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Oct 19, 2013 11:24 PM

Mountain View for Two Weeks

It has been a number of years but I will have a consulting job for two weeks in Mountain View...Most of the places I went to in the past are gone or have changed for the worse.

Any current recs in the Mountain View area for B, L and D...thanks in advance!

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  1. The below are all recs for dinner (except Indian buffet)

    High-end Mexican (esp. their shrimp platters): Agave
    Cocktails and/or dessert: Scratch
    Mediocre tapas, decent sangria and fun vibe: CasCal
    Interesting Cambodian (1st page of menu): Tommy Thai
    Traditional French Bistro: Le Petit Bistro
    High-end Indian (esp. Tandoor Rack of Lamb): Amber India
    Indian Fast Food: Amber Cafe
    Indian Buffet: Passage to India
    North Indian Vegetarian: Chaat Paradise
    Beer/Burgers/Hot-Dogs: Steakout
    Mediocre Asian fusion: Xanh


    North of MV
    Flea Street Cafe
    Station 1
    Village Pub

    Drinks and/or Dessert: The Sea

    Sichuan: Da Sichuan

    South of MV:

    Thai: Rama V
    Hole in the wall/like-home South Indian Veg: Komala Vilas
    Pakistani/North Indian: Shah
    Best Fish Curry and fancy rices: Taste buds
    Korean: Jang Su Jang

    5 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      Have you actually been to Komala Vilas? I tried it once, and they really didn't want to serve me (and it smelled funny). How was it? Any particular dishes you liked?

      1. re: bbulkow

        1. Yes I've actually been.
        2. I should hope "smells funny" means there was some sort of chemical order when you went- and you weren't using the term in a derogatory sense often applied to non-western restaurants for odors that don't smell like grocery store lilies and fabric softener.
        3. There isn't much selection from an American perspective, you can get a plain thali, you can add dosa to the thali, and there's a rotating set of South Indian/Bites and snacks.

        In every sense of the word it is just home food - the thali is yogurt rice, lentil/sambar rice, some pickle, bread, and a rotating vegetable curry. In some ways it's ridiculous to spend $10-15 a person on it - on the other hand it's the most authentic place to get that type of home food that I've found.

      2. re: goldangl95

        FYI goldangl95, you moved to my Chowhound A-list for capturing the complexity of CasCal more succinctly than anyone else on record, above.

        Curious, though, about what specific experiences underlay your Xanh characterization. Here are mine. Several lunches at original location (185 Castro, now Ephesus) which were elegant, fresh, memorable, expensive (meaning, $20+ p/p some years ago, in a neighborhood noted for good under-$10 lunches). A few lunches, in the new buffet format at current location across the street from old one (enjoyable, but far less distinctive than the earlier lunch format). One or two dinners and several happy-hour small-plates sessions in the bar-lounge area, which generally seemed fresh, creative, lively, even destination-worthy. Not traditonal Vietnamese food, but I have seen sharp gastronomic performances from that kitchen, inconsistent with my own sense of what mediocre means. And superb value for happy-hour small plates.

        It's important to sample widely from Xanh's small-plates bar menu, because the specialties range widely in style; different people like different ones, and online reports from folks who only tried one or two of them recall proverbial sightless descriptions of an elephant. But overall the small-plates menu can reveal the zest and creativity that made Xanh a local hit at its original location across Castro.

        ETA and barely touched-on yet in this thread, a furiously competitive happy-hour small-plates scene has developed in downtown MV since 2011, leading many local residents to find ways to eat out early, since they can eat amazingly well then for $10-15 p/p at restaurants that just break even on those dishes -- but successfully bring in the crowds. Half a dozen restaurants within a few blocks notably participate in this trend, including Xanh, Scott's, Tied House, and Bushido, an Izakaya place that specializes in small plates anyway. (I specifically omit a few others that have demonstrated less pizazz in their happy-hour menus).

        But the hands-down leader is Scratch. Some people know the place mainly for this. The "appetizers" menu sheet is half price weekdays 4-6, and includes amazing things at the resulting $4-6 tarriffs like wild-mushroom or marinated short-ribs flatbread pizzas, plates of varietal oysters in season, seared ahi with herb salad.

        1. re: eatzalot

          Thank you eatzalot!

          I've only eaten at Xanh for dinner, and I'd say probably under 10 times in the last 3 years.

          While I certainly found the food decently tasty, I like the setting at Tamarine better, and I like (*sigh*) the prices at PF Chang's more.

          And as I write that sentence, I cringe - and call it my lack of sophistication when it comes to Vietnamese food (absolutely true - Pho is the only Vietnamese food I eat with any regularity). And also I realize that PF Changs is a distant approximation to Chinese food, so to compare it to Xanh is problematic.

          Sadly, while less sweet and with better ingredients than PF Changs, Xanh provides me with about the equivalent satisfaction. (I also feel the same about the "Mr. Chow" chain of restaurants).

          1. re: goldangl95

            But you may well have caught that situation reasonably. My own experiences, and enthusiasm, for Xanh emphasize the small-plates bar menu (and some nostalgia for the former lunch format), rather than regular dinner service. Which is why I asked for more details -- thanks. And the aggressively modern look of Xanh (complete with wall of falling water) isn't to all tastes, one half expects to encounter people drinking Martinis containing glowing spheres instead of vegetables. The new HoneyCreek nearby actually edges toward that, it has small bar accent lights that rotate through different colors.

            Nor am I any Vietnamese food connoisseur (though again Xanh avowedly offers nontraditionalistic fare). A feature of working in silicon valley for many years, with its US-leading population of Vietnamese-immigrant families (since the war there), is hearing eloquent, impassioned invective on the outrages perpetrated by pho houses against a favorite national dish...

            Anyway I can't emphasize enough the local happy-hour food deals, for anyone who can manage to dine in their limited hours -- for exciting, well-presented food, not just great value. The hours vary with the restaurant. Avoid Fridays for that, when they're mobbed. Scott's (until recently, and in CH archives, called Cantankerous Fish), does this bar food deal weekend afternoons too. With plates of slider sandwiches (pulled-pork, beef, lamb, salmon-Reuben, or assorted) at $6, and other goodies.

      3. Downtown Mountain View's changed a lot in the past couple of years, and I find myself in that area pretty frequently. There's still a lot of hit and miss, but it's gotten increasingly crowded (by Googlers?) due to this revitalization in the dining scene.

        On top of what's been mentioned, here a few more - I've been to everything here within the past 6 months. These work for both lunch and dinner.

        - Sushi: Sushi Tomi
        - Japanese Small Plates: Gochi, Nami Nami, Bushido
        - Japanese Market: Nijiya (good meat, fish selection)
        - Shabu Shabu: Shabuway (a chain, but it's consistent)
        - Indian Buffet: Sakoon (rather nice selection for a lunch buffet), Amber (better quality but less selection)
        - Diner: Crepevine (not a huge fan, but they do breakfast, open early, etc.)

        Adjacent to Mountain View is Los Altos, which has a couple good spots in its downtown area.

        - Satura Cakes - Excellent Japanese/French fusion bakery.
        - Sumika - Yakitori, small plates
        - Akane - Sushi

        1. jon914 understates the reality: downtown MV has changed steadily in the 23 years since the major remodeling of 1989-1990, the narrowing of the downtown business street (Castro) to two lanes, and the subsequent renaissance of the formerly dead downtown into particularly a restaurant region. The greatest period of change during that time was the beginning (1989 to 1991) and at least 40 restaurants have closed in the interim, some of them (Jacqueline's wine bistro, Global Village Café, Hunan Chili, etc.) locally beloved. Yet far more have opened in the same period, leaving the following current situation.

          Currently some 107 restaurant properties exist within a few blocks of Castro, all within easy walk of each other and the train station. Most of those 107 properties are active restaurants, two more are about to open (remember you saw this on Chowhound, in advance of expected journalistic coverage): Tartine (331 Castro) and Cijjo Restaurant & Lounge at 246 Castro. The most recent to open, two weeks ago, was Park Balluchi at 288 Castro, an independent local restaurant that bought a franchise from a respected chain familiar in India, but that pursues its own style.

          A few notable MV restaurants also are outside the downtown, including:

          Tommy Thai already cited (with unusual Cambodian specialties and modest prices);

          Yam Leaf Bistro (Salvadoran), formerly El Calderon for 44 years (one of the region's venerable restaurants; Herb Caen, the best known journalist in the history of the SF Chronicle, even took the train down from SF to eat there) -- and still most of the same menu and staff, but gone vegetarian 2 months ago;

          Taqueria La Bamba on RENGSTORFF, the particular one (of the four) in that Salvadoran restaurant group that is most often preferred by experienced people who have tried the others (note that MV has a concentration of Salvadoran restaurants with some superb specialties although casual visitors sometimes mistake them for Mexican);

          Two notable regional Chinese restaurants, Bamboo Garden (Shanghainese, Michelin recommended, see the hardcopy guide dammit, not the online flutter) and Chef Zhao Bistro, see current discussion below and others.

          One of only four (and one of the most fastidious) Bay Area pizzerias recognized by L'Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples (Napoletana Pizzeria, ECR near Escuela) since 2011, bit of a "destination" restaurant, please read up on recent threads here re the differences betw. Neapolitan and US pizzas if you are not already familiar.

          Search this board and you will find other relevant, reasonably recent suggestions from various people. Just today I remarked that MV gets comparatively little discussion here but I have, literally, files on its restaurants, from a few thousand meals, count increasing weekly, and may be able to offer further suggestions given specific request.

          11 Replies
          1. re: eatzalot

            So Tartine replaces Dianetics. Is it part of SF's Tartine ?

            And Cijjo replaces Pho Garden, which is moving down a couple storefronts. Any info on Cijjo's food ?

            Do you have any info on who's moving into the old Food Street location, right next to Park Balluchi ?

            Any candidates for Hunan Chilli's and New China Delights locations ?

            1. re: DagingKuda

              The old Food Street location is what Pho Garden is moving into. They really cleaned that spot up.

              I don't think Tartine is related to *the* Tartine in SF since that kind of place would get news coverage well before permits get issued.

              I can't speak for eatzalot's source, but you can glean quite a bit from just looking at the permits that go up and Googling on the business entities and names.

              1. re: DagingKuda

                Jon914 already answered some of this very well but I do not have more details yet on the Tartine at 331 Castro. It did just pass inspections a few days ago, and a peculiar flurry of prior misinformation persistently coming to the attention of local restaurateurs, unique in my experience, had clouded that location's plans until very recently. (Someone seeking to obscure the nature of the new business could not have done it better.)

                ABC database has some basic public info on Cijjo LLC's ownership, in which I note some Vietnamese names, but no restaurant details:

                Again, watch for upcoming publicity on Peninsula restaurant news, such as Jamie Morrow's Thursday column in the Daily Post, essentially print-only.

                Many people badly miss New China Delight and Hunan Chili both of which had very capable Sichuanese chefs, although neither restaurant advertised the fact much.

                NCD went out of business at 360 Castro in 2010. The site was idle for three years, but now construction just got underway there.

                Hunan Chili at #102 was forced out by a rent literally tripling when its lease came up for renew -- the recent commercial rent spike in PA and MV has spurred some of the latest restaurant turnover in the area. (Chef Zhao is the current serious Sichuanese option nearby, described recently here and in other threads on this board.) The 102-Castro site has been basically inactive since HC departed --I walk by it at least every few days -- though its owner earlier made at least some vague mentions of a planned restaurant there, publicly reported; we could share information on this here thread, which is very MV-focused, if any of us learns more.

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    Going along with using this to deliver any updates in downtown MV...

                    Oren's Hummus from Palo Alto is taking over the spot previously housing Workshop burgers.

                    Pasta Q is being replaced with a pizza spot called Doppio Zero (referencing the '00' flour brand).


                    Alexander's is opening up a pastry shop in the former Tsunami sushi spot.


                    Pho Garden's plans for moving to the former Food Street spot fell through, so it's now being replaced by an Asian-themed burger place called Buffalo Beers Burgers Baos.

                    Lastly, the Hunan Chili spot is being replaced with a branch of Little Sheep Hot Pot.

                    1. re: Jon914

                      You missed one, Jon! (Must get you onto my mailing list. :-)

                      At 292 Castro (long-closed former "Food Street" site), an ownership-change notice went up four weeks ago announcing not a relocated Pho Garden (as that restaurant had formerly announced) but "Buffalo Beers Burgers Baos." Some of the local journalists who follow this stuff have researched that pending place further, and reported on it already.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        I edited that in and then realized you had replied. :)

                        Did you ever find out what was happening to the NCD spot? That's the final place that's unaccounted for.

                        1. re: Jon914

                          The former New China Delight site at 360 Castro had a burst of activity in Autumn that I mentioned in this thread, but then went dormant again. I walk through the neighborhood a few times a week and have not noticed much activity lately at 360 Castro.

                          There have been other restaurant changes too lately in the same neighborhood. For example Sweet Corner, Castro at Church (one of the businesses at 650 Castro, suite #180), after not quite completely changing its name to "Fluffy Puffy" several months back, went out of business; at last check, work was underway at the site, looked like a substantial remodel.

                          And most dramatically (you may recall sep't thread) early last week Tsunami Sushi ceased to exist at 209 Castro and the windows became plastered with signs for a new Alexander's Patisserie (new venture of the Alexander's steakhouse group out of Cupertino).

                          ETA -- I now see that in your post.

                          Again some journalists have researched further and more details are already easily found. Check tomorrow's (Thursday, January 16) number of the (essentially hardcopy-only) Peninsula Daily Post for Jamie Morrow's restaurant column which I expect to have news, this week or possibly next.

                      2. re: Jon914

                        Dopio Zero seemed to have an investor party or similar tonight. The place was humming but said "private event". I imagine we can expect full opening very, very shortly.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Yes, that was implicitly part of my note on the status of Doppio Zero and its pending opening, posted here a few hours earlier: They told me Sunday afternoon they were having an employee party Sunday night, but that certain "last-minute hitches" (inspection items? contractors? strange demands by City of MV Planning Dept.? -- all have delayed past restaurant openings in the neighborhood, sometimes by much longer) would still require a further couple of days, to the middle of this (which on Sunday I wrote as "next") week.

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            And, as promised, Doppio Zero (not to be confused with SF's earlier Zero Zero which seems to've been named for the same pizza flour grind though maybe not, as with the new Doppio Zero, by Italian-born owners) did open (Thursday night) and what little pizza sampling I've done there so far -- to be continued at the first opportunity -- suggests very good, scrupulous, strict-sense "Neapolitan" pizzas. Impressive. Just opened though, and naturally a little chaotic. Fussy diners oughta wait a few months first.

                  2. TravelPath - as you can see, you've got some experts willing to help re: MV. It looks like you're up from LA - I wouldn't send an la-er anywhere in the bay area for sushi (and you've mentioned Ursawa and Mori), but the chinese in the area (like Chef Zhao) is worthy even by LA standards, and the rather close
                    is also worthy - as an Italian, you might even enjoy it, I notice several people every visit speaking nothing by italian. See previous thread.

                    You seem to like a decent burger, so SteakOut is worth a stop, although it has its flaws. Lunch especially, although the place can be very pleasant in the "beer garden" (ha!) on a friday.

                    Any other styles we can direct you to?

                    PS. I did notice El Calderon changed hands, although I hadn't been there since the early 90's, I had fond memories as well. First papusas, and good papusas.

                    PPS. I had higher hopes for the Food Street location. Another fond memory place, and good to hear about construction at New China Delight, of which I only caught a few meals at the very end. Kirin was suggested by a mandrin speaking co-worker, and is pretty reasonable.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Regarding local hamburgers -- I was awestruck by sheer number of places described up and down peninsula for this food specialty by bb in another recent ("dish of month?") thread. I eat fewer hamburgers than bb, and my habit anyway is to try a smaller number of conveniently located restaurants several times each, to understand them. (It took three visits to learn strengths of one steakhouse for example, and two more to learn serious weaknesses.)

                      Thus, notable hamburgers around downtown MV. These notes reflect at LEAST five burgers tried at each location. I omit large chains like In-n-Out, with ample past discussion. South to north:

                      - Clarke's Broiler on ECR. Solid old-line family-run hamburger flame grill with awesomely diverse options menu, and condiment bar. Fiercely loyal local following. Also long narrow grilled sausages (Louisiana hots, Polish, etc) served distinctively (grilled split, flat, served on French roll with tomato slices unless you ask to omit same).

                      - SteakOut (name change has been pending City signage negotiations since start of 2013). Opened 2011 to emphasize grass-fed products. Flattop grill, adjacent beer garden. Interesting house specialty burgers that vary over time, and other options like lamb burgers with feta and tzatsiki (?sp) sauce have been quite good IMO. Several short, stubby European sausages cooked simply, served on buns for $5 or so, good garnish options like harissa and grilled onions. Previously under one of its current owners, a distinctly upscale Turkish restaurant (Bodrum), repurposed in 2011 as a more casual concept and has done far more volume hence; faint Turkish influences remain in menu.

                      - Steins Beer Garden. Utterly requisite to any serious comparison of local hamburgers today. Opened 6 mos ago, soon mitigated its inside acoustics problem which turned people off at first. Big place, yupscale beer hall with very serious kitchen run by a Bay Area chef obsessed with "comfort" cooking. Burgers ground from specified cut blend, offered with options menu incl. Danish blue cheese, pork belly, etc. Have been very good, almost all cooked exactly as ordered in my experience, juicy and well garnished. Brief problem with one line cook who oversalted them was soon fixed.

                      - Tied House. Longtime brewpub makes own beers. Lackluster food offerings for 20 years changed noticeably a few years ago, now offers notable burger menu including game burgers. Basic beef burgers house-ground, fresh, juicy, classically garnished in my experiences. Discounted during "happy hour." Good value. 10 or 20 years ago I'd've warned you off the place for food, but times change.

                      - Workshop Burger Bar and Grill. Expansion of a Palo Alto location, and owned by same family as Madame Tam and The Bar there. Flattop. Opened 17 months ago, to more than normal quota of haughtily dismissive superficial comments online. More considered consensus among critical local diners I know: some very good and thoughtful hamburger, especially garnish, combos since it opened, including high-end creations, also some of the best turkey burgers I've ever had, and good grilled salmon sandwich with miso. Handicapped by opening after SteakOut, after Tied House's kitchen reformation, and now around corner from Steins -- whence this immediate n'hood went quickly from one independent hamburger grill to five, rather competitive, tending to overshadow and distract people from The Workshop. If it had opened in 2010, it would now be the happening hangout of downtown MV.

                      Rundown of local breakfast options to follow later. (Perennial clueless slander that there's "nowhere to get breakfast out around downtown MV" is and always has been lies, all lies.)

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        I have stopped by The Workshop in PA three times, twice I left without ordering because I was ignored for over 10 minutes. ( I think both times I walked across the street to Cafe 220, where the owner is effusive and the chicken kebab is juicy and well seasoned, other menu items, poorer).The other time, the burger was thin and lifeless. There was a Workshop in RWC in the building as the theater, and I ate there once too - thin and flavorless - and now closed.

                        Madame Tam and The Bar I would like to like. Nicely casual, interesting menu, plausible prices, but I've eaten at each twice. The food at each is relentlessly "just OK". The Bar even serves the only Bahn Mi on University Ave, and I do love me even a bad bahn me, and it's still not worth going to. The mixed drinks at The Bar are kind of awful (low quality liquor).

                        I can't imagine the Workshop MV would be different, but any speculation would be trading your hearsay and speculation vs mine.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          The last location of The Workshop in Palo Alto also seems to have gone under as well. It was papered over when I walked by on Tuesday. I guess the Mountain View location shutting down was just a preview of things to come.

                          1. re: Peter Yee

                            Jamie Morrow wrote up the story of the Workshop sites closing in her January-16 Daily Post column, "Workshop Burgers is (well) done," with more about the owning family and their other restaurants, Madame Tam Asia Bistro and The Bar. The Workshop ventures were run by their son DJ, whom I used to see in the MV site when it was new, but who "apparently no longer wants to run the business."

                            (I have that article in front of me at the moment -- the Post is _essentially_ print-only so it pays to pick up the Thursday editions with their restaurant news.) Jamie also reported comments from the landlord at that time that "owners of the just-closed Rudy's Pub" expressed interest in the Palo Alto Workshop space.

                      2. re: bbulkow

                        PS Kirin is a moderately old (1979) Cantonese restaurant with lots of seafood and some very regional specialties, very moderate prices, & one of the local places open relatively late (midnight). Bustling Chinese waiters in old-fashioned short green jackets who look like they've been around. Bit of a small local version of the Chinese old-guard silicon-valley restaurant corps I cited in recent "Asian" thread:

                        K.K. on this board can speak to Kirin with experience and cuisne knowledge, if there's interest.

                      3. Lots of good recommendations already. Indian food is a particular strong point of this area. In Mountain View itself are high-end places Amber, Artisan The Menu, and Sakoon. Artisan advertises higher-end ingredients and their apollo fish is one of the better ones in the area; they also have the best beer and wine selection of the local Indian restaurants.

                        Nearby on El Camino in Sunnyvale are less fancy but wonderfully delicious places like vegetarian specialist Madras Cafe, wonderful all-rounder Taste Buds (try the gongura specials if available), the Chettinad favorite Aachi Aapaadaki, and Indo/Pakistani standout Shah. All are within a mile or two of Mountain View.

                        In downtown Mountain View, Scratch is a fine place for California cooking, and Steins is an interesting beer hall. Hopefully they will be encouraged by the success of their Oktoberfest menu to incorporate more German-style dishes on a regular basis.

                        Los Altos is also near Mountain View. Besides the excellent Japanese places that Jon914 mentioned, there's also Muracci's, a wonderful Japanese curry specialist. Closer to Mountain View just south of El Camino are two other worthy places: Estrellita for southern Mexican (the nightly specials, the molé, and the chicken Oaxaca being the best bets) and Su Dam for Korean food - Soon Doo Boo is the specialty here. No MSG in their food; I love that but it turns others off.

                        Enjoy your trip!


                        11 Replies
                        1. re: mdg

                          Good suggestions, mdg!

                          On the particular point of regional and unusual Mexican cooking, though I've not returned there in at least two years after good past meals, have gotten strong signals from friends who are longtime regulars and supporters of Estrellita, known by name there for 15 years or more, that something happened there in the recent past (details explained but forgotten) and quality fell way off. Certainly a worthy place in my past experiences, but these friends are the ones who turned me on to Estrellita to begin with, and their experience has been both more frequent and more knowledgeable there. (The husband of that couple was a former print restaurant critic and may have also reviewed Estrellita professionally, many years back.)

                          A local family runs a distinctive set of independent Mexican restaurants in MV and PA many of which feature unusual molé sauces and regional and pre-Columbian specialties. The family firm is called Casa Feliz Group. Their best-known restaurants have either Sol or Fiesta in the name, or else Agave (the newest, in downtown MV). I (still) have not tried the very popular Vive Sol or Palo Alto Sol, but I know Fiesta del Mar, Fiesta del Mar Too, La Fiesta (run by another part of the family, related by marriage), and Agave, "a Fiesta del Mar Grill."

                          The latter four are all upscale Mexican restaurants with, though it's not what my crowd goes there for, huge Tequila selections and Margarita menus. Like, 200 tequila labels. (Agave is the first restaurant to persuade me to have a Margarita, after certain uncouth college experiences many years ago; I've since had several more there. These are different Margaritas, with named Tequilas, fresh citrus juices, agave syrup, Grand Marnier, things like that. No blenders. The restaurant group sports a poll award this year from Metro, best Margaritas in the county.)

                          Back to food: The two Fiestas del Mar specialize in seafood. La Fiesta has some dazzling stir-fries (like shrimps or chicken or carne asada with wickedly hot chipotles -- you've been warned -- french-fried potato disks on the side) and big fancy soups.

                          Agave, just a year or so old, is strong in regional (Oaxacan, Yucatecan) and native (pre-Columbian) Mexican cuisine, cuitlacoche dishes among those. It was different enough from mainstream "American" Mexican restaurants that it didn't offer automatic chips and salsa (until a few months ago when management gave in to complaints and online sniping, much of that on the usual website for it of course, from non-Mexicans -- automatic chips and salsa are not a Mexican tradition, but one developed in Mexican restaurants here in the US). Housemade Habanero salsa is even available, with warnings printed in the menu.

                          Agave, for the food, reminds me a bit of Palo Alto's late lamented Oaxacan Kitchen, but a bit more upscale, and menu is not of course as focused on Oaxaca.

                          In March 2013 Josh Sens wrote up downtown MV's booming restaurant row in Sunset magazine, and the Fiesta/Agave restaurants figured prominently.

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Estrellita changed ownership last spring, and the transition was indeed quite rocky with a decline in food quality. That's been smoothed out and the food is as good or better than ever now, and has been for at least 3 or 4 months. I do hope you try it for yourself.

                            Agreed that the Fiesta restaurants are pretty good, though the menus are somewhat limited. I do particularly like the seafood soup at Fiesta del Mar.

                            Neither of these places may be as good as places I've been to in Orange County like Gabbi's (since OP appears to be from the LA area), but they have their own Silicon Valley style and make a nice change of pace from the other cuisines in the area.


                            1. re: mdg

                              mdg [as originally posted]: "I do hope you try it for yourself and stop repeating someone else's anonymous negative opinions from some unknown point in time."

                              The first is a good suggestion, I have not tried it under the new ownership, just several times under the old, which made the former reputation.

                              Second point accords with my own view: I dislike the habit of many people on this board commenting on restaurants they have not been to, crediting vague "reports" (sometimes, even arguing with people who HAVE eaten there, based on points fetched off a restaurant website -- that happened once before for Estrellita). This time, the information was not from people anonymous at all to me, nor to many others; I simply lacked immediate permission to attribute by name. In fact, they helped make Estrellita itself popular in the past; and the upshot coincided with yours just posted, for the period when you described decline in food quality. I hope that's clearer now.

                              I also have difficulty with claims about how a restaurant "is," or broad characterizations of a whole set of restaurants, without any details of what tried, or how much experience, to support such broad-brush judgments.

                              What have you tried at Agave, and what did you think of it? It's the one among the Fiesta restaurant group that got the most business from me in the past year (6-7 visits); I'd be happy to compare notes on its dishes.

                              1. re: eatzalot

                                I can't remember what we had at Agave. It was decent but forgettable, not something to entice us away from Estrellita. Looking at the current menu I suspect I ordered the cochinita pibil, Most of the menu was pretty reminiscent of Fiesta del Mar, including one of my other favorites there, the enchiladas de enjococado. I was hoping they were going more upscale than that and was really attracted to not having chips and salsa assumed to be part of the meal. But by the time we went, the free chips and salsa were there, their ambition apparently scaled back, and my interest diminished. I certainly wouldn't mind trying it again, and we'd probably go more often if it were in our neighborhood, but we haven't been back since our first visit.

                                A very good point on the fallacy of what a restaurant "is". The mantra of one of my favorite restaurant reviewers, Boston's Robert Nadeau, was "There are no great restaurants, only great dishes." Pretty close to the original motivation for Chowhound too.

                                That said, I'm pretty consistent on what I recommend at Estrellita's: the monthly specials, the mole poblano, and the chicken Oaxaca. The monthly specials have included many fine dishes including pipian, cochinita pibil, crab enchiladas, chicken with apricot sauce, a variety of tamales, and more. I've not had great luck with the rest of the printed menu. We've been eating there for at least 10 years.

                                Thanks for the update on Morocco's! Moroccan food has been missing from this immediate area since Zitune closed and I haven't had a tagine since. We should give it a try. Sorry for the previous snarkiness which I tried to edit out, but alas not in time.


                                1. re: mdg

                                  What a delight to encounter a fellow student of "Dr. Nadeau" (his real name escapes me at the moment, but I have his book from around 1980). Living for intervals in other parts of the US outside the Bay Area where my ancestry is, and being in most of those places a near-penniless student eager to get the best bang for a very limited eating-out budget, I vividly remember some outstanding regional restaurant critics, the kind we could use in the Bay Area, IMO. ("Nadeau" once wrote that for many years there were just three restaurant critics in Boston, and he was two of them.)

                                  Yet on other restaurant sites, I mention his name to people claiming long acquaintance with Boston, and they never heard of the guy.

                                  Anyway I hope you will be able to explore Agave's menu further, irrespective of Estrellita. It took a few visits to get to know something of Agave's real scope and strengths. I recall a very good dinner order of cochinita pibil in fact, nicely marinated and subtle with the annato. The very old and in some case native dishes have been most interesting there. I in turn will revisit Estrellita, and alert my friends, the former longtime regulars there, of your news about the recovery. Thanks again.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Nadeau's real name is Mark Zanger. The Boston Phoenix shut down, so his review column is over after a 30+ year run. Stett Holbrook is the only Bay Area reviewer I've read with a similar focus, and now he's moved on to new adventures.


                          2. re: mdg

                            Esther's might also be worth a try, right across the street from Su Dam, for a weekend brunch. German.

                            Glad to hear of the Curry joint. I've been itching for a good curry after eating at one of the coin-op places near Akihabara. An authentic japanese curry is really something.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              NB, a dedicated Japanese curry restaurant, hidden away (appropriately perhaps) literally in a back alley, opened early this year in downtown MV, called (that's the restaurant name, NOT website) at 180 Castro, behind (and sharing ownership and facilities, I understand, with) Shabuway, the Japanese cook-at-table place. Very low key, I have not tried it yet, maybe someone here has? (Some local news followed, to the effect that it may be takeout-only, or even closed, for a time, but it was definitely open for business earlier this year.)

                              1. re: eatzalot

                                Their website says they are temporarily closed awaiting patio seating. (In this season?) Peering through the windows, it looks more like the interior is being renovated, so it might actually be a goner. I guess there's always Muracci's in Los Altos for a curry fix.

                                1. re: Peter Yee

                                  The restaurant behind Shabuway has been closed "temporarily" for nearly a year. It "opened" briefly, but went dormant like this before I got a chance to try it. Since it's located against an alley behind the restaurants, any patio seating would presumably be out on Castro St. and I think that option (in the "flex-zone") is already implemented, but I could be mistaken.

                                  Current record holder for restaurant "remodeling" in that neighborhood is Spice Islands (Singaporean, 210 Hope at Villa), closed temporarily since 2009.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Their patio seating plans could be the patio at Amarin, across the alley, if somehow they managed to talk those guys into using the space. I can't remember when last I saw it in use --- I have a few times over the years but not recently.