nice cozy restaurant. Cafe Renzo is also downtown and is a bigger, brighter place. Definitely second the schwarma at Mediterranean Wraps. Palo Alto and Silicon Valley are not great for late night bars and restaurants, alas.
Enjoy your trip!
Sitting at the small communal tables at Tamerine on the late side is probably my 100% favorite palo alto food experience. The place is always booked until about 8, so you have to hit right around 8:30/8:45 and be hopeful.
I don't like Three Seasons anymore. They are dead to me, and I tried them again last year and found nothing to like.
On the later and funner side, Nola is a gem. It looks like some fake new orleans reproduction, until the food actually hits your mouth, and you say, shit, someone in the kitchen really knows something. Next door, Old Pros looks like (and smells like) cheap college beer, and if you dig the atmosphere, the food is actually quite good. Recently, I liked the short rib pizza with gorgonzola. Kind of noisy.
Coupa Cafe across the street is a very good hangout. Some argentinian specialties, best hot chocolate in town ( SPICY MAYA ), and for coffee, get a press pot where they will grind the beans to order. Philz has nothing on Coupa with the french press.
Oren's is unique to the bay area, and, these days, really crowded. It's open slightly later (11pm) than other places. Israli hummus is different than all the arab hummus you get most places.
Joya was recommended and has a nice bar scene.
Rangoon Ruby's is a new place that's doing very well. Good tiki drinks, very passible burmese food - they will make it hot if you ask. Too well lit to be cozy.
When you're tired of all the fancy eating, try Sprouts. We go there for one of their Huge Salads from time to time.
Peninsula Cremery (PenCrem around our house) is a great default place. The burgers are good, the specials are good, the wine list is very decent for a diner, and check out the "bubbly burger".
Gravity the wine bar is by the Reposado / PenCrem people, and is doing very well on the late night side. I drove past yesterday and it was still humming around 11 and serving food to 12. The food is simply good (at that price range), but add the late night action and it's worth a stop.
New Indian Street Food place Curry Up Now just opened. They had a few food trucks, they've opened a few small stores around the bay area. Haven't been, myself.
Slightly further out, go down to Mayfield for high end New American. I had brunch there sunday on the patio - kind of cold, but what nice fresh tastes. In the same cluster is Howie's, which makes a very passible thin crust pizza.
More to your taste will be Vesta in RWC. It's dark and cozy and the pizza is _really_ good - it has a fighting chance in a bay area top 10.
For brunch and coffee, there is nothing like Cafe Borrone in MP. The food is really good for a cafe, the wine and beer list is well cultivated, and when they have music it's always great. It's the only place in the south peninsula where I say "mmm, civilization". It is "sceney" but it's my kind of scene. And they have an actual bookstore.
Cozy and Alcohol bring to mind The Wine Room, which regrettably has no food, but does have comfy chairs and fireplaces.
There's decent chinese within reach. I'm currently liking Fey to the north, there's the new Steam on University (hip), Su Hong PA for shanghai, Da Sichuan for .... you guessed. I would refuse to go to Jing Jing or China Delight - very americanized.
People are very picky about japanese food hereabouts, and arguably there is no decent japanese food in PA compared to very passable options in MV (next town south) and San Mateo (10 mins north by freeway). San Mateo has great yakitori and izakaya options, an interesting michelin 1 star option, and some good ramen. There is quite a bit of above average japanese food - depending on where you're coming from - such as Kampai, Jin Sho, Akasaka, Naomi.
Since you said late night:
10 minutes south in MV is Fu Lam Mum. It's a HK place where they do "late night dim sum" and is open till 12.
There are many taco places open till 12 slightly north - El Gruellense - they're kind of greasy but they're good. Old Pro's kitchen stays open later, and Gravity. There's a sub-par pizza slice joint - Pizza My Heart - and Cafe 220 where they will whip up a skewer till at least 12.
After 12, the pickins are very slim. You've got the 24 hour subway, the 24 hour drivein fast food places, and the Denny's (RWC). Of those, I favor the Denny's because there's always a crowd of young hispanic guys getting off work and partying, and the food is industrial but not as bad as Jack N The Box or Subway.
Finally - University ave has 150-ish places that serve full dinner. Little clusters like Town and Country have 10-ish. Downtown RWC has about 75. MV has another 150. RWC, PA, MV can easily boast 1000 places. Wherever you are, try to branch out a little and follow your nose.
I found Rangoon Ruby's food flavorful but generic flavor profile wise. On a nice note - very spicy IS very spicy. Rice portions are small. It's pricey for what it is but a decent option if you are local.
If you don't have lots of SE asia options where you are, I'd give it a shot. IF you are familiar with Burmese cuisine, this relies a little too heavily on being accessible and "pan-asian."
If you have to decide between Tamarine and Rangoon - I'd pick Tamarine. I also find Tamarine's flavors generic - but again - it depends how much SE asian food you have where you are. Tamarine is more upscale - and more "happening"
I would pick at least a few meals deliberately (instead of just wandering University Ave environs). The restaurant quality in the area, sadly, is rather average and only a few restaurants "rise above"
Not "dining", but if you enjoy chocolate to the nth degree, then do visit the Chocolate Garage on Saturday morning. You can sample before you buy. More info here,
And I'll echo the other comments here that there are few "must tries" or memorable restaurants in Palo Alto (and you'll pay a lot for the privilege). Glad that you're doing research ahead of time.